Burn Pits

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Open-air burn pits have operated widely at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many returning Veterans are concerned about their exposure to smoke from burning trash and human waste. VA is sponsoring several studies on possible health effects.

Learn about:

Exposure to Smoke from Burn Pits

Smoke produced by the burn may spread a variety of pollutants through the air that blows into working and living areas.

These toxins can include dioxin, particulate matter, hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, hexachlorobenzene, and ash.

The make-up of the smoke depends on what is being burned, which is not consistent from one burn pit to another, or from one time period to another at the same burn pit.

Health effects depend on a number of factors, such as the kind of waste being burned, individual susceptibility, duration of exposure, air flow patterns, and closeness to the pit.

You may be at greater risk if you burned waste at the pit compared to those were only in the vicinity of the smoke.

Possible Health Effects

Exposure to toxins may affect the skin, eyes, respiration, kidneys, liver, nervous system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, peripheral nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract.

At this time, research has not shown long-term adverse health effects from exposure to the burn pits. VA takes this issue seriously and is sponsoring several studies on possible health effects.

Most of the irritation related to solid waste burning exposure is temporary and resolves once the exposure is gone. These include:

  • Eye irritation and burning
  • Coughing and throat irritation
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Skin itching and rashes

Type of Waste Burned

Waste products in burn pits include, but are not limited to:

  • Chemicals
  • Paint
  • Medical and human waste
  • Metal/aluminum cans
  • Munitions and other unexploded ordnance
  • Petroleum and lubricant products
  • Plastics and styrofoam
  • Rubber
  • Wood
  • Discarded foodCompensation benefits for health problemsCompensation benefits for health problems

Compensation benefits for health problems

Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to burn pits during military service. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis.File a claim online.

For more information please visit the VA’s Public Health website about Burn Pits.

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