Sunday, November 08, 2009







Rick Lamberth: As a LOGCAP [Logistics Civil Augmentation Program] Operations Manager, it was my duty to report to KBR management when the company was in violation of guidelines and the contract Statement of Work. I witnessed burn pit violations on a weekly basis. When I tried to report violations, I was told by the head of KBR's Health Safety and Environment division to shut up and keep it to myself. At one point, KBR management threatened to sue me for slander if I spoke out about these violations.
Rick Lamberth was in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to being an Iraq War veteran, he worked for KBR and saw "KBR employees dump nuclear, biological, chemical decontamination materials and bio-medical waste, plastics, oil and tires into burn pits" thereby exposing many US and Iraqi citizens to health risks. Rick Lamberth, for example, now has a series of respiratory problems. Last week, Kelly Kennedy (Army Times) reported, "An open-air 'burn pit' at the largest U.S. base in Iraq may have exposed tens of thousands of troops, contractors and Iraqis to cancer-causing dioxins, poisons such as arsenic and carbon monoxide, and hazardous medical waste, documentation gathered by Military Times shows." Kelly was reporting on Joint Base Balad. L. Russel Keith worked for KBR at Joint Base Balad (March 2006 to July 2007) and he explains, "While I was stationed at Balad, I experienced the effects of the massive burn pit that burned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The ten-acre pit was located in the northwest corner of the base. An acrid, dark black smoke from the pit would accumulate and hang low over the base for weeks at a time. Every spot on the base was touched by smoke from the pit; everyone who served at the base was exposed to the smoke. It was almost impossible to escape, even in our living units."

Rick Lamberth and L. Russell Keith were two of the four witnesses appearing before the Democratic Policy Committee today, for a hearing into burn pits led by Committee Chair Byron Dorgan. Also appearing as witnesses were Lt Col Darrin Curtis and Dr. Anthony Szema. At the start of the hearing, Chair Dorgan explained, "This is the twenty-first in a long series of hearings that we have held in the Policy Committee to examine contracting waste and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of these hearings have focused on substantial abuse which have put out troops lives in danger. Some focused just on waste and some on fraud. Today we're going to have a discussion and have a hearing on how, as early as 2002, US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits -- disposing of waste materials in a very dangerous manner. And those burn pits included materials such as hazardous waste, medical waste, virtually all of the waste without segregation of the waste, put in burn pits. We'll hear how there were dire health warnings by Air Force officials about the dangers of burn pit smoke, the toxicity of that smoke, the danger for human health. We'll hear how the Department of Defense regulations in place said that burn pits should be used only in short-term emergency situations -- regulations that have now been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal, Kellogg Brown & Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke."

That's from Chair Dorgan's opening remarks and you can [PDF format hearing warning] click here to read his prepared remarks (the above is what was stated which differs slightly from the prepared remarks). You can also visit the Democratic Policy Committee's home page for more information and streaming video of today's hearing should be up there as well. (If it's not up already, it will be up by Monday.)

The burn pit issue was dismissed and ignored for many years -- despite the fact that the rules weren't being followed. On October 28, 2009, US House Rep Tim Bishop's office released a statement noting: "Today, President [Barack] Obama singed into law the National Defense Authorization Act 9H.R. 2647), which includes important provisions authored by Congressman Tim Bishop (NY-1) to protect the thousands of troops exposed to toxic, open burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan. These provisions were based on Bishop's legislation, the Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act, (HR 2419) introduced with Rep. Carol Shea-Porter on May 14, 2009." Hopefully, that signing will result in the press paying a bit more attention to the issue and not, as some have done, treat it as a dispute between political parties -- which is how it was too often treated by the press during the Bush years, with a lot of hedging and a lot of 'some say' type 'reporting.' December 20, 2006, Lt Col Darrin Curtis wrote a memo entitled "Burn Pit Health Hazards" [PDF format warning, click here].

Chair Byron Dorgan: Mr. Curtis, why did you decide to write the 2006 memorandum? And did anyone else at that point share your concerns about the health impact of burn pits?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, Senator, they did. The Chief of Air Space Medicine had the same concerns I did. The memo was initially written so that we could expedite the installation of the incinerators. From my understanding, there were spending limits of monies with health issues and not health issues so I wanted to write the report to show that there are health issues associated with burn pits so that we could hopefully accelerate the installation of the incinerators.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Of the type of burn pit you saw in Iraq in 2006 -- that's some while after the war began and infrastructure had been created and so on except without incinerators -- if something of that nature were occurring in a neighborhood here in Washington DC or any American city, what are the consequences to them?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: At least fines and possibly jail.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Because?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Of the regulations that are out there today.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Because it's a serious risk to human health?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, sir.

Chair Byron Dorgan: You say that when you arrived in Iraq an inspector for the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine -- which is CHPPM -- told you that the Balad burn pit was the worst environmental site that he has seen and that included the ten years he had performed environmental clean up for the Army and Defense's Logistic Agency. And yet in your testimony, you also say that CHPPM has done this study and says adverse health risks are unlikely. So you're talking about an inspector from CHPPM that says 'this is the worst I've seen' and then a report comes out later from CHPPM that says: "Adverse health risks are unlikely. Long-term health effects are not expected to occur from breathing the smoke." Contradiction there and why?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think any organization, you're going to have people with differences of opinion. But at CHPPM, I'm sure that was the same-same outcome there. Cause I don't know if that individual --

Chair Byron Dorgan: (Overlapping) Do you think that CHPPM -- do you think CHPPM assessment that's been relied on now is just wrong?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: (Overlapping) I think -- I think -- Senator, I think the hard line that there is no health effects is a -- is a very strong comment that we don't have the data to say. Do we have the data to say that it is a health risk? I don't think we have that either. But I do not think we have the data to say there is no health risk.
Chair Byron Dorgan: You are a bio-environmental engineer what is -- what is your own opinion? Without testing or data, you saw the burn pits, you were there, you hear the testimony of what went in the burn pits, you hear Dr. Szema's assessment. What's your assessment?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think we're going to look at a lot of sick people later on.

"I think we're going to look at a lot of sick people later on." And why, the bigger why? Why would anyone -- KBR or anyone -- put people at risk? Rick Lamberth explained during the hearing, "KBR was able to get away with this because the Army never enforced the applicable standards. KBR's Project Controls Department also kept their information hidden. During one visit by a representative from DCMA. I heard someone from Project Controls state that it was her job to keep DCMA away from the books during the inspection. KBR management would brag that they could get away with doing anything they wanted because the army could not function without them. KBR figured that even if they did get caught, they had already made more than enough money to pay any fines and still make a profit."

"Brag that they could get away with doing anything." "Even if they did get caught, they had already made more than enough money to pay any fines and still make a profit." Chair Dorgan noted that one of his greatest disappointments is that there is not "a Truman type committee with subpoena powers" currently "perhaps some day we'll get that." Senator Tom Udall agreed with Dorgan that a Truman type committee was needed. Rick Lamberth told Senator Udall that he did an analysis about how the burn pits could be shifted down wind.

Senator Tom Udall: They didn't want to do that?

Rick Lamberth: Correct, sir.

Senator Tom Udall: Cost them too much?

Rick Lamberth: Correct, sir.

Senator Jon Tester spoke of how Lamberth was told by KBR to keep quiet about violations "because that clean up was future business." He wondered, "How many burn pits there were in Iraq?" L. Russell Keith stated Balad was the biggest one (and the one he was familiar with), that it was ten acres, that "a lot of parts of it were below ground [. . .] there were a lot of things in it that wouldn't burn [. . .] old vehicles [. . .] transit buses". Senator Blanche Lincoln noted that the burn pits continue in Iraq and Afghanistan and we'll include this exchange.

Senator Blanche Lincoln: The comment made about the fact that these [burn pits] were used because there's potential future business, is it the typical business of KBR and others for hazardous waste clean up?

Rick Lamberth: What do you mean, ma'am, by the -- ?

Senator Blanche Lincoln: I mean if there's potential business -- what you're creating? It sounds like what we're creating, to what many of us have lived through up here, which are Super Fund sites and hazardous waste clean up. Is that a business that the current contractors actually have or can facilitate?

Rick Lamberth: Yes, ma'am. They have -- it's currently a contract line item number in the master statement of work. And what they'll do, they don't have the expertise in how, so they'll turn around and they'll contract it out. When I left July 2009, I left Baghdad, they had subcontracted that out to [**]. Yet when you talk to them, they act like they're resolved of all responsibility. And I tell them: "Negative, you are still responsible, you being the prime contractor, you're still responsible for compliance of EPA and DOD regulations and Defense Logistic Agencies regulations which is really in charge of DoD's Hazmat Defense Logistic Agency and they would want to deny that. They say 'No, [**] is doing that now.' I say 'No, you're still, you being the prime, you're still responsible.'

Senator Blanche Lincoln: Well of course that's a whole different issue I suppose in terms of spending our US tax payer dollars to clean up things that the same contractor actually created.

First, "[**]"? Epilogue or Echologue was what Lamberth was saying. I have no idea on subcontractors or whether the subcontractor would get 'fancy' with the name and spell it a different way. So we're just noting it as "[**]" Second, Lincoln went on to note that even more important than the dollars being wasted are the people who've been harmed by exposure. BURN PITS Action Center is a resource and a clearing house of information. Among those sharing their experiences is "Debby:"

I arrived at Joint Base Balad, formerly known as Camp Anaconda in March 2008, and needless to say we all have the same issues as to what we smelled and what we saw. I have been home 11 months now and I want to make a statement about this issue. First off keep a good record of how your feeling. You may not notice anything at first. I started getting shortness of breath and just thought that it was the humidity in our air here in Indiana. I got a respiratory infection once I was home that turned into bronchitis. It took me OVER a month to clear that up. I had a cough from day one from leaving Iraq, and could not understand this or why I was doing this? Blamed it on the weather. My cough got so bad I contacted the VA and said this is not normal and I want to have my lungs tested...pulmonary function test was ordered...I failed it and found out I have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). I now use an inhaler and my breathing is worse at night, because I wheeze now. I came home at the end of November by March I had another issue, my colon. I was 47 at the time and had to do a colonoscopy 3 years earlier than I should have. Found out I had polyps and a tear in my colon. It is now November and I cannot seem to understand why I have still a colon issue. Now my esophagus is a problem. I had another cold back a few months ago and lost my voice for 3 full weeks. I had bronchitis again. Could not shake it. I am scheduled for another colon scope since I have this issue and also to have my throat checked out. My esophagus is closing up and I may have to have it stretched back out. NO ONE in my family has ever had an issue like this. I blame this on the effects of the burn pit. My memory and forgetfulness is a REAL problem for me. I can't seem to remember anything. So I guess anyone's secrets are safe with me I would forget easily after a few days. I have other issues I just wanted to list a few. Take photos of the burn pits for your own personal records they would prove very helpful later on. Keep researching all that you can on this issue, there are long lists of what soldiers are reporting that is wrong with them. I have to write mine down or I will forget. Not that a person can but my memory won't allow me anymore to recall things like I once did. Life if going to be challenging and many of us may not live a full life due to our new found health issue. But from one soldier to all you others we fought a good battle and we should keep each other in our prayers. God Bless you all and keep up the good fight and take care of your health.

Back to the hearing, Dr. Szema compared what is being seen to the conditions of fire fighters who were at Ground Zero following 9-11. He noted that he sees young people whom he shouldn't be seeing including ones with asthma -- when asthma would prevent them from being inducted into the military and that even if a few managed to skirt by in the screening process, the rates of asthma shouldn't be as high as it is. We'll note this exchange from early in the hearing.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Dr. Szema, what's your assessment of what you've heard? You've not been in Iraq, you've not seen the burn pits, you've heard them described, you heard Mr. Lambert and Mr. Keith describe what was thrown into the burn pits. What's your assessment of what we might see as a result of this? Is this a potentially serious threat to human health of those who were exposed?

Dr. Szema: Originally, I didn't even know what a burn pit was. So we thought that the higher asthma rates that we were seeing anecdotally were related to the shamal, the dust storms in Iraq, and possibly exposure to inhalational particles of improvised explosive devices. And then we wrote -- we did our study indicating that the rates of asthma were twice that if you were an Iraq deployed versus stateside deployed. And only recently when I learned about the burn pits, I knew that that could potentially, plausibly be one of the explanations. We-we actually did have PM 2.5 data from CHPPM in one of our presentations at the American Thoracic Society Conference and the PM 2.5 levels were in the thousands. Just for an example, in comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency standards in the United States is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. If you're over 35 in the United States, that's air pollution and they were measuring it in the thousands and that's irrespective of what's actually the concentration so, in and of itself, there were clearly particles in the air. That was not included in the 2008 report, that was part of our poster presentation. So my concern is -- what -- you're not supposed to be burning anything. Even if you're burning wood in cooking, we know that in third world countries if we reduce the use of cook stoves and fires, we can reduce respiratory mortality by millions of people worldwide. And, in fact, the American Thoracic Society is coming out with a position statement that even in the United States, if we roll back the EPA pollution standards a little bit, we will save millions of lives in the United States from air pollution. So clearly, I think, when you have uncontrolled burns, there will be a litany of health effects

One more time, Rick Lamberth's statements on how greed was able to trump humanity, "KBR was able to get away with this because the Army never enforced the applicable standards. KBR's Project Controls Department also kept their information hidden. During one visit by a representative from DCMA. I heard someone from Project Controls state that it was her job to keep DCMA away from the books during the inspection. KBR Management would brag that they could get away with doing anything they wanted because the army could not function without them. KBR figured that even if they did get caught, they had already made more than enough money to pay any fines and still make a profit."

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