Amnesty International USA filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to seek documents related to the use of burn pits by the U.S. military. For decades, the military has used burn pits producing toxic smoke to dispose of hazardous waste on military bases around the world. More than 100,000 veterans have reported serious health effects following exposure to burn pits, including neurological disorders, rare forms of cancer, reduced lung function and pulmonary diseases.
“Sick veterans and civilians deserve to know whether the government is properly investigating burn pits,” said Daphne Eviatar, director of security with human rights at Amnesty International USA. “Without a full investigation into the health impacts of burn pits, it could be impossible for veterans and civilians to receive the medical care they need. Public health experts are even warning that burn pits could become this generation’s Agent Orange. The U.S. government must be held accountable for the veterans and others who were exposed to toxic smoke burning on military bases abroad.”
Amnesty’s FOIA request asks for research and data compiled by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs on the health effects of burn pits. It also seeks to answer whether the military is complying with laws and rules that regulate burn pits, whether the Department of Defense has properly overseen contractors who operate the burn pits, and whether the Department of Defense has monitored the environmental effects and air quality downwind of burn pits.
Independent studies conducted at the direction of Congress have raised significant questions on the Department of Defense’s compliance with existing rules and whether it has gathered the data necessary to establish the health consequences of burn pits.
“The public needs to know how the government is investigating and responding to the serious problems related to burn pits,” said Miguel Castillo, a student attorney at the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic, which is representing AIUSA. “These FOIA requests seek to fill a major gap in the public record.”
“Transparency is essential in order to ensure public accountability on behalf of veterans and civilians,” said Suzanne Starr, another student attorney with the clinic. “We urge the Department of Defense to respond quickly to Amnesty’s requests, so sick and dying veterans can get the care they need.”
Castillo and Starr prepared the requests under the supervision of supervising attorney Jonathan Manes. The Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic works with organizations and individuals to pursue government transparency and accountability on issues involving national security, veterans affairs, law enforcement, technology & privacy, and public health.
On July 19, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus for the District of Maryland dismissed the burn pit lawsuits consolidated in In re KBR Inc. Burn Pit Litigation. On August 4, 2017, a Notice of Appeal of the decision was filed with the Court and an appeal is presently pending in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.