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Burn Pits

Man throwing trash into a burn pit

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Burn pits were a common way to get rid of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At this time, research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits. VA continues to study the health of deployed Veterans.

Health effects from burn pit smoke

Toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs.

Veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke or exposed for longer periods may be at greater risk. Health effects depend on a number of other factors, such as the kind of waste being burned and wind direction.

Most of the irritation is temporary and resolves once the exposure is gone. This includes eye irritation and burning, coughing and throat irritation, breathing difficulties, and skin itching and rashes.

The high level of fine dust and pollution common in Iraq and Afghanistan may pose a greater danger for respiratory illnesses than exposure to burn pits, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report.

Type of waste burned

Waste products in burn pits include, but are not limited to: chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics, rubber, wood, and discarded food.

Burning waste in open air pits can cause more pollution than controlled burning, such as in an incinerator.

Health concerns?

If you are concerned about your exposure to burn pits, talk to your health care provider or contact your local VA Environmental Health Coordinator to help you get more information from a health care provider.

VA health care is available to all combat Veterans for conditions possibly related to service for five years after discharge. Not enrolled in the VA health care system? Apply online.


Join the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry and contact your local Environmental Health Coordinator to help you complete the free voluntary medical evaluation. Check your eligibility and sign up through an online questionnaire.

Compensation benefits for health problems

Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to burn pits during military service. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis. File a claim online.

Read Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors to learn more about VA benefits.

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