Particulate matter is a mixture of small particles and liquid droplets that can lead to acute respiratory problems. But the high concentrations at Joint Base Balad came primarily from local sources such as traffic and dust storms, rather than the burn pit, according to the institute, which advises the government on health issues.
Acrolein is a liquid primarily used as a herbicide and in making other chemicals. Exposure can lead to eye, nose and throat irritation. Although the concentration exceeded precautionary levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency, it was still far below the concentration that led to nasal and lung damage in laboratory animals, the study said.
The Pentagon said it is continuing to study the potential hazards of burn pit exposure.
The VA opposed the legislation setting up the burn pit registry even though it has registries for those exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and for those who served during the Gulf War. The department did not oppose trying to track potential burn pit-related illnesses, just the mechanism proposed.
"We said it was not the best scientific approach for learning about long-term health outcomes and it really wasn't necessary for outreach because we have other programs in place," said Dr. Paul Ciminera, director of the VA's Post-9/11 Era Environmental Health Program.
As to whether the burn pits lead to health problems in soldiers, Ciminera cited the Institute of Medicine report. "We need to do further research to see what the long-term effects could be," he said.
Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the lead Senate sponsor of the registry legislation, said he pushed ahead despite VA objections because the department seems to instinctively reject concerns that veterans are harmed by their surrounding environment. He cited Agent Orange as an example and said the VA initially resisted a link between the defoliant and the health of soldiers who served in Vietnam.
Many supporters of the registry, including Williams, are also participants in a class-action lawsuit filed against KBR Inc., which contracted with the government to operate several of the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some 50 lawsuits were consolidated into one case in a Maryland federal court. The plaintiffs are seeking damages for various injuries, emotional distress and fear of future disease. KBR is seeking to dismiss the lawsuits on grounds it deserves the same immunity that prevents the plaintiffs from suing the federal government.
"Every type of waste imaginable was and is burned in these pits," the plaintiffs said in their suit.
Veterans groups were big backers of the registry, and an often-divided Congress overwhelmingly sides with them rather than the VA.
"You've been told since you're a little kid: 'Don't put a Styrofoam cup in a fire and breathe it because it's bad for you," said Ray Kelley, national legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "They do that all day long on these stops along with Lord knows what else, from human waste to all sorts of garbage. You're inhaling that on a daily basis. It can't be good for you."
Department of Veterans Affairs: http://tinyurl.com/answdv2
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