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Illnesses blamed on toxic Iraq burn pits

Oct. 18, 2010 at 4:53 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Toxic fumes from trash burned by U.S. military forces in open pits in Iraq have sickened many U.S. soldiers, yet the practice continues, a federal report says.

A Government Accountability Office audit says the military is continuing to break its own rules and is exposing its members to potentially toxic emissions, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday.

At Balad Air Base in northern Iraq and other bases with similar burn pits, none of the pits were in compliance with current environmental regulations, the GAO said.

Military health officials initially denied burn pit exposure was responsible for any long-term health consequences.

But late last year, Craig Postlewaite, director of Force Health Protection and Readiness Programs, admitted "it's quite plausible -- in fact quite likely -- that there are a small number of people that have been affected with longer-term health problems."

Military health officials have suggested the pits have caused some respiratory illnesses.

Some military members and their families say they believe that's only the beginning, and that burn pit exposure is linked to cancer, blood disease, skin conditions and leukemia, the Tribune reported.

"This is our generation's Agent Orange," Doug Butler, a case manager with the U.S. Air Force's Wounded Warrior program in San Antonio, said, referring to the herbicides used during the Vietnam War that have been blamed for various long-term illnesses.

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