an average of 10,430 service members in 2009; the average population of U.S. service members peaked at over 15,000 in 2007 (Steve Halko, Defense Manpower Data Center, personal communication, August 25, 2010). An unknown number of coalition forces and civilian contactors were also on the base. Because of its large population, the scale of the Balad burn pit was also large, with estimates of the amount of waste burned ranging from about 2 tons per day early in its operation in 2003 to 200 tons of waste being burned daily in 2007 (Taylor et al. 2008; USAPC 2010). The burn pit ceased operating in late 2009.

No inventory of the items burned in the pit was made available to the committee, but the refuse was reported to include a wide variety of materials that could produce potentially hazardous emissions. Among these substances were plastics, metal cans, rubber, chemicals (paints, solvents), petroleum, munitions, and wood waste. In addition, JP-8 jet fuel was used as an accelerant for the fire (Taylor et al. 2008). Anecdotal accounts mention specifically the burning of plastic water bottles, food waste, human waste, and munitions, but ordnance does not appear to have been burned deliberately in the JBB burn pit.

Uncontrolled open-air burning does not completely burn the wastes, and military documents, eyewitness accounts, and publicly available photographs and videos confirm that at JBB and at other bases smoke plumes rose from burn pit areas, and at times smoke blew over the base and into living areas (Taylor et al. 2008). Open air pit burning at JBB generated complaints as early as 2003 (CHPPM undated).

In 2007, in response to the concerns of active-duty military personnel about potential hazardous inhalation exposures at JBB and other installations with burn pits, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (CHPPM, now called the U.S. Army Public Health Command) and the U.S. Air Force Institute for Operational Health (AFIOH) began a formal screening health risk assessment at JBB (Taylor et al. 2008). The study collected air samples from January through April of 2007 at several locations around the base, and the samples were analyzed for many of the chemicals expected to be emitted during trash burning. The objective was to assess the potential for adverse health effects to personnel stationed at the base who might be exposed to such chemicals. The CHPPM report (released in May 2008) found risks for cancer or noncancer health effects of concern that could be attributed to exposure to the air pollutants detected at JBB to be “acceptable” (that is, a cancer risk between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 1,000,000 or lower, and a hazard index less than one). However, it should be noted that many air pollutants were not measured at JBB including U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standard priority pollutants such as nitrogen and sulfur oxides, ozone, and carbon monoxide. Follow-up sampling in the same locations occurred in the fall of 2007 after two incinerators were installed, and subsequently in 2009 just before complete closure of the burn pit. Screening health risk assessments based on those sampling campaigns also found the risks from exposure to the air pollutants to be “acceptable” for cancer risks, with some potential for short-term, reversible non-cancer effects, and a “moderate” operational risk from particulate matter (CHPPM and AFIOH 2009; Taylor et al. 2009; USAPHC 2010).

Members of Congress also became interested in military burn pit use and safety. Bills were introduced in 2009 and 2010 to sharply curtail the use of open-air burn pits and establish a medical surveillance system to identify veteran health effects attributed to exposure to the burning of solid waste. HR 2647, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, prohibits the use of burn pits for hazardous prohibits the use of burn pits for hazardous and medical waste except in cases where there is no alternative,1 and the act requires the DoD to take several actions including: reporting to Congress regularly whenever burn pits are used; developing a plan for alternatives to burn pits; assessing existing medical surveillance programs of burn pits exposure and making recommendations to improve them; and studying the effects of burning plastics in open pits and evaluating the feasibility of prohibiting the burning of plastics. In 2009, congressional hearings on the proposed bill included testimony from both military officials and veterans groups and focused on the CHPPM screening study, with DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials emphasizing the study’s conclusion that JBB exposures fell within military exposure guidelines and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency values for acceptable risk.


1Hazardous wastes in the National Defense Authorization Act uses the definition in the 2002 Solid Waste Disposal Act, Section 1004(5) to mean “a solid waste, or combination of solid wastes, which because of its quantity, concentration, or physical, chemical, or infectious characteristics may—(A) cause, or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible, illness; or (B) pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed of, or otherwise managed” (; accessed August 23, 2011).

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