(NaturalNews) The war in Iraq has had many, many casualties, and now, according to a new report, that includes the environment.
A advocacy organization representing American military veterans and Iraqi citizens descended on the nation's capital recently with a message for the U.S. government -- that it has to do something more for the thousands of people who have suffered from what the group called the "environmental poisoning" of Iraq during the U.S. conflict there.
As reported by The New York Times:
The group, Right to Heal, says that veterans and civilians continue to feel the effects of the burn pits -- banned by Congress four years ago -- that were used to dispose of military waste, and that new health problems arise every day for Iraqis.
"Things are worse off today by a thousandfold," Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said during a hearing in the House featuring witnesses from Right to Heal.
Money and treatment sought for victims
Hours after the hearing, the organization called what it termed a "people's hearing" at a nearby Quaker meeting house. A witness there, John Tirman, who is the executive director and principle research scientist at the MIT Center for International Studies, said that by downplaying the health effects of the war U.S. officials were in violation of "the trust we place in government, that is, that they would be accountable to us even in the most severe times of war."
Another witness, Kristi Casteel, said her son, Joshua -- an Army interrogator who passed away after an unsuccessful bout with lung cancer in 2012 at the age of 32 -- lived about 100 yards from an Iraqi burn pit.
"While very aware of the thick black clouds that covered the base every day, and experiencing symptoms of congestion, burning eyes and nausea at times, he, like most all the other soldiers, just labeled their symptoms the 'Iraqi crud,'" she said.
Right to Heal is seeking a commitment of large-scale cleanup in Iraq, as well as U.S. taxpayer reparations for the Iraqi civilians who lived near the pits and who were forced to inhale smoke from the pits that burned paint, plastics, metal cans, rubber tires, chemicals and munitions.
The banning of burn pits, which was detailed in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, ordered studies to determine just how far-reaching the environmental damage and health effects from the practice extended.
As noted by the Times:
One of the resulting reports, from the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academies, said not enough data existed to conclude that pollution from the burn pits had caused any long-term health problems. But it conceded that five or more of the chemicals detected at the Joint Base Balad pit could lead to cancer, anemia, and liver, kidney, heart and respiratory problems. The chemicals can also harm the brain and reproductive system, the study found.
Environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani has sent a pair of teams to Iraqi hospitals -- one in Falluja, near Baghdad, and the other in Basra, in the south -- to examine the effects of the pollution. She noted that she found higher rates of birth defects, various cancers and heart abnormalities in those two cities than anywhere else in Iraq, the Times reported.
Burn pits in Afghanistan too
In addition to the fallout and smoke from the pits, health experts have also voiced concern that toxicants were carried throughout the country during the war via Iraq's often-powerful dust storms.
The organization is also called for more independent health studies, the creation of registries to track the types and rates of birth defects and cancers, and money for health centers.
"There are human beings on both sides of this equation of war, and they're sharing some of the same traumas and illnesses and tragedies," Pamela Spees, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the paper. "The answers we find and the approaches we take to the Iraq side of the equation will certainly benefit and help us understand what's happening with those who were sent to fight."
In addition to Iraq, others have voiced concern that similar burn pits in Afghanistan are also health hazards. In July of last year, reports surfaced that one pit in particular -- at the Marine base Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan -- was operating despite the Defense Department's ban.