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If you want to dispose of hazardous waste in the US, despite an EPA gutted by the Bush administration, you'll have to follow extensive regulations. Paperwork must be completed and approved, the waste will be poured down a deep injection well, or buried under tons of earth in abandoned mines. It will have to be managed and monitored by highly trained, expensive specialists and inspected by third party officials, making it a time consuming, costly project. But if you're a contractor in Iraq or Afghanistan, you can bypass all those silly safety procedures and make a bundle doing it:

They're called "burn pits" and they're used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan to burn and dispose of all kinds of waste, some of it hazardous. And they may be responsible for contributing to the sickness and even death of military personnel. Which is why Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire and others filed legislation requiring a full investigation into the effects of burn pits and to prohibit their continued use.

The same private contractors and military brass that brought our soldiers death by electric shower and contaminated water are able to use poorly paid enlisted men and women, wearing little or no protection, to do their highly profitable dirty work. These pits are vast. A single burn site might contain hundreds of tons of machinery, plastics, dioxin, benzene, paint and solvents, heavy metals, and medical waste -- including amputated limbs.

Soldiers tasked with this filthy job have coined a name for the oily sludge coughed up and vomited out after exposure to the choking clouds of smoke: plume crud. Local doctors are seeing increased numbers of severe headaches, nausea, and serious beathing problems. The situation has become so critical that groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are urging lawmakers to take immediate action:

"In Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve heard time and again about troops falling ill after serving near burn pits. ... Veterans of previous generations struggled for years to have conditions such as Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome recognized as service-connected. We cannot repeat this same pattern with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans," said IAVA Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff.

For years the VA denied treatment and downplayed or outright dismissed two generations of veterans suffering from exposure to chemical and biological agents. Scores of Vietnam and Gulf War veterans that survived bombs and bullets became casualties of war years after the conflict ended. If burn pits are not regulated or eliminated, veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan may be the next generation to pay the ultimate price for war long after the last bullet is fired.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:18 AM PDT.

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