The US government refuses to acknowledge its responsibility for the health impacts of US military “burn pits” in Iraq, despite new evidence of their harmful effects on children, Sarah Lazare of AlterNet reported in August 2016. Burn pits were a common way to dispose of waste at US military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Lazare reports, the US has denied the health impacts of burns pits on both US military personnel and, especially, Iraqis. New research by an environmental toxicologist, Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, published in the September 2016 issue of Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, “unearths further evidence that air pollution directly tied to war is poisoning the most vulnerable members of Iraqi society: children,” according to Lazare.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs claims that “research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.” In December 2015, Congress ordered the VA to keep a registry of people who have suffered ill health due to burn pits. However, this registry only includes US military service members and veterans. It does not include Iraqis affected by US burn pits.
Savabieasfahani’s research on the environmental legacy of the US occupation of Iraq documents extremely high levels of lead in Iraqi children’s’ baby teeth, and compares them with the healthy baby teeth of children from Lebanon and Iran. She reports, “Lead (Pb) was highest in teeth from children with birth defects who donated their teeth from Basra.” In fact, she writes, “Two Iraqi teeth had four times more Pb, and one tooth had as much as 50 times more Pb than samples from Lebanon and Iran.” The World Health Organization (WHO) notes, “Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system.” The WHO also acknowledges that pregnant women exposed to high levels of lead experience miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births and low birth weights at higher rates.
“Our hypothesis that increased war activity coincides with increased metal levels in deciduous teeth is confirmed by this research,” Savabieasfahani concludes.
Lazare also reports on the research findings of sociologist Eric Bonds, who documents how mainstream media outlets have (in Lazare’s words) “systematically ignored the impact of burn pits in both Iraq and Afghanistan on civilians nearby, instead focusing nearly exclusively on the health effects for US military service members and veterans.” As Bonds notes, “This selective attention is symptomatic of the way military violence is legitimated, which involves a complicit news media that typically overlooks the humanitarian impacts of war.”
Source: Sarah Lazare, “War Not Over: US Occupation is Still Poisoning Iraq’s Children,” AlterNet, August 22, 2016, http://www.alternet.org/world/war-not-over-us-occupation-still-poisoning-iraqs-children.
Student Researcher: Martha Farias (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)