U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan believe exposure to burn pits on their military bases left them with a host of illnesses that some say are killing them. The Department of Defense and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs insist there is not enough evidence to prove a connection.
Department of Defense
An Army sergeant maneuvers a bulldozer through a burn pit in Iraq. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Military routinely burned everything from plastic water bottles to medical waste in open air pits.
Brigadier General Michael T. Heston, who served in the Vermont Army National Guard, died in 2018 following a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He served three tours in Afghanistan.
Heston's family and doctor believe his cancer was tied to burn pit exposure. He was 58-years-old.
Department of Defense
A masked soldier throws items into a burn pit in Iraq.
Air Force Major Kevin Wilkins died in 2008 after a battle with brain cancer. He served in Balad, Iraq. His family believes his cancer was tied to burn pit exposure. Wilkins leaves behind his wife and three children. He was 51-years-old.
A burn pit in Baghdad, Iraq.
Army Staff Sgt. Danielle Nienajadlo lost her battle with leukemia in 2010. Her family believes her cancer was tied to burn pit exposure while stationed in Balad, Iraq. She was 31-years-old.
The military could have used more expensive incinerators to burn trash, but chose to use burn pits at hundreds of locations.
Army Sgt. Amanda Older lost her battle to adrenal cancer in 2011. Her family believes her cancer was tied to burn pit exposure while she was stationed in Iraq. She was 24-years-old.
Some soldiers say they sounded the alarm on burn pits and the risk of toxins, but say they were largely ignored.
Veterans say everything from plastic water bottles to human waste was thrown in burn pits.
An incinerator at Camp Taji, Iraq.
The Department of Defense says they are now using more expensive incinerators to get rid of trash. The DOD says they have largely stopped using burn pits, though some are still operating in the Middle East.
Airman Amie Muller with the Minnesota Air National Guard died in 2017 after a 10-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Muller's family believes her cancer was tied to burn pit exposure during her two tours in Iraq. The mother of three was 36-years-old.
Smoke from a burn pit in Iraq billows into the air.
Army Sergeant First Class Fred Slape died of lung cancer in 2015. He was also diagnosed with malignant brain tumors. He believed, as does his family, that his illness is tied to burn pit exposure during his two deployments to Afghanistan. The husband and father was 42.
Army Staff Sergeant Steven Ochs died in 2008 after losing his battle with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. His family believes his illness is tied to toxic fumes from a burn pit beside his base in Iraq. The husband and father was 32-years-old.
Smoldering trash piles in Kandahar, Iraq.
Army Staff Sergeant Matthew Bumpus, died in 2006 after losing his battle with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. His family believes his illness is tide to burn pit exposure in Iraq. The husband and father was 31-years-old.
Marine Cpl. James Wrobel suffered respiratory and cardiac failure in 2009. His family believes his illness was tied to burn pit exposure during his deployment to Iraq. He was 24.
Airman Jessica Sweet lost her battle to leukemia in 2009. Her family believes her exposure to burn pits in Afghanistan caused her illness. She was 30-years-old.
A soldier stands near a burn pit in Al Asad, Iraq.