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Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Exposures Research

Male and female doctor reviewing pulmonary X-rays

Establishing links between environmental exposures like smoke from open burn pits and long-term health impacts requires significant data, analysis, and research. VA, the Department of Defense (DoD) and our research affiliates are committed to studying these exposures to improve our scientific understanding and provide better care and services to all Veterans.

Center of Excellence

VA established the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence (AHBPCE) in 2019 at VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) in New Jersey. Environmental health specialists, epidemiologists, and other experts from the Center are actively working to better understand how a range of exposures, injuries, and other factors are related to certain health conditions that Veterans may experience. The Center also uses information provided by Veterans through the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pits Registry (AHOBPR) to support this research and conduct in-depth clinical evaluations through the Post-Deployment Cardiopulmonary Evaluation Network (PDCEN).

To learn more about other types of military exposures, visit the military exposures homepage.

VA has also enlisted the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to independently review and summarize findings of various research initiatives. We are currently reviewing NASEM’s most recent report released on September 11, 2020. Following completion of this review, VA will determine necessary next steps related to the report’s findings.

Understanding the Science of Airborne Hazard Exposures

We all interact with thousands of substances in our daily lives. Some substances are only harmful if they get into our bodies in large quantities while others are toxic even in the smallest amounts. Determining whether potentially harmful substances have a negative impact on our health requires understanding the amount, frequency, and intensity of the exposure.

How an exposure occurred – whether it was ingested, inhaled, or touched your skin – can also be a factor. Because people rarely stay in one place, do just one job, or engage in the same activities throughout their lives, it can be hard to determine with certainty that exposure to any one substance or source directly causes a given health condition.

This is also true of exposure to airborne hazards like the smoke and fumes created by burning waste in open pits. Many health conditions related to these hazards are temporary and should disappear after the exposure ends. Other longer-term issues may be caused by a combination of hazardous exposures, injuries, or illnesses including: Fuel, aircraft exhaust, and other mechanical fumes

  • Sand, dust, and particulate matter
  • General air pollution common in certain countries
  • Fuel, aircraft exhaust, and other mechanical fumes
  • Smoke from oil well fires
  • Blast or noise injuries

Evaluating Individual Exposures

our photos of individuals representing the unique characteristics that make up this group of Veterans

Currently VA makes determinations about whether certain health conditions are connected to exposure to airborne hazards like burn pits on a case-by-case basis through the VA claims process.

Through this process, we consider the unique experiences and needs of each Veteran including:

  • Your number of deployments
  • The length and proximity of your exposure
  • The presence of other air pollution and other environmental hazards

We encourage all Veterans who are concerned about exposure to burn pits or other airborne hazards to talk to talk to your health care provider, apply for VA health care, and file a claim for compensation and benefits. You do not have to file a VA claim to receive care from VA.

If you served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan or Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or New Dawn (OND) in Iraq, you can receive free VA health care for up to 5 years after separation from the military. Taking advantage of this enhanced eligibility period may help your VA claim for compensation, benefits, and health care later.