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Those who risk their lives to protect their fellow Americans deserve to be protected. War is a dangerous activity. Many combatants on both sides have lost their lives or suffered terrible injuries in the Iraq conflict. The danger of being harmed by the enemy is a given in war. However, a very different kind of danger existed at Camp Bucca during the late 2000s when Anthony Thornton was stationed there. Every day a black cloud of noxious smoke swelled over his base. The Camp Bucca burn pits belched out toxic emissions from the combustion of the solid waste produced by approximately 27,000 people. Anthony describes his response to the experience of being in this toxic cloud with compelling directness, "It made you want to run inside to get away from it." Not knowing how dangerous it was to breathe the emission cloud, Anthony persevered in his work and took the waste smoke in stride.
As the days at Camp Bucca wreaked a chemical assault upon his body, Mr. Thornton's health deteriorated. First he was diagnosed with bronchitis, then asthma, and then the worst of all blows, brain cancer. He has had one tumor removed and now he is awaiting surgery to remove a second tumor.
This is not right. This should never have happened. In 1997, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) published, "Evaluation of Emissions from the Open Burning of Household Waste in Barrels". This report set forth stark facts regarding the extreme toxicity of open waste burning emissions. Burning mixed solid waste in open fires creates and releases many toxic chemicals, including: dioxins, PCBs, benzene, formaldehyde, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The elements lead, arsenic, chromium, cadmium and mercury are also released in the emissions from these fires. Waste fire ash is contaminated with these metals. In 2009, a statewide ban on open waste burning went into effect in New York State.
The private contractors who were doing the burning at Camp Bucca and the US military authorities that employed them should have checked into the emissions of open burning before deciding to dispose of waste in this manner. Anyone who had knowledge of the toxicity of open burning smoke would have been obligated to veto this waste disposal option. Maybe no one at Camp Bucca knew about this, but the people who decided to do the burning should have known.
Dioxin is a promoter of carcinogenesis. Initiated cancer cell lines develop more rapidly as a result of dioxin exposure. The other chemicals listed above are initiators of cancer cell lines. Mercury exposure has been associated with increased risk of developing brain cancer. When a person is exposed to such a mixture of carcinogens, cancer risk is increased significantly.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) recently convened an expert panel to review PCB carcinogenicity. This panel was unanimous in its decision to classify all PCBs as carcinogenic to humans. Respiratory exposure is recognized by the WHO as a major contributor to total exposure. Breathing air contaminated by the emissions from the burn pits imposed significant exposure. Breathing burn pit smoke over the course of a year imposed a large quantity of exposure to human carcinogens. Higher exposure equates to higher cancer risk. The higher ones risk of developing cancer, the more likely it is that one will develop cancer.
Anthony Thornton developed cancer. It is highly likely that the smoke from the burn pits caused this. His supervising officers failed to protect him from a well established source of harm. The United States government should compensate Mr. Thornton for the harm that he has suffered.
It is the responsibility of the US Department of Defense to make a very diligent effort to warn all the people who were exposed to waste fire smoke on military bases of the disease risk that is imposed by such exposure. It is also the responsibility of the Department of Defense to educate the exposed population on the subject of strategies to reduce all ongoing exposures to dioxins, PCBs and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs). In 2010, the WHO published, "Persistent Organic Pollutants: Impact on Child Health". This landmark public health protection document recommends action to minimize the POPs exposure received by children. All animal fats are contaminated with POPs. Thus, POPs exposure can be minimized by limiting animal fat consumption. The Department of Defense should distribute the WHO POPs report to every person who was exposed to the toxic smoke.
I asked Anthony Thornton if the burn pits in Iraq were still burning. He stated that to the best of his knowledge they continue to be used for waste disposal. The Department of Defense must bring an end to the open waste fires on its bases. There must be no more burning of solid waste by the US military and its contractors. Due to the toxic emissions of open waste burning, this is not an acceptable waste disposal option. When will the Department of Defense start protecting military personnel from all avoidable chemical exposure dangers? War is dangerous enough without having to deal with being poisoned by waste burning.
Cancer Action News Network
Donald L. Hassig, Producer