We at Hill & Ponton have written before about burn pit exposure and the burn pit registry, but we haven’t yet explored exactly how severe the effects of exposure to burn pits can be on our veterans.
According to Shira Kramer, head of Epidemiology International, the following chemicals as a few of the many toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that are generated from open air “burn pits:” Benzene, vinyl chloride, dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, 1,3 butadiene, and methylene chloride. You may recognize some of these chemicals from previous posts. I’ve written about benzene as a chemical component of both jet fuels such as JP-4 and JP-7, as well as a product of oil well fires. Veterans who were exposed to jet fuel as well as burn pits and oil well fires (which likely is a very large number) have been exposed to extremely high levels of benzene, as well as 1,3 butadiene, a carcinogen which can also be found in the smoke of both burn pits and oil well fires. Vinyl Chloride, a chemical produced by burning plastics such as PVC pipe, is also extremely carcinogenic, and causes several forms of cancer, including the rare angiosarcoma.
Most data used to estimate the risk of cancer from burn pit exposure are from studies of firefighters and incinerator workers. These studies show an increase in several different cancers. One study showed a nearly FIVE times greater incidence in brain cancers among Swedish firefighters, and interestingly, some studies have shown a higher incidence in brain cancers in firefighters under 35 years old. This may well mean that the majority of soldiers, who are typically under 35, are at an even greater risk.
Other cancers shown to correlate highly with exposure to burn pit-like smoke include testicular cancers and colon cancer. However, we must remember that burn pits in a war zone likely have much more dangerous emissions than standard household smoke. The combination of oil well fire , burn pit smoke, and fuel could prove to be a deadly mix for our soldiers, and the data coming in on the citizens of Fallujah are showing a much greater incidence of cancer than the above studies. Citizens of Fallujah in the 0-35 year-old age group, contracted leukemia 38.5 times more often than would be expected. Brain tumors occurred 7.4 times more often than expected, and breast cancers and lymphomas occurred nearly 10 times more than expected. It is frightening to think that we may be a few years away from a massive uptick in cancer incidence in our veteran population, but it may be a reality we soon face.
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