President Biden’s State of the Union Message Targets “Burn Pits” That Sickened Thousands of Soldiers

Mark Rankin / Army
President Biden delivered this message about military burn pits during his State of the Union Message on March 1, 2022: 
“Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan faced many dangers. One was stationed at bases and breathing in toxic smoke from “burn pits” that incinerated wastes of war—medical and hazard material, jet fuel, and more.  
When they came home, many of the world’s fittest and best trained warriors were never the same. Headaches. Numbness. Dizziness. A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin.  I know.  One of those soldiers was my son Major Beau Biden. We don’t know for sure if a burn pit was the cause of his brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops. But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”
Beau Biden (aged 46)February 3, 1969 – May 30, 2015
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It is good to hear the president speak these words, although he leaves most of the problem associated with open burning and open detonation of military waste left unsaid. Burning military waste at home is also hazardous to our health. The military incinerates munitions, unexploded ordnance, and petroleum products in giant mushroom clouds that send toxins into the air we breathe. Chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metals, aluminum, plastics, rubber, wood, and food waste are routinely incinerated by the Department of Defense in locations across the country.

It’s bad behavior. 

During his speech President Biden announced an expansion of VA eligibility to veterans suffering from various respiratory cancers. He is pushing legislation to ensure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan receive benefits and comprehensive health care they deserve. This is good to see.  Too many suffer due to the military’s reckless behavior, the VA’s poor administration, and congressional reluctance to fund needed programs. Until now, the federal government has shown that it doesn’t care that much about taking care of those harmed by inhaling poisons from the military’s incineration of toxic waste.The really sad thing is that President Biden only skimmed the surface on the burning of military waste. The DOD regularly burns many times more waste in the U.S. than it ever did in Afghanistan or Iraq. If you live near any of the DOD installations below, your health may be seriously threatened. It’s worse for the soldiers and civilians working on bases where open burning/open detonation (OB/OD) occurs. 

In open burning, materials such as rocket fuel are destroyed by self-sustained combustion after being ignited. In open detonation, explosives and munitions are destroyed by a detonation of added explosive charges. These practices contaminate soil, groundwater, surface water, and wildlife in surrounding communities. Go figure.

DoD Sites Conducting Open Burning and Open Detonation Operations – Nov. 8, 2021Key: OB – Open burn; OD – Open detonation NA – Not Available for us to know 
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Source –
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There are lots of jobs blowing stuff up at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
 The Oklahoman  is owned by Gannett Co., Inc. a mass media company that often produces articles on behalf of the military.  Oklahoma is the worst state in the country for polluting the environment with military waste, although the Army says there’s nothing to worry about. The McAlester Army Ammunition Plant is located near McAlester, the largest town in theChoctaw Nation. It burns more military waste than anywhere. Federal and state regulators don’t seem to mind, and the press plays its dutiful role – while regular folks speak of cancers, dirt in the air, and things that fall off shelves.Choctaw seal.gifFrom the story in the Oklahoman, the first boom of the day, just after 11 a.m., sounded like thunder, or fireworks. At the entrance to the local high school, the glass doors blew slightly open. Inside the building, foam ceiling tiles and office windows rattled. Clouds of black dust rose from a field north of town, visible through a glass door at the end of a locker-lined hallway.
The munitions are blown up from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday as atmospheric conditions allow. The set times are so people in the area know what to expect.  The 52 blasts are separated by about 20 seconds to allow for readings. Pavlov’s dogs learned to cope too.. 
In cold weather, the sound carries a long distance. The Army says operations are shut down if noise exceeds 124 decibels in McAlester or 128 decibels in communities such as Savanna and Kiowa. The noise allowed in these communities is equivalent to a jet take-off, the loudest rock concert ever recorded, or a gunshot at close range.
The Army says, “Noise monitoring is not required by the state; we do it to be a good neighbor.”  Isn’t that nice?
McAlester is the largest employer in the region, with about 1,500 people, it has an economic impact of about $463 million. 
Incinerating PFAS is a major environmental issue
President Biden also neglected to mention that the DOD has been burning millions of pounds of PFAS, fully aware that the compounds don’t break down and sprinkle poisons over communities downwind. There is some good news on this front, however.liverpool smokestack.pngShown here is a chimney at the Heritage Thermal Services’ site in East Liverpool, OH where a hazardous waste incinerator began operating more than 30 years ago.                    Photo: William D. Lewis, Mahoning Matters In December, 2021 Congress passed the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that contained an amendment to prohibit incineration of PFAS waste by the DOD until it meets certain criteria. It required a herculean, sustained effort by EarthJustice and environmental activists across the country.
Christine Santillana of EarthJustice explained, “We thank Congress for taking this important step toward reducing the harm from PFAS incineration by prohibiting DOD from burning toxic PFAS waste until it takes specific actions to mitigate negative impacts. For too long, communities located near incinerators have lived with the damaging consequences. The fight isn’t over, and Congress must take further action to ensure polluters like DOD are not given loopholes to avoid reporting its PFAS releases into communities.” 
We don’t know how to dispose of these chemicals without endangering human health or the environment. PFAS is still not considered to be a hazardous substance by the criminally negligent EPA. 
This is not the end of the story, however. 
EarthJustice also filed a suit in federal court accusing the DOD of failing to conduct an environmental review before hiring the East Liverpool-based hazardous waste incinerator, Heritage Thermal Services, to dispose of the foam in 2019. As a result, the suit claims, burning the foam harms communities like East Liverpool.
The smokestacks sprinkle an invisible blanket of carcinogens that starts the process of contamination anew by contaminating soil, groundwater, and surface water with PFAS compounds that retain their strong fluorine-carbon bonds. 
The military knows this, of course. They’re simply trying to duck the liability of retaining millions of gallons of “legacy” carcinogenic foams and materials saturated with PFAS. The legacy foams contain PFOS and PFOA, two 8-carbon chain compounds. The DOD has been trying to convince us that they’ve switched to using safer varieties of PFAS, but we know they’re all toxic. 
Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, an attorney with Earthjustice explained last month, “They’re currently accepting highly toxic material and exposing the public without any assurance that their treatment systems are effective for that material.”
The DOD would not disclose how much firefighting foam it has sent to Heritage for incineration, although Kalmuss-Katz said the facility continues to burn PFAS even as the lawsuit moves through the courts. 
In 2019, the DOD entered into a contract with Heritage’s Indiana-based parent company, Heritage Environmental Services, to incinerate 888,000 gallons of PFAS-containing firefighting foam at various Heritage-owned incinerators, including the one in East Liverpool, according to the lawsuit.Mike Pence 3.jpgThe Mike Pence Connection Former Vice President Mike Pencehas close ties to two Indiana firms awarded DOD contracts to incinerate PFAS.
When he was governor of Indiana, Pence turned to wealthy, corporate donors, like Fred Fehsenfeld, owner of the Heritage Group, who contributed $100,000 to his campaign, more than anyone else. The Heritage Group received more than $600 million in work from the state from 2010 to 2015. Heritage Group owns Heritage Environmental Services LLC, one of two Indiana-based hazardous waste treatment companies that have landed lucrative federal contracts to manage the incineration of the military’s stockpiles of PFAS-laced firefighting foam. The other Indiana firm is Tradebe Treatment and Recycling LLC.
The Pence – Heritage connection became more apparent in June of 2019 when Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s top budget adviser, OMB Director Micah Vincent left his position to become a vice president of the Indianapolis-based Heritage Group. Vincent had been the OMB director since then-Gov. Mike Pence appointed him to the position in 2015.
In August, 2015, the Pence administration’s Indiana Economic Development Corp (IEDC) lured Tradebe Treatment and Recycling LLC to relocate from Illinois to Indiana with $600,000 in conditional tax credits, based on job creation numbers. The IEDC is governed by a 12-member board, at that time chaired by Governor Mike Pence. The record of Pence’s involvement with the two companies primarily responsible for incinerating the military’s vast accumulation of these deadly substances is clear. Heritage and Tradebe have signed contracts with the DOD to incinerate millions of gallons of toxic, “legacy” PFAS-laden fire-fighting foams, sludge, and soils across the country. The DOD has replaced those firefighting foams with slightly tweaked versions, showing many of the same health and environmental risks. Tradebe is incinerating PFAS substances in the eastern  and central U.S. while Heritage executed a 30-month contract in May, 2019 to handle the incineration in the western U.S. Norlite Corp., a subsidiary of Tradebe Environmental Services, incinerated two million gallons of materials containing PFAS at its plant in Cohoes, NY until Governor Cuomo stopped the practice in November 2020. See the list of military installations and the quantities of PFAS shipped to Cohoes for incineration.Defenders of incinerating PFAS say they are not liable for damages because the substances are not regulated by the EPA as hazardous materials.
We must applaud President Biden for his stance on taking care of veterans sickened by breathing toxic fumes from burning military waste overseas. We must also remind him there’s more work to be done in controlling the DOD’s reckless behavior in this regard, right here at home.
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