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Understanding Burn Pit Emissions


Open burning is often used in combat zones to quickly discard of waste produced during military operations. Materials burned may include plastics, rubber, wood, paint, clothing, medical waste, discarded food and food containers, and even munitions and unexploded ordinance. Military personnel working in proximity to the burn pits are exposed to smoke containing a variety of chemicals emitted during combustion of the solid waste. Battelle supported toxicology studies for the Naval Medical Research Unit–Dayton to better understand the health effects associated with the inhalation exposure to these emissions. 


Battelle researchers re-created a controlled but realistic outdoor environment to simulate open burning that occurs in war zones. We then comprehensively characterized the combustion effluent, using both real-time monitors and integrated sampling techniques, for a wide variety of pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polychlorinated dibenzo dioxins and furans (PCDD/PCDF) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). We also analyzed particulate matter size distributions, concentrations and composition.


The study provided new insights into the chemical composition of emissions resulting from combustion of solid waste from military field operations. The results helped the Navy Medical Research Unit better understand the potential health effects of exposure to burn pit emissions. Study results will be used to design more comprehensive and robust future toxicology studies, which could be used to inform future policies around the use of open burning or new safety procedures to protect military personnel. 

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