February 07, 2019

Warren Joins Colleagues in Introducing Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Servicemembers, Examine Health Effects of Toxic Burn Pits

Exposure to Burn Pits—Open Pits Where Trash is Burned and Releases Toxic Chemicals— May Result in Health Issues Such as Cancer, Other Neurological and Reproductive Effects, Respiratory Toxicity, and Cardiovascular Toxicity

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington, DC - This month, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Ala.) in reintroducing the bipartisan Burn Pits Accountability Act to examine the health effects of exposure to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals on servicemembers and veterans.

The legislation would require members of the Armed Forces to be evaluated for exposure to toxic airborne chemicals during routine health exams and direct the Secretary of Defense to record and share whether servicemembers were based or stationed near an open burn pit, including any information recorded as part of the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, the Periodic Health Assessment, Separation History and Physical Examination, and Post-Deployment Health Assessment. Members exposed to toxic airborne chemicals or stationed near an open burn pit would also be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless they chose to opt out.

“My three brothers all served in the military, and they taught me about the sacrifices that our servicemembers make to keep our country safe,” said Senator Warren. “This bill would allow us to collect better data on servicemembers exposed to toxic burn pits, which may lead to more effective treatment outcomes.  We owe it to them to do everything we can to protect their health and safety."

The burning of waste on military bases exposed many servicemembers to a variety of potentially harmful substances. Plastic, aerosol cans, electronic equipment, human waste, tires, and batteries were thrown into open pits, often doused with jet fuel, and set on fire. As a result, many deployed soldiers were exposed to smoke from these open-air burn pits. Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits may include cancer, other neurological and reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity. Troops who have worked in these areas are subject to higher rates of asthma, emphysema, and rare lung disorders.

Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal  (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jerry Moran (D-Kan.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) are also cosponsors of the legislation.

Organizations that endorse the Burn Pits Accountability Act include Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Fleet Reserve Association, Military Officers Association of America, US Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Non Commissioned Officers Association, Service Women’s Action Network, US Army Warrant Officer Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the US, The Retired Enlisted Association, Chief Warrant Officer Association - US Coast Guard, Air Force Sergeants Association, National Military Family Association, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Wounded Warrior Project, Vietnam Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, American Veterans, Reserve Officers Association of the United States, Air Force Women Officers Associated, Disabled American Veterans, and Association of the United States Navy.

In the 115th Congress, Senator Warren cosponsored the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act, a bipartisan bill that would create a center of excellence within the Department of Veterans Affairs dedicated to addressing the health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits.