25 of 41 ordered incinerators are now in place on Iraq bases
10 Iraq-bound units nixed after troop relocations
By JOSEPH GIORDONO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 3, 2009
The U.S. military now has 25 operational solid waste incinerators on bases in Iraq out of 41 ordered more than four years ago.
According to officials with Multi-National Corps—Iraq, three more incinerators are being installed, two are "on hold" and 10 are not being installed because of a decline in the number of troops at those bases. One other incinerator has been constructed, dismantled and is being relocated.
The lack of incinerators and the open burning of all manner of trash on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan are at the heart of a series of lawsuits filed in several states last week. The suits accuse defense contractor KBR of knowingly endangering troops and contractors with toxic fumes.
KBR has denied the allegations.
Last summer, military officials told Stars and Stripes that only 17 of the incinerators were in operation. There are eight on Camp Liberty, three at Balad and two at Al Asad, among other locations. Two incinerators are under construction at Kalsu and one more is being built at Balad.
Bases that have had their projects canceled include Ramadi, Speicher and Sykes.
Despite serious health concerns over the widespread open-air burning of trash at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, plumes of smoke continue to rise over even the military’s most settled facilities.
Contractual issues were blamed for the slow installation of the incinerators, which release lower levels of pollutants into the air. The incinerators, officials said, burn trash at a far higher temperature than open pits and are considered safer to people’s health.
A pair of government documents obtained by Stars and Stripes last year painted the problem in two very different lights. One document, a December 2006 memo by an Air Force environmental engineer at Balad Air Base, called the situation "an acute health hazard."
But a study by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine and the U.S. Air Force Institute for Operational Health completed in 2008 found that after four months of air sampling in late 2007, the risks to servicemembers’ health were not above the norm.
Some U.S. officers who have been assigned to Iraq, meanwhile, have expressed frustration over the slow pace at which the incinerators have been brought on line.
The "fix should not be years, but more in the order of months," Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, an environmental engineer, wrote in a December 2006 memo while stationed at Balad.
"In my professional opinion, there is an acute health hazard for individuals," he wrote. "Burn pits may have been an acceptable practice in the past; however, today’s solid waste contains materials that were not present in the past."
Of particular concern are the large volume of plastic water bottles that make their way to the burn pit, as well as metals and chemically treated wood products.
A study released last May by researchers at Vanderbilt University found that 29 of 56 Fort Campbell, Ky.-based soldiers surveyed were diagnosed with bronchiolitis, an infectious disease of the lower respiratory tract, after returning from Iraq in 2003. The military said many of those soldiers were exposed to a sulfur fire near Mosul, but researchers found that others had no clear exposure history.
Meanwhile, a study of more than 6,000 Iraq war veterans by researchers at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in New York found that about 10 percent of returning troops suffered from nasal allergies, a rate roughly twice that of troops stationed in the United States.
Thirteen percent of U.S. Army medical visits in Iraq are now for new allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems, according to that study, which was released in March.