KABUL, Afghanistan - A federal watchdog agency says the U.S. military is endangering the health of troops and civilians working at the main Marine Corps base in Afghanistan by burning solid waste in open pits even as two of the base's four incinerators - built for $11.5 million - go unused and the other two are running below capacity.
The federal special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction said in a new report that the open burning at Camp Leatherneck, in Helmand province in the far south of the country, violates Pentagon regulations and poses long-term health risks for camp personnel, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
It also said the camp was pursuing a $1.1 million contract to haul garbage to a local landfill that might not be necessary, given that the number of troops at Leatherneck has been falling as part of the massive drawdown of U.S. and NATO forces, which will leave no combat troops in the country by the end of next year.
There are about 13,500 troops at the base now. When the number drops to 12,000, the incinerators could handle all the waste, the report says.
Leatherneck is adjacent to the main British base here, Camp Bastion, and a major Afghan army base, Camp Shorabak. It's surrounded by desert, and the air quality is notorious because of wind-blown dust. Respiratory and nasal problems are common. That led a U.S. company last year to pledge donations of up to $2 million in nasal- and sinus-cleaning and moisturizing products for troops stationed there and at other U.S. bases overseas.
The inspector general issued the report this month as an "alert letter" to Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees Afghanistan; and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.
In response to questions about the report, Lt. Col. William Griffin, a spokesman for the coalition, said it was trying to meet regulations by halting pit burning in some places and taking steps to reduce health risks in others.
"By July 31, only four bases will have active burn-pit operations," Griffin wrote. "Those four bases have submitted waivers to U.S. Central Command in order to be in compliance with regulations."
Open-air burning is used only to dispose of nonhazardous material and is monitored closely to prevent risks to those who live and work on the bases, he wrote.
U.S. Toll in Afghanistan
• Lance Cpl. Benjamin W. Tuttle, 19, of Gentry, Ark.; assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
• Staff Sgt. Sonny C. Zimmerman, 25, of Waynesfield, Ohio; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, Fort Campbell, Ky.
Source: Department of defense.