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Smoke Inhalation Injury From Burning Garbage Pits: Does U.S. Government Have Legal Liability?

Rather than creating traditional landfills, U.S. military personnel have burned tons of trash and human waste while stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But some veterans now believe that their present health problems are the result of breathing in the polluted fumes and smoke that came from those burn pits.

Legislation filed in November in the U.S. Congress would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a registry for veterans who might have been exposed to these burn pits during the wars involving the U.S. between 2001 and 2011. The database would allow the government to collect information on the number of veterans exposed to the burn pits and the types of health problems they are suffering. However, it doesn’t direct the government to provide any particular type of benefits to those veterans.

“Is there a really consistent pattern of a problem, of is it more a coincidence?” said one member of Congress. “We’ve seen anecdotally what appears to be some pretty weird symptoms that just turned up from nowhere” among soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The VA website states that toxins in smoke like carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide could affect the skin, eyes, kidneys, liver and the nervous, cardiovascular and reproductive systems. But it also says that research has not shown to this point long-term adverse health effects from exposure to burn pits.

The VA previously had asked the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences to review existing literature on the potential health effects of exposure to burn pits in military settings. A report released in early November by the institute focused on a burn pit used to dispose of waste at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, which burned up to 200 tons of waste per day in 2007.The report found that the levels of most pollutants at the base were not higher than levels measured at other polluted sites worldwide, but it said there was insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions about any long-term health effects that might be seen in service members exposed to burn pits.

The legislation would require the VA to commission an independent, scientific study to recommend the most effective means of addressing the medical needs that are likely to result from exposure to open burn pits. To create and maintain the database could cost about $2 million over five years.

For people not in the military, here’s the lesson from this story: Any type of smoke inhalation can be damaging to several systems in the body, to the point that you might never fully recover–and it might result in premature death. So whenever a person suffers smoke inhalation, they should be given professional medical help immediately to flush the lungs of smoke (which contains not just carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, but many other poisons too)–even if the person feels fine!

Many times, injury and pain and suffering from smoke inhalation does not appear until hours or days later–but by then it is too late to repair the damage done to the human body. So don’t take a chance–if someone suffers any smoke inhalation, get them professional medical help immediately.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

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