Why burn pits may have increased the risk of uncommon malignancies and respiratory conditions in veterans

A bipartisan bill to increase medical care for millions of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who were exposed to toxic burn pits came to a standstill on Thursday as 25 Republican senators who had previously supported the legislation changed their minds.

The action stopped the bill from being delivered to President Biden. The law has already cleared the House, and an earlier version of it that had some revisions passed the Senate last month. The current version of the legislation astonished its supporters by failing to pass a second time.

The method used to dispose of rubbish at military outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2010 and 2015—dumping it in a pit and lighting it on fire outside—is at question.

Many veterans blame exposure to toxins discharged into the air by these fires for eventual health issues like cancer and respiratory disease. A variety of hazardous materials, such as lead, mercury, benzene, hydrocarbons, dioxins, and volatile organic compounds, were carried by the smoke.

David Savitz, an epidemiology professor at the Brown University School of Public Health, stated that those who were deployed to locations where burn pits were used “certainly had exposure to substances that are known to be dangerous.”

More than 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to chemicals while serving in the military after September 11, 2001 would have had easier access to health care under the proposal. Additionally, 23 new conditions—among them various cancers—would now qualify for federal health insurance coverage.

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, also known as PACT Act, was named in honor of the American veteran who claimed that exposure to fire pits caused him lung cancer. 2020 Robinson died of his illness.

Burning waste in the manner employed by the military could undoubtedly increase the risk of disease, according to Savitz and other experts, but additional research is necessary to determine whether the problems veterans are describing were specifically brought on by burn pits. In any case, they believe that veterans should be able to access the care they require.

According to Steven Coughlin, an epidemiology professor at Augusta University, “the legislation was really essential for providing health coverage for veterans who are developing these types of lung problems and a presumptive diagnosis of uncommon cancer and providing therapy for them.” “Hopefully, they’ll turn things around.”


Around 2010, according to avitz, burn pits began gradually being replaced by incinerators. But first, the military lit all kinds of trash on fire outside.
He claimed that they were burning everything they possessed, including garbage, food waste, medical waste, and water bottles.
Cardboard, heavy metals, plastics, and auto parts were on the list, according to Coughlin.
He claimed, “They burnt huge mountains of trash night and day, pouring jet fuel on it to ignite it.
Combatants “were often breathing this muck daily with severe exposure” because burn pits were frequently situated close to barracks, according to Coughlin.

Since then, exposure to fire pits while serving in the military has been connected to certain respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Among previously healthy soldiers who deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, A small 2011 study also discovered cases of constrictive bronchiolitis, a rare but potentially lethal lung ailment.

Both experts agreed that the link between burn pit exposure and cancer is less certain because some cancers take longer to develop after exposure to a carcinogen and veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to burn pits only a few decades ago.

There have been numerous stories of veterans developing uncommon cancers, according to Coughlin. But “certain chronic disorders may take decades, 30, 40, or even 50 years to present themselves”

The PACT Act suggests expanding the list of conditions that qualify for increased access to health care to include lung, brain, renal, gastrointestinal, and other malignancies.

Denis McDonough, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, endorsed the PACT Act in May.

“Getting more veterans into VA treatment is one of the department’s top priorities, and the bipartisan law will help us accomplish that goal,” McDonough said in a statement. We need Congress to get the PACT Act to President Biden’s desk because the vice president has made it plain that he is committed to providing additional VA health care to veterans who have been exposed to dangerous substances.

Beau Biden, who served in Iraq at military installations that employed burn pits, passed away from a brain tumor in 2015.
Dioxins, among the numerous substances to which soldiers were exposed, are of special concern because of their association with respiratory cancer, according to Coughlin.
He claimed that “humans were not intended to handle exposure to dioxins.” No safe exposure limit exists.

However, Savitz noted that because exposures weren’t extensively documented by the military, drawing a causal connection between burn pits and disease can be difficult. Currently, he is researching whether or whether former stationees at sites that employed burn pits had respiratory or cardiovascular conditions.

It hasn’t yet been directly demonstrated, according to Savitz, that those who have been exposed to burn pits while serving in the military actually have long-term higher rates of disease.

However, he and Coughlin argued that the government shouldn’t defer providing veterans health treatment until researchers have a complete understanding of all the dangers associated with burn pit exposure.

It’s crucial to make sure that these veterans receive the proper care and not to hold off until the epidemiology catches up, according to Coughlin.