... has become increasingly ill. First it was incessant coughing, shortness of breath, crushing chest pain. Then came the headaches; agony so intense that Rosie would often drive Le Roy to the ER, convinced this was the end. And finally the gastrointestinal trauma: Le Roy recalls once passing a blood clot the size of a golf ball in a rest area bathroom. "I wondered all the time whether I would live to the next day," he says. "Because it just kept getting worse and worse."
Le Roy isn’t the only veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to suffer from mysterious illnesses. Thousands of others are complaining of breathing problems, gastrointestinal disorders, and even rare cancers. Some have already died of these ailments. A handful of health experts are now concerned that today’s veterans face an emerging epidemic, one threatening the lives of thousands of men and women — but neither the Department of Defense (DOD) nor the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concur. It’s a conflict that’s pitting Le Roy and Rosie, along with a growing number of veterans, politicians, doctors, and scientists against some of the two biggest institutions in the US government.
And it’s all because of garbage.
In other words, the blame sits with open-air burn pits at U.S. military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan where all trash created by soldiers was burned.
It’s no secret that open-air burning poses health hazards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long warned that burning waste — even organic refuse like brush or tree branches — is dangerous. Burning items like plastic water bottles or computer parts is even worse. "It’s appalling," says Anthony Wexler, PhD, director of the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis and the co-author of a 2010 review of the military’s air-quality surveillance programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. "From a health perspective, this kind of open-pit burning, especially when you’re burning everything under the sun, creates a real mess."
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