WASHINGTON — Open-air burn pits at a U.S. Marine base in Afghanistan pose a health risk to the 13,500 military and civilian personnel there and are still in use despite the installation of four incinerators at a cost of $11.5 million, an inspector general said on Thursday.
John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in a letter to two top U.S. generals that burn pits at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province were “potentially endangering” the health of U.S. military and civilian personnel.
Writing to Army General Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, and Marine General Joe Dunford, commander of international forces in Afghanistan, Sopko said the burn pits were still being used despite the installation of four solid- waste incinerators at a cost of $11.5 million.
He said the incinerators were being underutilized and as a result, the camp was continuing to use “open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its daily waste” in violation of Defense Department guidance. He said his office reported recently on a similar problem at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan.
“The toxic smoke from burning solid waste each day increases the long-term health risks for camp personnel, including reduced lung function and exacerbated chronic illnesses, ranging from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” Sopko wrote.
He said visits to the camp by inspectors showed its two 12-ton incinerators were being underused, and its two 24-ton incinerators were not being used at all because a contract for operation and maintenance had not been awarded.
Sopko said an analysis by his department showed the camp’s waste could be fully processed by operating the incinerators 18 hours a day. He urged the generals to end the use of open-air burn pits at Camp Leatherneck as quickly as possible by ensuring the incinerators were being operated at the required capacity.