This piece was cross-posted at Milspouse Mutterings.
Occupational Lung Disease – for most of us that conjures up Black Lung in a coal miner; silicosis in a quarry worker; and for an old paralegal ahem from the asbestos days, asbestosis or worse in a worker in a boiler factory. It isn’t usually a condition that we think of as an “occupational hazard” for a soldier. But a new report from the American Thoracic Society changes that pretty quickly.
My husband has talked about the stench of the burn pits, the choking smoke blowing into his face as he walked by during the deployments in Iraq. Our son and daughter in law both remember seeing trash and worse being burned at every base and post they were on during their deployments. The smell is horrendous from burning the effluent from the portajons, the smoke carries so much more than just a smell. The heavy metals from burning batteries, the chemicals from burning plastic – such a wonderful potpourri! IAVA and other veterans organizations have been advocating, demanding information and testing for years.
The dust and sand that filter into every nook and cranny is sneaky. When my husband came home on leave during his first Iraq deployment, he brought his laptop home and took it to a computer store to be cleaned out. The geek who blew it out scolded him for not taking better care of the laptop (it was in an area that doesn’t get too many soldiers coming in!) and wondered where he’d been with all that talcum like powder. We all know what he meant, right? That stuff is in all their clothes when they get back, and I’m still finding it in the trunks, or poofing out of the duffel bags when we start packing his stuff for the next deployment; I was complaining about it after the last deployment, he told me I should be honored- this was the dust that built the bricks of early civilization! I was looking through some books he’d brought home, and could still feel it in my fingers.
“We’ve described a new disease called Iraq-Afghanistan War lung injury (IAW-LI), among soldiers deployed to these countries as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn” said Anthony Szema, MD, who co-chaired with Dr. Rose.
My husband calls this the Iraq/Afghanistan “Agent Orange Syndrome”. We remember how long it took for the VA and DoD to acknowledge Agent Orange as a reason for the diseases our veterans of Vietnam were experiencing; we aren’t going to let that happen again.
What does this have to do with MCAF and the Clean Air Act? In my community- a lot! Our servicemembers are coming home with respiratory problems. To quote Dr. Szema:
“Not only do soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan suffer serious respiratory problems at a rate seven times that of soldiers deployed elsewhere, but the respiratory issues they present with show a unique pattern of fixed obstruction in half of cases, while most of the rest are clinically-reversible new-onset asthma, in addition to the rare interstitial lung disease called nonspecific interstitial pneumonitis associated with inhalation of titanium and iron.”
With lungs affected like this – do they need to be subjected to even more? Since we can’t usually chose where we live, since DoD sends us to bases all over the country, are we going to end up on a base or post downwind from one of the coal fired powerplants that are spewing high amounts of particulate into the prevailing winds? So, I figure that joining Moms Clean Air Force and working for clean air, isn’t just for my granddaughter, but also for her mommy and daddy, who were downrange of the burnpits in Iraq, and for her grandpa Chief, who is going to be walking around them again soon. Won’t you join us?