As Congress defunds research into the health effects of burn pits, veterans are forced to be their own advocates.
By now you’ve probably heard of former Marine and Army Sergeant Joseph Hickman’s new incendiary book, “The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers.” It’s a provocative look behind the massive burn pits of Iraq and Afghanistan, detailing a chilling history of sickness and systemic neglect from higher ups.
If you’ve never heard of burn pits before, the name reveals everything. Instead of using more expensive incinerators to dispose of waste, everything from “tires, lithium batteries, asbestos insulation, pesticide containers, Styrofoam, metals, paints, plastic, medical waste and even human corpses,” according to Hickman, were thrown into holes in the ground and set on fire. More than 250 burn pits were in operation during the past decade, spewing toxic fumes into the lungs of service members and civilians alike. The Department of Defense has said that each pit on larger bases burned on average 30 to 40 tons of solid waste per day. Hickman asserts that the health effects were so dangerous that they were even passed down through the generations, writing in his book, “The rate of having a child with birth defects is three times higher for service members who served in those countries.”
Hickman’s account is probably the most thorough and expansive take on burn pits so far, going so far as to implicate KBR, who ran the burn pits, and Gen. David Petraeus, who initially denied that burn pits were harmful. But it isn’t the first attention that’s been paid to the phenomenon. Journalists have been writing about the burn pits for years. There have been multiple television specials about the burn pits. Hickman even makes the allegation that Beau Biden, the vice president’s son, might have died because of cancer caused by exposure to burn pits.