U.S. Military Leaving Behind PFAS, Other Highly Toxic Chemicals in Afghanistan

Some of the military bases the U.S. are leaving behind in Afghanistan are filled with toxic chemicals that can pose serious health and environmental problems.  What is worse: these toxic sites may never get a full cleanup.

“The U.S. has operated some of these facilities for almost 20 years. As part of the sites’ routine functioning, the American military and its allied partners generated waste, including substances that increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. These materials can produce long-lasting environmental hazards in and around such sites as they seep into the ground, remain exposed in uncovered landfills and—when some items are incinerated—drift into the air as smoke particles…For example, open-air burn pits are often used to dispose of waste in the field. They are common across areas where the U.S. has fought, despite the fact that an official Department of Defense policy prohibits them “except in circumstances in which no alternative disposal method is feasible.” This is because burning military material—everything from food waste, to paint, metal, plastics, medical and human waste, and sometimes unexploded ordnance—can produce toxic smoke contaminated with “particulate matter, lead, mercury, dioxins, and irritant gases,” as outlined in a 2014 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Inhaling these contaminants, the report continues, “can negatively affect organs and body systems, such as the adrenal glands, lungs, liver, and stomach,” causing conditions that include asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis…

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly called PFAS, create another durable environmental hazard if they leach into the environment at military posts. These chemicals…are found in a specialized firefighting foam that many domestic and overseas U.S. bases use to put out petroleum fires. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to symptoms such as increased cholesterol levels, decreased infant birth weight, and a heightened risk of kidney or testicular cancer, among others.”  (Scientific American)

And it is not just U.S. military personnel who face significant health risks from these toxins.  Afghan citizens also face risk from exposure to lingering U.S. military burn pit pollutants. Unfortunately, for legal and political reasons, these health-damaging chemicals will likely never be cleaned up and will instead remain at the inactive military bases for many decades to come.   Read more on this topic here.