Concerns raised over hazardous air in war zones: Registry to be created for troops

SAN DIEGO -  

Concerns have been raised over possible environmental hazards created from open air burn pits near U.S. forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Smoke seen in a video posted from Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan is from an open air burn pit. Essentially, it is how U.S. forces get rid of trash and much more.

Jill Wilkins' husband Kevin worked at the hospital at the Balad Air Base in Iraq. Next to the base was an open pit where virtually anything and everything was burned.

"They didn't know the smoke they were walking into every day would be harmful to them," said Wilkins.

She blames whatever was in that smoke for causing a brain tumor which claimed her husband's life. Congress just approved a bill that demands the Department of Veterans Affairs create a registry.

Although the burn pit registry has been signed into law, it has not officially started yet. When it does, it will allow the VA to keep track of those who may have been exposed.

Dr. Jennifer Javors, a VA staff physician who oversees a number of registries which include Agent Orange for Vietnam veterans, is not convinced there is a problem with the burn pits yet.

"It hasn't been shown to cause any health effects at this point," she said.

Families like Wilkins' dispute that, but that is what a registry is for: to create a database of veterans who were exposed and start educating them about possible treatments.

"We are very open to finding out more information, which is what I think the veterans need to hear," said Javors.

Creating a registry may not be the answer, but many feel it is the right place to start.

Several impromptu registries have been created, but not an official one by the VA. More information could come forward next month.

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