tion Program, which is the Army program for logistics support using civilian contractors. Some bases in Iraq and Afghanistan are able to use local contractors to remove waste from bases and operate off-site burn pits.

For all of these reasons, the committee finds that an assessment of one burn pit on a U.S. military base is unlikely to be applicable to all, or most, burn pits on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Burn pit activities and thus their emissions will, in most cases, need to be considered on an individual basis.

The Burn Pit at Joint Base Balad

The burn pit at JBB has been in operation at least since 2003 when the base was established at a former air base of the Iraqi military, originally built in the 1980s (Taylor et al. 2008). The burn pit operation was used to burn the trash generated by the base population as well as refuse left by the Iraqi military when it abandoned the base (personal communication, William Haight, Engineering Division, Joint Staff, DoD, February 3, 2010). The burn pit operated 24 hours per day, 7 days a week (Taylor et al. 2008).

The committee requested but did not obtain documentation from the DoD on the volumes and types of materials burned specifically at JBB. Although the total quantity of waste burned daily is unknown, the DoD estimates that JBB, with a large population that sometimes surpassed 25,000—including U.S. troops, host nation soldiers, coalition troops, civilians, and contractors—burned as much as several hundred tons a day of waste in the spring of 2007 (Taylor et al. 2008). A subsequent DoD report estimates that the waste stream in spring 2007 was as much as 200 tons per day (USAPHC 2010). By fall 2007, when two incinerators were operational, about half the spring 2007 volume was being burned and by May or June 2009, when three incinerators were operating, only about 10 tons of waste were burned in the pit each day (USAPHC 2010). The burn pit ceased operating in late 2009.

DoD studies and fact sheets prepared for service members stationed at JBB indicated that the pit likely burned a heterogeneous mixture of food waste (including food items, styrofoam, and other related materials), human waste, shipping and packaging materials, meals-ready-to-eat packages, chemicals (paints, solvents), metal/aluminum cans, petroleum, and jet fuel, which was used as and accelerant (Taylor et al. 2008; CHPPM undated). Electronics, tires, batteries, and clothing are not listed specifically, but it is plausible they were burned as well. Based on congressional testimony by individuals who had been present at JBB, medical waste (including needles, gloves, bandages, body fluids, and expired pharmaceuticals) was also burned at least occasionally in the pit (U.S. Congress 2009a).

MILITARY BURN PITS POLICIES AND STUDIES

Although open-air waste burning has long been used by troops in combat situations, concerns regarding the possible health effects and environmental impacts created by such burning have only recently been addressed. Combat situations pose so many other grave risks that the negative aspects of military waste burning have historically been largely ignored. Concerns about possible health risks associated with smoke from open-air waste burning can be traced back in part to the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War. In response to a constellation of unexplained symptoms and illnesses reported by returning Gulf War veterans, the DoD, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Congress sponsored a series of studies. These studies indicated that exposures to smoke from oil-well fires and from other combustion sources, including waste burning, were stressors for troops serving in the Gulf War (IOM 2005).

Peace-keeping operations in the Balkans in the 1990s offered the U.S. military an opportunity to examine patterns of waste management and to establish waste management guidelines and policies to reduce health and environmental impacts. During Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia in 1995–1996, military preventive-medicine personnel recognized that open burning of waste might be an operational necessity during combat operations, but they emphasized that burning should be used to the minimum extent feasible and that burn pits should be located as far as possible downwind of personnel (U.S. Congress 2009b). Open-air waste burning in Bosnia and Kosovo was replaced by other waste management practices, including incinerators.

A comparative study of waste generation and management practices at several U.S. bases in the Balkans found that bases differed in the generation of plastic waste, primarily from drinking water bottles. The waste stream at one base was comparable to a similarly sized civilian community except for an “extraordinarily large volume of



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement