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Until Congress banned the practice four years ago, the U.S. military used burn pits to dispose of military waste. Activists say these burn pits have led to early deaths, birth defects, and the environmental poisoning of Iraq. On Wednesday, members of the group Right to Heal gathered in Washington to ask for help for thousands of people they say are suffering ill effects caused by the dark smoke from burning paint, rubber tires, munitions, chemicals, plastics, and metals.
The health problems have reportedly hit both Iraqis and members of the U.S. military. Kristi Casteel's son, Joshua, died from lung cancer in 2012 at the age of 32. While serving as an interrogator in Iraq for the Army, he lived roughly 100 yards from a burn pit, Casteel told a Right to Heal meeting. "While very aware of the thick black clouds that covered the base every day, and experiencing symptoms of congestion, burning eyes, and nausea at times," she said, "he, like most all the other soldiers, just labeled their symptoms the 'Iraqi crud.'"
A 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine determined there wasn't enough data to conclude whether or not pollution from the pits could cause long-term health problems, but acknowledged that chemicals found at the Joint Base Balad pit could eventually cause respiratory, heart, kidney, and liver problems, plus anemia and cancer. Right to Heal wants the U.S. to pay reparations to civilians who lived near the pits, and to help with environmental cleanup efforts.