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U.S. military cites burn pit-illness link

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- A U.S. military official has acknowledged there might be a link between open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and soldiers' chronic ill health.

Dr. Craig Postlewaite, who serves as the U.S. military's senior health protection official as the director of Force Health Protection and Readiness Programs, told Tuesday's Salt Lake Tribune he's been convinced of a link by the personal stories of veterans coming forward to report long-term health problems.

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"We feel at this point in time that it's quite plausible -- in fact likely -- that there are a small number of people that have been affected with longer-term health problems," Postlewaite told the newspaper.

The Tribune said the admission comes only weeks after Postlewaite had defended the Pentagon's position that smoke from open-pit burning had only "minor, temporary effects" on service members who inhaled the fumes.

A U.S. Air Force whistle-blower first raised alarms over the practice, in which toxins including arsenic, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide, were set ablaze in acres-large pits. Dozens of soldiers who served at the base have since reportedly suffered or died from rare forms of blood disorders and cancer, including leukemia.

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