Trash can be deadly. You can get a hint of that from the contract solicitation issued Tuesday by the Defense Logistics Agency’s European disposition office seeking “hazardous waste services in southwest Asia.”
Lord knows, after a decade of war the U.S. military needs help getting rid of these deadly leftovers. The Pentagon made clear that it is paying attention to suggestions that U.S. troops may become ill because they’re exposed to toxins destroyed in so-called “burn pits” in war zones, where the U.S. military’s trash is incinerated.
“We obviously take very seriously the safety of our service members, wherever they may be, including Afghanistan,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said Tuesday, responding to an item posted on Danger Room that warned of “long-term adverse health conditions” to troops breathing the air at one of the biggest U.S. bases in Afghanistan. “It’s my understanding that we do not have specific evidence that ties these kinds of disposal facilities to health issues,” Little added, “but we are aware of respiratory elements that have identified by service members themselves, so we’re going to continue to look at this problem.”
Such crude incinerators have been used in Afghanistan and Iraq a decade. In fact, soldiers from 1991’s Gulf War suspected such conflagrations during that conflict played a role in “Gulf War syndrome,” that mysterious malady that made thousands of troops ill.
Tuesday’s contract announcement gives some insight just how complicated cleaning up war’s mess can be. The solicitation is seeking contractors “for inspection, unloading, containerization, removal, transportation, storage, recycling, recovery, treatment and ultimate disposal of hazardous property generated by U.S. military facilities stationed in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates,” which covers pretty much every place in the ‘hood where the U.S. military wasn’t fighting.
While the volume of material that needs to be cleaned up is vague — and there is no cost estimate given for the task — the list of what needs to be taken care of is immense: tens of thousands of batteries – lithium, magnesium, nickel-cadmium, mercury ands silver types, among others — tons of acids, bases, alcohols and chlorine products, aromatic hydrocarbons — including toluene, benzene and xylene – assorted heavy metals, tens of thousands of cans of paint of all sorts, along with thousands of containers of caulks and glues, tens of thousands of containers of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, cyanide, asbestos, tens of thousands of light bulbs, not to mention flameless ration heaters triggered by water.
War is a dirty business.