According to plaintiffs’ claims in the consolidated case, the contractors created “literally hundreds” of burn pits at military bases throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. They say the health repercussions from the burn pits are like the effects of Agent Orange — an herbicide used during the Vietnam War — in that thousands of former soldiers who survived combat later became sick or died from something to which they were exposed by their own government.
“The flames were often colored blue or green from the hazardous chemicals that were put on the burn pit. The smoke from the pit also turned a thick black or white depending on what was being burned. The smell from the pit was often of plastic or chemicals burning and was extremely noxious. The smoke from the enormous burn pit close to Camp Cropper and Camp Victory was often so thick it filled the nearby living quarters with smoke and haze.”
At times, wild dogs raided the burn pit, he says in his complaint. The dogs “could be seen roaming the base with body parts in their mouths, to the great distress of the U.S. Forces.”
Montoya says the smoke from the burn pit was pulled into the barracks through the air-conditioning system. He and his fellow soldiers woke each morning spitting black and gray mucus. “Sometimes it was so bad, we’d sleep without the air conditioner and suffer through the heat so that it wouldn’t get into our living quarters,” he says. Montoya alleges in his complaint that KBR knew the hazards associated with the burn pits and also “knowingly exposed troops and civilians to contaminated water from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.”
Similar lawsuits, originating in 42 states — including a complaint filed in 2009 by soldiers Jessey Joseph Philip Baca of Albuquerque and Daniel Tijerina of Santa Fe — have been consolidated in a U.S. District Court in Maryland.
In 2013, a bill by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., created a federal burn pit registry to track the symptoms of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The registry is open to any veteran or active-duty service member who served in the Southwest Asia theater after Aug. 2, 1990, or in Afghanistan or Djibouti, Africa, after Sept. 1, 2001. This could cover 3.5 million people, according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report published in June.