The New York Times has an article today about “burn pits” still being used at U.S. military bases in Iraq that is profoundly disturbing on several levels. The Pentagon apparently had virtually no long term waste management plan for the armed forces presence in the country other than the use of open-air burning of ALL garbage produced at bases. This means that plastics, batteries, human waste, tires, EVERYTHING is doused in jet fuel and set on fire. No scrubbers, no high temperatures, no filters whatsoever. A deadly cocktail of dioxins, particulates, heavy metals and who knows what else are directly released into the atmosphere, to be inhaled by soldiers on the bases, and by the Iraqi population. A large number of soldiers have reported respiratory problems, cancer and other health issues, most of which have been dismissed as not linkable to the burn pits, or are attributed to serving in a hostile desert environment. This is 7 years after the invasion of Iraq. The military has built approximately 50 incinerators, of which less than half are functioning. And even at the bases where there is an incinerator, they are not used for all waste. For example at Balad Air Force Base, less than half of all waste is incinerated, with 147 tons being sent to the burn pit EVERY DAY. I’m assuming the use of burn pits was begun due partially to the poor security situation in Iraq, precluding the use of dumps outside the base. If the waste was at least landfilled it would be somewhat contained, instead of being converted into a toxic and carcinogenic airborne death-cloud. I’d say this is as far away from sustainability, or even basic concern for the troops or environment as one could ever imagine the Pentagon being. As the backpacker’s motto goes, if you pack it in, pack it out!