December 18th, 2009
08:51 AM ET

Military: Burn pits could cause long-term damage to troops

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/12/18/military.burn.pits/t1larg.burnpits2.jpg caption="Smoke billows from a burn pit on a base in Al Taqaddum, Iraq, in 2007."]

Washington (CNN) - The military is backing off its previous position and acknowledging that some troops exposed to the burning of refuse on military bases could be susceptible to long-term health effects.

Since the issue first arose two years ago, Pentagon health officials have insisted that, based on its analysis, troops who were near burn pits at Joint Base Balad in Iraq - the largest base in that country - faced no long-term health hazards. That covered most of the troops who passed through the base.

The Department of Defense found that the burn pits, which are used instead of incinerators on some bases and outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan, could cause effects in the short term - including irritated eyes and upper respiratory system problems - that can lead to persistent coughing. But the department said "it is less clear what other longer-term health effects [there] may be."

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