The report seeks to inform VA Regional Offices, presumably for the purpose of Veteran’s Benefits, about the health threats that can be expected from various hazardous wastes produced in the middle east conflicts including large burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the small African nation of Djibouti. Several hundred tons of waste is apparently burned at a base north of Baghdad that includes just about any toxic waste one could think of: rubber, human waste, medical waste, petroleum, chemical waste, and even jet fuel. Hard to believe that such materials would be so freely disposed of. It does not take a human health expert to realize that the plumes of smoke produced from such emissions could cause serious human health threats to those that happen to breathe nearby air. Only since October 2009 were some burn pits closed and proper incinerators were installed. A variety of chemicals and substances known to cause cancer were observed through testing, including dioxins, volatile organic compounds, furans, and particulate matter. Particulate matter, measured in the 10 and 2.5 microgram varieties, were found to be especially problematic in this region due to the fact that background levels are already high, and with the burn pits the levels are even higher. The biggest concerns about such pollution is the harmful effect that such pollution will have on human pulmonary and cardiac function.
Other threats highlighted as the sulfur fire near Mosul, Iraq in June 2003. This fire was located at the largest sulfur mine in the world and released somewhere along the order of 42 million pounds of sulfur dioxide each day for around 3 weeks. Those firefighters putting out the fire were said to suffer from skin burns, blood tinged mucous, and constrictive bronchiolitis. This last diagnosis was seen in at least 40 of the firefighters and is said to be quite uncommon. The aftereffects can be seen by lesions and inflammation of the bronchioles of the lungs. More well documented is the water contamination that was a long time problem at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Over one million people and children were potentially exposed between the 1950s and 1985 when the wells were finally shut down. The main chemical of concern is trichloroethylene or TCE. Scientific proof of exposure and causation is quite limited and its unlikely that further study will be able to reveal health problems from exposure.