Researchers can't link burn pits on military bases to health problems

November 16, 2011

Washington – “Insufficient data” exists to determine whether exposure to emissions from open-air burn pits on military bases causes long-term health effects such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, concludes an Institute of Medicine report (.pdf file) released in October.

Researchers analyzed data from air monitoring at Joint Base Balad, a military base in Iraq that burned 100-200 tons of waste per day in 2007, and found that levels of the more serious pollutants were not higher than levels measured at other sites in the world, according to an IOM press release. The greater concern may be a pollutant mixture of chemicals from regional and local sources other than burn pits, researchers said.

However, research was limited by inadequate data on service members’ exposure, high levels of pollution from other sources and lack of information on the composition of the waste being burned. Researchers recommended long-term studies tracking soldiers from deployment, and better air monitoring and air sampling.