Servicemen Exposed to Toxic Chemicals at home, abroad

One of the issues which American servicemen have been dealing with, and will continue to deal with is the matter of exposure to toxic substances.  These exposures to toxic chemical are happening at home, and abroad.  A number of Marine Corps camps, and Army posts in Iraq have open air burn pits for disposal of trash.  I can personally attest to the existence of these burn pits, and the extraordinary amount of waste burned on a near daily basis.  On my last deployment to Iraq, I was stationed at Marine Corps Air Base Al-Taqaddum (“TQ” for short) and worked within one mile of one such burn pit.


The pile was lit in the morning, and a roaring tower of flame and black smoke would climb skyward.  The smoke and flame was clearly visible at distances of up to one mile, a testament to the enormity of waste burned each day.  A trail of black and gray smoke would trail for miles into the distance, meanwhile our own work site was “snowed” on by bits of white ash while Marines started morning physical training, or milled about starting the daily work routine.  Each morning, sharing a knowing glance of “this can’t be good for us” we all laughed and joked about it and secretly hoped that we wouldn’t need to live on a respirator six months later.


Such exposure is to be expected, and solutions to this problem are precious few.  Daily exposure to such dangerously contaminated air will continue to have detrimental health affects on veterans, to say nothing of the Iraqis that lived outside the wire, and even less about the Third Country Nationals (TCNs) that were sub-contracted to operate the burn pit.  Exposure to life altering environmental contaminants is a tragedy, and certainly not one that we should have to worry about at home.


Unfortunately, that is exactly the case.


The US Marine Corps has had some particularly bad chemical spills, and negligent chemical disposal policies over the years.  Two such sites in particular are Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California, and Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.  While MCAS El Toro is fast fading and falling down the memory hole, the travesties of poor hazardous material management policies are still playing out at Camp LeJeune.  MCAS El Toro, and MCB Camp LeJeune share two things in common– the levels of toxic contaminants exceeded EPA standards thousands of times the maximum allowable limit, and servicemen, families of servicemen, and the American public have been poisoned for years with little legal recourse against the US Gov’t or the US Marine Corps.


MCB Camp LeJeune was recently recognized for newer environmental protection policies and processes, and while it certainly has done some good it has also been assailed as being a diversion.  Writing for, Kelly Vlahos details how MCB Camp LeJeune has chosen to lead a public relations campaign instead of a public awareness and health campaign.  While the poor hazardous materials management practices in Camp LeJeune officially “stopped” in 1987, the effects are still seen today.  Civilians that have lived their whole life in Jacksonville, NC (home of MCB Camp LeJeune) openly joke about about the mortality rate of babies born at Camp LeJeune and the lifelong health problems which continue to plague those children.  Have you ever heard people joke about the failure rate of the infamous Yugo?  It is in the same sentiment, but please don’t laugh.


You can read more about this issue in the new book “A Few Good Men, Too Many Chemicals” by Tim King, and Robert O’Dowd.  This book is available online at, and I would absolutely recommend this reading as a way to familiarize yourself with the extent of chemical pollution which our our servicemen are exposed to, some of whom are exposed daily.  In the meantime, please speak with your friends or family that may be considering a career in the Armed Forces, or are currently serving an enlistment or commission in the Armed Forces. Too many times our servicemen are not properly warned about the dangerous affects of exposure to toxic contaminants, and may be unaware of some or the more dangerous conditions which they may encounter in the course of their regular work.


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