Former medic in Iraq returns after testifying about open burn pits in Iraq - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Former medic in Iraq returns after testifying about open burn pits in Iraq

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By Jeanie Powell
Posted by Dana Franks

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A Huntsville man who testified at a Democratic policy committee hearing in Washington about the use of open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan is back in the Valley.

WAFF 48 News sat down once again with Russell Keith, a former KBR paramedic who said his doctors believe his onset of Parkinson's Disease is more likely than not related to the exposure of constant open burning when he worked in Balad.

Keith was a medic based at Anaconda, now Joint Base Balad, from March 2006 until July 2007.

His second tour, from April 2008 to June 2009, was in Bazra where he said the difference in air quality was night and day because of the presence of an incinerator.

He said he worked no more than half a mile from the open burning in Balad. Keith claimed smoke, sometimes black, green, or yellow, would cover the base on a regular basis.

"As soon as they started burning the green stuff, all of our clinic patients started going up," he said. "It increased 30 to 40 percent, just in my guess."

WAFF 48 News asked him to explain the symptoms patients came in with.

"It was everything from respiratory to sinus to outright coughing blood and stuff," he said.

Keith said he's been contacted by congressmen, senators, and the Disabled American Veterans organization about his story.

"I feel a lot better now because at least I will be able to go to bed at night knowing I did what I could," he said.

It's a story other contractors and soldiers said is similar for them and a situation some are comparing to the effects of Agent Orange.

"I don't want like 50 brand new cases of Parkinson's Disease to be caught in 10 years and people wonder where it came from, how come, how did these people get all this and they've come to find out they were all at the same place," Keith said.

He said he was amazed at the response he's getting and felt it was an accomplished visit.

"Judging from the reaction that I'm getting from the people in Washington, judging from the reaction I'm still getting and the fact that more people want to hear about, Congress is really wanting to get more into it, that's surprising to me that they're really getting into as much as they are."

KBR sent WAFF 48 News this statement: "There are significant discrepancies between the plaintiffs' claims in the burn litigation against KBR and the facts on this issue. Below are key facts associated with several issues that have been raised by the plaintiffs and covered in the media."

They also listed what they called allegations and their counterclaims of fact:

  • Allegation: Plaintiffs assert that KBR operated the burn pit at Joint Base Balad, formerly known as Anaconda.
  • Fact: KBR never operated or provided support services for the burn pit at Joint Base Balad. 
  • Allegation: KBR knowingly poisoned troops in Iraq by burning hazardous materials at Joint Base Balad. 
  • Fact: KBR never operated or provided services to the burn pit at Joint Base Balad.  KBR provides burn pit services at some, but not all, bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.  At the sites where KBR provides burn pit services, the company does so not only in accordance with the relevant provisions of the LOGCAP contract, also operational guidelines approved by the Army.
  • Allegation: KBR was negligent because it placed burn pits on bases where prevailing winds brought smoke into living or working areas on bases.
  • Fact: KBR does not decide where to locate or operate a burn pit.  That decision is made by the Army. KBR operates burn pits in accordance with guidelines approved by the Army. Further, it is the Army that also decides where on base to locate the living and working facilities for base personnel.
  • Allegation: KBR chose to operate burn pits instead of incinerators to make a bigger profit.
  • Fact: 
  • It is not KBR's decision to use burn pits or to install incinerators.  When the Army makes the decision that an incinerator will be used in lieu of other methods of waste disposal, it funds the purchase of the incinerator and directs KBR or other contractors to provide operational and maintenance services.  KBR and other tenants on bases have no ability to use an incinerator until directed by the Army.
  • Allegation: KBR placed improper wastes in the burn pits.
  • Fact: The Army creates a Prohibited Items list that determined which wastes could not be placed in a burn pit. At bases where KBR provides burn pit services, KBR posts these lists to provide notice to waste generators. If KBR observes a waste generator delivering a prohibited item, its practice is to refuse or remove such items.
  • Allegation: Wild dogs removed human body parts from the burn pit at Balad while KBR was in control.
  • Fact: KBR never operated or provided burn pit services at Balad. KBR does not place human body parts in burn pits.
  • Allegation: The military should be running the program instead of contractors like KBR.
  • Fact: Prior to the use of the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), the burning of waste in open pits was performed by Army personnel.  At some of the bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Army decided to use burn pits but elected not to have military personnel operate them, KBR and other contractors are doing exactly what the Army would be doing if LOGCAP did not exist and are performing under the direction and control of military commanders in the field.

Keith told WAFF 48 News he had some good supervisors who encouraged him to see a specialist in Kuwait when he started exhibiting signs of weakness and instability on the left side of his body.

Keith said he was about to leave for his rest and relaxation time, so he chose to get examined in the states when he returned.

The former contractor says a Defense Base Act claim he filed has been met with resistance, not through his former employer, but the insurance company.

WAFF 48 News is continuing to look into this situation that's potentially affecting others here in North Alabama and in the country. WAFF 48 News is told incinerators have been installed at some military bases, but open burning continues in several past of Afghanistan and Iraq.

A bill was just passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that will enforce regulations prohibiting the disposal of waste in open-air burn pits in most circumstances and will require status reports on burning from the Department of Defense.

To view Keith's testimony at the Democratic Policy Committee hearing, visit:  http://dpc.senate.gov/.

©2009 WAFF. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 

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