Saturday, 6 March 2010

Mesothelioma: Burn pits contained asbestos

The US military's largest contractor, KBR, has testified in court that it burned hazardous materials (including asbestos) in so-called "burn pits" in Iraq and Afghanistan at the behest of military officials. The company is hoping to avoid being held accountable for the burn pits, which may have exposed US military personnel overseas to toxic materials that could ultimately cause cancer later in life.

For example, asbestos burned in the pits could have become airborne. If inhaled or ingested, these airborne asbestos particles can lead to the development of mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lungs and other major organs and tissues.

A class action suit was filed in October of last year against KBR and other companies. Combining 22 lawsuits from 43 states, the class action case was filed in US District Court in Maryland against KBR, Halliburton, and other military contractors. The plaintiffs are seeking damages after developing health issues that were allegedly caused by being in close proximity to these burn pits overseas, which were used for trash disposal.

KBR is not denying that the burn pits they operated did contain hazardous materials such as batteries, petroleum, asbestos, and medical waste. Instead the company hopes to challenge the idea that they should be held accountable for the items burned in the pits, as KBR was allegedly just following orders from high-ranking military officials.

According to one military reporter: "Though military officials say there are no known long-term effects from exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 100 service members have come forward to Military Times [a newspaper] and Disabled American Veterans with strikingly similar symptoms: chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs and allergy-like symptoms. Several also have cited heart problems, lymphoma and leukemia."

KBR is also being sued by a group of veterans who were exposed to hexavalent chromium while protecting KBR employees at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant. The men have since suffered from a variety of symptoms, including difficulty breathing. A recent blog post on our Veterans Blog highlights the issue of hexavalent chromium and veteran exposure.