The Vermont Senate approved a measure Thursday to raise awareness about the health hazards military personnel suffer from exposure to open burn pits while serving overseas.
A 30-0 vote came after the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Jeanette White, cried and stopped several times as she recounted to senators the emotional testimony her committee had heard.
White spoke haltingly as she recalled the words of June Heston, the widow of Brig. Gen. Mike Heston, who died of cancer last November, and retired Sgt. Wesley Black, a 33-year-old fighting colon cancer who described himself as a “dead man walking.” Both served overseas on deployments where burn pits were used to dispose of a variety of refuse, ignited with jet fuel.
White, D-Windham, the chair of Senate Government Operations, said she didn’t want to get emotional laying out the reasons for S. 111, “but our meetings were anything but.”
“I do apologize,” White said after stopping her presentation to regroup. “I didn’t think I’d do this.” She was reassured by presiding officer Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.
The toxins from the fumes, White said, pervade the body.
“It is in their skin, their lungs, their eyes, their whole body. It has become a part of them,” White said.
She said she was oblivious to the issue until told about Heston in December.
“In my 16 years in the Senate, there have been many issues that have been emotional and passionate. But in all those years, this is the one that makes me really angry and really sad,” White said.