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DOD Used Burn-Pits In Afghanistan Despite Knowing How Dangerous They Are

At its peak, the U.S. military reached a total of 410,000 personnel in Afghanistan, which resulted in 440 tons of solid waste daily, but despite repeated warnings, the Department of Defense continues to put its soldiers at risk with toxic and dangerous open-air burn-pits.

According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), open-air burn-pits were used as the standard for the first four years of military operations in Afghanistan, but as of 2004, the DOD recommended that the military switch to incinerators and landfills, despite knowing the risks of burn-pits well before operations even began in Afghanistan. After 2004, it took an additional five years for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to develop policies to minimize the use of burn-pits.

Even in 2010, the DOD decided to tell Congress that burn-pits are safe, cost-effective, and expedient, but the Government Accountability Office shortly determined that the DOD didn’t even perform any analyses to compare the costs and benefits of alternative methods of waste disposal.

And the number of burn-pits just kept growing. CENTCOM reported that in 2010, there were 251 active burn-pits, which amounted to an increase of 36.4 percent from only four months earlier.

Military personnel have continued to report severe health problems after returning from Afghanistan, which they maintain came from the burn-pits, and now experts are starting to agree with them. Some studies have pointed to noxious gasses generated from burning lead and mercury, which can wreak havoc on organs and the nervous system. Soldiers have reported asthma, bronchitis, and even Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Everything went into the burn-pits: plastic, Styrofoam, electronics, human body parts and explosives, according to former Staff Sgt. Susan Clifford. But still, the DOD has maintained that the worst these burn-pits can cause is temporary coughing, saying that they “usually do not cause lasting health effects,” Business Insider reports.

Why was the DOD using this method of waste disposal? The answer is because open-air burn-pits are quick and easy, and the DOD dragged its feet for years before even considering the use of other methods of disposal that didn’t put troops at risk. On-the-ground inspections from SIGAR showed that the DOD completely ignored legislation passed by Congress to prohibit certain items, like tires and batteries, from being tossed into the burn-pits because of health concerns.

“U.S. military personnel and others were exposed to the emissions from open-air burn-pits that could have lasting negative health consequences,” the report stated.

As a result, $81.9 million dollars was spent on 23 incinerators as alternative methods of waste disposal, but at least $20.1 million dollars was wasted because eight incinerators were never used, owing to the failures of contractors. The recent report from SIGAR highlights a long-standing trend of wasted taxpayer money in Afghanistan with little or nothing to show as a result.

“This project appears to have been a complete waste,” special inspector John F. Sopko said in a statement to FoxNews.com in 2013. “Even worse, the open-air burn-pit used instead of the incinerators put the health of our troops at risk.”

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