Date: Oct. 31, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Evidence Inconclusive About Long-Term Health Effects of Exposure to Military Burn Pits
During deployment to a war zone, military personnel can be exposed to a variety of environmental hazards, many of which have been associated with long-term adverse health outcomes such as cancer and respiratory disease. Many veterans returning from
Based on its analysis of raw data from air monitoring efforts at JBB conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense, the committee that wrote the report concluded that levels of most pollutants of concern at the base were not higher than levels measured at other polluted sites worldwide. Moreover, research on other populations exposed to complex mixtures of pollutants, primarily firefighters and workers at municipal waste incineration plants, has not indicated increased risk for long-term health consequences such as cancer, heart disease, and most respiratory illnesses among these groups.
Even so, the committee pointed out shortcomings in research and gaps in evidence that prevented them from drawing firm conclusions, and it recommended a path to overcome some of these limitations. Lack of information on the specific quantities and types of wastes burned and on other sources of background pollution when air samples were being collected meant it was difficult to correlate pit emissions, including smoke events, with potential health outcomes. Different types of wastes produce different combinations of chemical emissions with the possibility of different health outcomes in those exposed. Moreover, it is hard to determine whether surrogate populations such as firefighters experience exposures to pollutants and durations of exposures similar to those of service members stationed at JBB.
The report recommends that a study be conducted to evaluate the health status of service members from their time of deployment to JBB over many years to determine their incidence of chronic diseases, including cancers, that tend not to show up for decades. In addition, it recommends a tiered approach to gathering data to better characterize exposures to the complex mixture of burn pit emissions in light of the presence of other sources of pollutants in the ambient environment.
Given the variety of hazards and substances to which military personnel are exposed in the field, service in
The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the
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Pre-publication copies of Long-Term Health Consequences of Exposure to Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
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Board on the Health of Select Populations
Committee on the Long-Term Health Consequences of Exposure to Burn Pits in
David J. Tollerud Sr., M.D., M.P.H. (chair)
Professor and Chair
Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences
John R. Balmes, M.D.
Professor of Medicine
Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D.
Professor of Medicine and Distinguished
Department of Environmental Cardiology
Edmund A.C. Crouch, Ph.D.
Francesca Dominici, Ph.D.
Professor of Biostatistics
Ellen A. Eisen, Ph.D.
Mary A. Fox, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Department of Health Policy and Management
Mark W. Frampton, M.D.
Professor of Medicine and Environmental Medicine
Petro Koutrakis, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental Sciences, and
Exposure, Epidemiology and Risk Program
Jacob D. McDonald, Ph.D.
Scientist and Director
Chemistry and Inhalation Exposure Program
Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute
Gunter Oberdorster, Ph.D., D.V.M.
Professor of Toxicology, and
Dorothy E. Patton, Ph.D., J.D.
Environmental Protection Agency (retired)
William M. Valentine, Ph.D., D.V.M.
Associate Professor of Pathology
Bailus Walker Jr., Ph.D., M.P.H.
Professor of Environmental and Occupational
Medicine and Toxicology
Roberta Wedge, M.S.