Following in the legacy of environmental disaster exemplified by the deployment of Agent Orange, the military practice of burn pits has not only done environmental damage, but harmed the long-term wellbeing of troops deployed in post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’ conflicts.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a major in the Hawaii National Guard, introduced legislation Tuesday alongside Congressman Brian Mast (R-Florida) to explore the exposure of over 140,000 service members and veterans have had to burn pits, which she calls “the Agent Orange of the post-9/11 generation.”

In the Middle East, the military is constantly burning things. From moldy bread to lithium ion batteries to dogs, All the trash of the war, be it body parts or college brochures, gets thrown into pits, dosed with jet fuel and set on fire. And the smoke and ash of human waste and chemical lights gets inhaled by service members.

A judge found as a matter of law in February that these burn pits have caused lung diseases. Former Vice President Joe Biden thinks that burn pits contributed to his son’s death. Thousands of veterans have claimed their illnesses trace back to burn pits.

“Whether serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, our post-9/11 veterans were exposed to open-air burn pits, often for many hours a day. Some veterans who I deployed with are now falling sick with cancer and other illnesses,” Gabbard said in a statement. “But, there is no research and data about exposure to burn pits and other toxic chemicals, and how they have impacted the health and well-being of our servicemembers and their families.”

A 2017 documentary, Delay, Deny, Hope You Die, explored the culpability of the military hierarchy in the apparent willful endangerment of service members. The reflection of Agent Orange in the response of burn pits is particularly chilling.

Gabbard’s Burn Pits Accountability Act¬†would add the military’s records of soldiers stationed near burn pits to the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pits Registry and require disclosure of known hazardous substances those service members were exposed to.

The more unfortunate question given the legacy of Agent Orange and burn pits, however, is what comes next? As more fault lines in old conflicts form, in what new ways will the military poison it’s essential assets? Or will burn pits end this troubling legacy?


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.


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