Monday, October 22, 2012

New incinerators to improve air quality for troops in Kandahar

Source: Air Force Times 

Air Force officials say the air at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan should become safer to breathe for troops rotating through, now that new incinerators have been installed to burn garbage.

Activated Oct. 5, the incinerators will replace the airfield’s open burn box, which belched plumes of black smoke, according to a news release. The incinerators need time to be broken in, so smoke from burning trash may continue to waft through the airfield for a few more weeks.

The incinerators will be able to reduce up to 99.9 percent of the particulate matter produced by the burn box, an open-air metal container about three stories high that is roughly the size of two 20-foot containers side by side, said Myles Parker, of the NATO Support Agency office at the airfield.

That means emissions will meet European Union air quality standards, Parker said. The EU’s directive on incinerators puts strict limits on pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and dust.

That would mark a major improvement in the air quality at the airfield, which has been fouled by burning trash, dust and the base’s large cesspool of semitreated sewage that is being retired. A long-standing rumor yet to be borne out by numbers is that troops stationed at Kandahar automatically get a 10 percent disability rating just for breathing the air.

Air quality has been a major problem for U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, at least 1,000 of whom claim they have become sick due to pollution from open-air burn pits, according to the advocacy group Burn Pits 360 and lawsuits filed against defense contractor KBR Inc., which operated the burn pits.

More than 220,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were treated by the Veterans Affairs Department for respiratory ailments from fiscal 2002 through June, according to a VA analysis. They represent 26.5 percent of the roughly 834,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans the VA treated during that time.

In 2009, Congress began pushing the Defense Department to replace burn pits with incinerators, which burn at a much higher temperature and eliminate much more particulate matter, said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a veterans advocacy group.

But the Defense Department and VA have yet to collect enough data to determine whether troops have developed respiratory problems because of their service in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tarantino said.

“I think there’s an overwhelming amount of anecdotal data to say there is something there, but we have to look at the population who served near a burn pit and correlate that to any population clusters that suffer health problems,” he said. “We have not effectively done that yet. I am worried this may become my generation’s Agent Orange.”

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