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Studies on Possible Health Effects of Burn Pits

National Academies reports on burn pits


On February 28, 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released the Congressionally-mandated report Assessment of the Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. VA is working to improve the registry based on recommendations in the report. In March 2015, VA tasked the National Academies Committee to comprehensively review, evaluate, and make recommendations on the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.  VA also asked the committee to examine available scientific and medical evidence on health issues and exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM)* October 31, 2011 report, Long-Term Health Consequences of Exposure to Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, found limited but suggestive evidence of a link between exposure to combustion products and reduced lung function in various groups thought to be similar to deployed Servicemembers, such as firefighters and incinerator workers.

This finding focused on pulmonary (lung) function, not respiratory disease, and noted that further studies are required. There is little current scientific evidence on long-term health consequences of reduced lung function.

The report found inadequate or insufficient evidence of a relation between exposure to combustion products and cancer, respiratory diseases, circulatory diseases, neurological diseases, and adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes.

In preparing its report, the committee used a wide range of information, including raw air-sampling data collected by the Department of Defense in 2007 and 2009, National Research Council reports, and studies by the Environmental Protection Agency and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

VA and Department of Defense studies

  • VA and the Department of Defense will conduct a long-term study that will follow Veterans for decades looking at their exposures and health issues to determine the impact of deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Read the February 4, 2013 notice in the Federal Register to learn more.
  • VA conducted the National Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans. VA invited 30,000 Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) Veterans and 30,000 Veterans who served elsewhere during the same period to participate in this study. The study covers a wide spectrum of health effects, including those that may be associated with exposure to smoke from burn pits.
  • VA is participating in the Millennium Cohort Study, a Department of Defense epidemiological study begun in 2001 that has over 150,000 participants. The study is designed to evaluate how military service may affect the long-term health of Servicemembers. Data are being collected on respiratory health.
  • The VA/Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service is reviewing the health records of military working dogs that receive the same exposures that the troops do. These dogs may serve as sentinels for human health.
  • VA is sponsoring additional studies by individual VA researchers and tracking other studies by non-VA researchers.
  • You can find studies on the health effects of burn pits by conducting a search on the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s PubMed.


*The Institute of Medicine (IOM) changed its name to National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division (HMD) on November 15, 2016.

Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
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