American trash disposal practices in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are beginning to come to attention as veterans report medical problems and some die after being exposed to the smoke from trash fires.
The burn pits were used to dispose of plastic water bottles, Styrofoam food containers, mangled bits of metal, paint, solvent, medical waste, even dead animals. The garbage was tossed in, doused with fuel and set on fire.
And then many people inhaled the residue of what one veteran called "Iraqi crud."
Of course, the military and contractor say everything is okay. Yes, a few people may get sick but most don't and, besides, it's a war zone. It IS a war zone and the toxic by-produces of American materials are another hazard, just like the bullets and IED's. Unlike hostile weapons, though, trash smoke's dangers are long term. A 2008 study showed no long term effects, the Army claims but that study is at best based on a limited time period. Keep in mind, Agent Orange's effects were not acknowledged until long after the war.
Burning trash is nothing new in the Army. We burned our firebase trash in Vietnam. Our shit, too. The trash burned in a trench away from but near the base. The garbage detail would use a quarter ton truck to collect trash and haul it out to the pit before returning for additional runs. At the end of the day, we tossed a white phosphorous grenade into the pile of fresh garbage and were done. I guess the engineers filled the trench back in when the battalion closed the base.
Medics (in their "public health" role) burned the shit. Latrines collected waste in cut off 55 gallon drums that could be removed, stacked, doused with diesel fuel and burned. But the waste had to be occasionally stirred to ensure complete burning so the medic had to tend his fires and stay out of the smoke. I recall the smoke from the shit fires but my exposure was minimal, if at all.
Garbage run and shit burning were both good opportunities to smoke pot during the day on the firebase. These were places and activities that lifers willingly left to the lowest ranks and stayed away. Shit burning had the additional advantage of providing cover for marijuana's odor.
I suspect this generation of veterans will have recall the smoke as more than minimal. Just another cost of the Never Ending War.