Institute of Medicine: Further study of long-term health effects of burn pits is needed

The Department of Veterans Affairs sponsored an Institute of Medicine (IOM) study about burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and the long-term health effect that burn pits have on individuals working and living near them. The IOM issued its report on October 31, 2011, stating additional study is needed. Moreover, the IOM study confirms that burn pits are one of several air quality issues confronting soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a press release issued by the National Academy of Sciences about the report, the organization said:

"Even so, the [IOM] committee pointed out shortcomings in research and gaps in evidence that prevented them from drawing firm conclusions, and it recommended a path to overcome some of these limitations. Lack of information on the specific quantities and types of wastes burned and on other sources of background pollution when air samples were being collected meant it was difficult to correlate pit emissions, including smoke events, with potential health outcomes.  Different types of wastes produce different combinations of chemical emissions with the possibility of different health outcomes in those exposed."

The release stated the report recommended further epidemiological research be conducted "to evaluate the health status of service members from their time of deployment to JBB [Joint Base Balad] over many years to determine their incidence of chronic diseases, including cancers, that tend not to show up for decades." Additionally, the release said, "Given the variety of hazards and substances to which military personnel are exposed in the field, service in Iraq and Afghanistan in general -- rather than exposure to burn pits only -- might be associated with long-term health effects, the committee noted.  A specific concern is the high ambient concentrations of particulate matter generated by both human activities and natural sources.  Risks may be greater for those who are especially susceptible to health problems, including individuals with asthma or those who encountered high concentrations of substances or had prolonged exposures."

The Institute of Medicine's presentation slides from the final report are also available online.

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