New Law Limits Military use of Open Burn Pits

November 11, 2009 

Doug from Seacoast Anti-Pollution League in Portsmouth, New Hampshire sent a post to the Military Toxics Project listserve about a new law to limit the military use of open burn pits overseas.  However, as Doug notes the law “Doesn’t cover domestic bases, nor everything we’d want left unburned, but DoD has to develop a plan to eliminate burning so it’s a start!”

Open Burn/Open Detonation (OB/OD) pits have been a commonly used method for the military to dispose of old munitions and other waste.  OB/OD was used in Makua valley as recently as 1994.  The Wai’anae community organized with leadership from Malama Makua to oppose the Army’s permit application to the EPA to conduct routine OB/OD disposal in Makua. (Up to that point, unpermitted OB/OD disposal was conducted under the auspices of “training”.)  The Army was forced to abandon its OB/OD plans and close the disposal site, which has not been decontaminated.

Here’s the article on the Newsweek blog about this new law:

Posted Wednesday, October 28, 2009 11:30 AM

Obama to Sign Law Protecting Troops From Toxic Fumes

Katie Connolly

A few months ago I wrote a short piece about the startling practice of using open-air burn pits to incinerate waste on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. The toxic fumes from these pits have been linked to a host of debilitating illnesses in troops and contractors who worked near them. Here’s an excerpt from my original piece:

Josh Eller, a military contractor stationed in Iraq in 2006, was driving through Balad Air Base when he spotted the wild dog. He wasn’t sure what was in its mouth—but when Eller saw two bones, he knew he was looking at a human arm. The dog had pulled the limb from an open-air “burn pit” on the base used to incinerate waste. Eller says it’s “one of the worst things I have seen.”

Since hearing Eller’s story, lawyer Elizabeth Burke has signed on 190 additional clients with complaints about burn pits at 18 military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. By now, she says, all pits should have been replaced by pollution-controlled incinerators. She’s filed suits in 17 states against KBR, the company contracted to provide waste-disposal services at these bases, accusing it of negligence and harm. Burke was shocked to learn what her clients saw incinerated: Humvees, batteries, unexploded ordnance, gas cans, mattresses, rocket pods, and plastic and medical waste (including body parts, which may explain the arm). Fumes containing carcinogenic dioxins, heavy metals, and particulates, according to an Army–Air Force risk assessment, waft freely across bases.

Burke’s plaintiffs mostly suffer from chronic or unusual medical complications that they believe were caused by burn-pit exposure. Shawn Sheridan, who served two tours at Balad, says black smoke from the pit was so thick at times he couldn’t see through it with night-vision goggles. Sheridan, 26, was healthy when he enlisted six years ago. Now he has a kidney disease, chronic bronchitis, and a painful skin condition. (Read the full story here.)

Today Eller, Sheridan, and the many others affected by these pits are getting some good news, thanks in part to the work of Rep. Tim Bishop, Democrat of New York, and Rep. Carol Shea Porter, Democrat of New Hampshire, who have championed their cause for months. They successfully lobbied for the inclusion of provisions to limit the use of these toxic pits in the National Defense Authorization Act, which the president will sign into law this afternoon. Under this new law, open-air burning of medical and hazardous waste will be prohibited except where the Defense secretary deems there is no alternative, the DoD must justify the use of burn pits to Congress, and it will develop a plan to eliminate the use of burn pits entirely.

The legislation won’t repair Sheridan’s lungs or kidneys, but it will force the DoD to limit troop exposure to potentially hazardous fumes in the future. That really shouldn’t be so hard. According to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, only about half the incinerators the military purchased four years ago to help eliminate the use of burn pits are currently in operation. The public would never stand for having burn pits operate in a residential area in the U.S. Now, eight years into the war in Afghanistan, U.S. service members might start receiving that same courtesy.

(You can read more about burn pits in Kelly Kennedy’s excellent reports for Military Times.)

Poor communities combat military pollutants

April 27, 2009 

Poor communities combat military pollutants

By Charlene Muhammad
Western Region Correspondent
Updated Apr 21, 2009 – 12:08:30 AM

Activists charge environmental racism, and genocide

‘The government will not address the health affects in communities like ours, whether it’s Black, Native American, Asian, if you live around a federal site, they’re not going to address any health issues but I will say the government is equal opportunity. They pollute the hell out of everybody.’
-Dorothy Bradshaw

( – Dorothy Bradshaw knows devastation. Her father passed away from cancer in late March. Her grandmother passed away after just six months of being diagnosed with an aggressive, rare form of bladder cancer in 1995 and when her grandfather died of the cancer a year later, she recalled a letter sent by a nearby military distribution site the year before, which said various chemicals may have seeped offsite into the drainage ditches in their community.

She began researching the USA Defense Depot Memphis (DDMT) and her Memphis, Tenn. neighborhood and said she found that in every household there was a history of cancer. In some, at least three to four people had the disease, but the problem was worse than that.

“Our rate here is between 75 percent mortality and morbidity. My next-door neighbor’s daughter was 13 and had uterine cancer. We had a young man here with testicular cancer at 17. Most women at 25 have hysterectomies and if they don’t go and have their children early in our community, normally they can’t have kids because they are always affected by some type of reproductive illness,” Ms. Bradshaw told The Final Call.

The 54-year-old had cancer cells in her uterus at 30 years old; a baseball-sized tumor at 28 and now she has an unidentifiable lung disease and suffers with diabetes, high blood pressure and thyroid disease, all which she attributes to exposure to hazardous waste from the DDMT. Stomach, colon and cervical cancer are reported as the highest types there, Ms. Bradshaw said, but that’s only because “prostate cancer rates are so high, they don’t even report it.”

The DDMT is made up of 642 acres in a residential, commercial and industrial area of south central Memphis. Since 1942 it has distributed clothing, food, medical supplies, electronic equipment, petroleum products, and industrial chemicals to all U.S. military services.

It also conducted numerous operations utilizing hazardous substances with contamination resulting from leakage, spillage, disposal of out-of-date materials, and normal application of pesticides, according to the Defense Dept. (DOD) website description of the center.

In 1946, the Army disposed of leaking mustard bombs (a chemical warfare agent) and other waste at Dunn Field, a 60-acre open storage and burial area at the DDMT. The waste included oil, grease, paint thinners, methyl bromide, pesticides and cleaning fluids (chlorinated solvents). Approximately 154,300 people rely on drinking water from public supply wells within four miles of Dunn Field.

Ms. Bradshaw created Defense Depot Memphis Tennessee Concerned Citizens to document their ordeal, provide support, and advocate for accountability and health care for people who now are sick, can’t work and are on disability.

“When you get 50 you’re considered a senior citizen now because most of our seniors are dead. There’s only one person on my street within a block that is 80 years old. There aren’t too many 60 year olds and most of us are in our 50s over here. It’s not that people don’t know what’s going on. They do, but environmental racism kicks in,” Ms. Bradshaw said.

The group joined a coalition of communities and organizations around the U.S. to help push legislation that would require the government to clean up the sites and comply with health and environmental protection laws.

Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA) introduced the “Military Environmental Responsibility Act” (H.R. 672) on August 3, 2007 to eliminate military waivers to key environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

In a March 24 letter to the White House, the coalition said it wants to expose hidden casualties at home that are caused by unregulated military projects that have increased the risks for cancer and exposure to military toxins

“We are united in seeking to protect those most vulnerable from these harmful exposures especially the unborn, babies, youth, elders, disenfranchised communities of race, Indigenous Tribal Nations and peoples, economically disadvantaged communities, military personnel, civilian workers, military garment workers, and families living in the vicinity of military operations and installations throughout the nation,” the letter expressed.

Specifically, H.R. 672 would amend the United States Code to require the Department of Defense and all other defense-related U.S. agencies to comply with Federal and State environmental laws, including those applicable to public health, worker safety, protecting the environment, and the health and safety of the public, particularly children, members of the Armed Forces, civilian workers and people who live in the vicinity of military operations and installations.

Chris Isleib, DoD spokesperson, told The Final Call that the department takes environmental issues very seriously and works with both governmental and non-governmental agencies to ensure maximum protection, remediation and meet EPA requirements.

“No entity in the world, government or private sector, has spent more money-or more effort-than the Defense Department has on environmental cleanup, cleanup research, cleanup assessment, technology to conduct cleanup, cleanup operations, cleanup follow-up monitoring,” Mr. Isleib countered.

The DoD’s current estimate of future costs for environmental restitution is approximately $32 billion for sites with remaining work at active installations and it has some 11,500 sites either in cleanup or tagged for clean up.

Of the DoD’s 31,500 clean up sites, about 20,500 of them have reached their remedial action objectives, Mr. Isleib said.

Laura Olah, executive director, Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, who is leading the coalition, said she became involved when the Army announced that groundwater contamination had traveled three miles offsite and within a quarter mile of a municipal well in Prairie du Sac, Michigan. Then, the drinking water supplies of three private homes became contaminated with high levels of the cancer-causing chemical carbon tetrachloride.

Contaminant concentrations in the ground water are more than 50 times the Health Advisory Levels established by the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

“The government will not address the health affects in communities like ours, whether it’s Black, Native American, Asian; if you live around a federal site, they’re not going to address any health issues but I will say the government is equal opportunity. They pollute the hell out of everybody. They find poor White communities and do the same thing to them also, anybody who’s not able to fight them,” Ms. Bradshaw said.

Gilbert Sanchez of the Tribal Environmental Watch Alliance, has worked on nuclear environmental issues for decades-ever since the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where the atomic bomb was first tested and implemented, was built on his tribe’s ancestral land.

He is a member of the 19 Pueblos, which is a sub-group of the San Ildefonso Tribe and from LANL’s inception in 1945, there has been no regulation of the waste products used by the lab. Today, there are uncontrollable chemical and biological wastes violating his people’s food chain and like residents near the DDMT, they are experiencing high rates of rare cancers.

“My concern has always been the health impact from all of the activities of the past. Not only my relatives but people, young people in the valley, are dying from very young ages of cancer because they or their parents worked up on the hill,” he said.

He has spent years fighting for a baseline study of the current health impacts that the uranium and plutonium used to make the bomb has had on his people. “The Euro-American or Anglo-American scientists knew very well that the dust particles from this uranium and plutonium was going to be dangerous and impact the respiratory system,” Mr. Sanchez said.

In order to cover that up, he charged, the lab freely gave its workers tobacco products-a carton of cigarettes per day, but they couldn’t take the cigarettes out of the mines, refinement factories or plutonium areas.

Now, Mr. Sanchez said, the tribe’s condition is very much like a third world country with very low living standards, a sub par health care system, and they are often used as guinea pigs.

“This is part of the Euro-American genocidal movement. It’s a part of that orchestrated genocidal commission that’s continually going on. It started at the time of discovery and continues today,” he said. He believes that President Barack Obama is sincere about his commitment to abolish the nuclear weapons industry, and he hopes that Pres. Obama can open the books and secrecy cloaked around U.S. military research centers and laboratories.

“We have no need to have massive weapons of destruction that are going to totally annihilate portions of this earth or completely the earth itself. Conventional weaponry and the use of current nuclear weapons is beyond any human’s right mind,” Mr. Sanchez said.


Vieques Residents Alarmed by Depleted Uranium Reports

January 30, 2001 

Published on Tuesday, January 30, 2001 by Inter Press Service

Vieques Residents Alarmed by Depleted Uranium Reports

by Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

Residents of the island-town of Vieques are alarmed and angered by the United States military’s use of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition in a firing range located next to a civilian area.

Since 1941, Vieques has been used by the US Navy for target practice. During the last two years, Puerto Rican peace activists have engaged in a massive and unprecedented civil disobedience campaign to get the Navy to close its firing range there.

Vieques residents have followed with great concern the controversy raging in Europe over the use of DU in the 1999 NATO war against Yugoslavia. They remember very well the US Navy’s statements to the effect that most ships and aeroplanes that were used in that war were tested in Vieques.

According to a study carried out by the Puerto Rico Health Department, the cancer rate in Vieques is 26.9 percent above Puerto Rico’s average. The study, which covered the years 1990-94, says nothing about the possible causes of this unusually high cancer rate. But the Navy’s opponents are certain that military activities on the island, including target practice with DU munitions, are to blame.

Doctor Rafael Rivera-Castaño, who lives in Vieques, believes that the PR Health Department cancer study’s data are already somewhat dated, and that the current cancer rate in Vieques is even higher. ”I estimate that the cancer rate here is now 52 percent over the Puerto Rico average,” he said in an interview.

Members of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CRDV) recently met with environmental justice activists from the United States and heard their experiences with DU.

”We listened in horror as scientists and community activists from the US told about this new type of weaponry that had been used extensively in the Gulf War. We had recently heard retired Admiral Diego Hernández say that the ‘success’ of the US forces in Iraq was due in great measure to their practising in Vieques,” said CRDV spokesman Ismael Guadalupe.

”For years we have denounced the relationship between the military contamination and the exaggerated levels of cancer on Vieques. The heavy metals and other chemical components from explosives, dangerous to human health, combined with the radioactive uranium 238 projectiles, jeopardise the life of Viequenses today as well as future generations,” said Nilda Medina, also of the CRDV.

”There is no way to guarantee that the next bomb or cannon shot will not impact one of the uranium shells, putting into the air radioactive particles that could be air transported to the civilian sector, to our children, to our old folks, to any one of us. We urge the authorities responsible for our health and security to block any future bombing that puts in danger the entire Vieques community,” expressed Medina.

The Navy admitted that it had used DU ammunition in Vieques in a May 10, 1999 statement in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Military Toxics Project, a US-based organisation. In the communiqué, signed by B.L. Thompson, the Navy said that it fired DU rounds in Vieques once, in February 1999, and claims that it used only 263 airplane-fired, low-calibre rounds, and that it had been done by mistake.

However, military scientist Doug Rokke, one of the world’s leading authorities on DU, finds the last two claims unbelievable. ”If they fired 263 DU rounds in Vieques, then it’s going to snow in San Juan tomorrow,” he said.

During a recent visit to Puerto Rico and Vieques island Rokke said 263 rounds is ”not even a burst of automatic gunfire. The A-10 Warthog attack plane, which fires DU ammunition, can fire three to four thousand rounds per minute.” He added that it couldn’t have possibly been a mistake, since the Pentagon keeps very strict inventory of all its ammunition.

DU consists mostly of uranium 238 (U238), a by-product of uranium enrichment, the process through which uranium 235 (U235) is separated from the uranium ore. Both isotopes are radioactive, but unlike U235, U238 is useless for nuclear bombs or nuclear power. It is simply radioactive waste and it will remain radioactive for 4.5 billion years. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimated in 1991 that there must be one million pounds of this material in the United States.

The US government has decided to dispose of this radioactive waste by selling it as ammunition. DU is an ideal material for bullets, since it is 70 percent more dense than lead, and is extremely susceptible to friction. Violent impacts can make it reach temperatures in the thousands of degrees Fahrenheit in a fraction of a second. For these reasons, a DU bullet can pierce a tank’s armour like a knife through butter and scorch the crew inside.

”These bullets are not coated or tipped with this material. They are pure, solid DU,” informed Rokke.

When a DU round is fired, 60 percent of its mass ends up as microscopic aerosol particles in the air, which can be carried miles downwind, according to the Military Toxics Project. Although it is less radioactive than weapons-grade U235, the group claims that a single DU particle a thousandth of a millimetre in size lodged inside a human lung emits 800 times the amount of radiation considered safe by federal standards.

The use of DU ammunition constitutes ”a crime against God and humanity”, declared Rokke, who directed the Pentagon’s Depleted Uranium Project and wrote its Cleanup and Handling Protocol for Depleted Uranium.

Based on his studies, he concluded that anyone who comes in contact with these munitions must get medical attention, not only those who have been fired at with them, but also those who have fired them, as well as anyone who has come near structures impacted by these bullets.

Rokke speaks from experience. He suffers from radiation poisoning since he visited the Persian Gulf area to study the effects of DU ordnance used by US forces in the 1991 war against Iraq. His urine contains 2000 times the amount of uranium considered normal.

In his view, DU is largely responsible for the unusual health problems that US veterans of the 1991 Gulf War have been suffering, known collectively as the ‘Gulf War Syndrome’. The military denies that there is any such causal relationship.

”Vieques must be the place to stop the criminal actions of the US armed forces, which use the cloak of secrecy to claim that there’s no danger in using depleted uranium ammunition and ignore veterans’ calls for medical attention, and refuse to take on their responsibility to clean up and decontaminate,” said Rokke.

Rokke also senses a pattern of environmental racism in the Pentagon’s decision to test DU in Vieques and in the Japanese island of Okinawa. ”The US Defence Department’s policy is racist and discriminatory, contrary to the principle of environmental justice. We have the cases of Vieques and Okinawa, where DU ammunition has been experimented with. These are not isolated events, or errors or chance. These are planned actions to test and later use this highly polluting ammunition in Kosovo and the Persian Gulf.”

The US Department of Defence claims that DU does not represent a significant hazard to human health. Its spokespersons refer to an April 1999 RAND Corporation study, which supports the military’s position.

But the RAND report is biased and incomplete, says ‘DoD Analysis: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, a report written by Dan Fahey, a former naval officer and currently Director of Research at the Gulf War Resource Centre. Fahey’s report, which was written for the US General Accounting Office, states that RAND made no reference at all to 62 relevant information sources.

According to Fahey, RAND ignored studies which demonstrate a clear relationship between DU and harm to human health, for example those carried out by the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute.

US armed forces have already used these munitions extensively. During the 1991 Gulf War US troops fired an estimated 300 tons of it into civilian and military targets in Iraq.

According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, in the 1999 NATO war against Yugoslavia, US tanks fired 14,000 high-calibre DU rounds, while planes fired 940,000 smaller calibre DU bullets. US armed forces are not the only ones to use DU ammunition. Authorised arms dealers sell them to 16 countries, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Taiwan.

Copyright 2001 IPS