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Studies on Possible Health Effects of Burn Pits

Health and Medicine Division report on burn pits

VA asked the Health and Medicine Division (HMD) (formally known as the Institute of Medicine) of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to examine available scientific and medical evidence on health issues and exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HMD’s 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 HMD 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, HMD 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 is conducting the National Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans. The study group includes 30,000 Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) Veterans and 30,000 Veterans who served elsewhere during the same period. 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 also may conduct an extensive search on health effects of burn pits through the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s PubMed.

Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
Environmental health coordinators directory.


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