Did Belgian soldiers inhale toxic smoke during their mission in Afghanistan?

Unions that represent troops serving in the Belgian armed force have called for further investigation to be carried out into the health problems suffered by soldiers that were based at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. Their call comes after an article that appeared in the daily ‘De Morgen’ in which it was said that thousands of American and Dutch troops that became ill after having been based at Kandahar Airfield believe that the became ill after having been exposed to toxic smoke there.      

A total of almost 2,000 Belgian troops were based at Kandahar Airfield between 2008 and 2012. As was the case at several other military bases at the time waste was often incinerated on site in a so-called “burn pit”. It is reported that around 90 tonnes of waste was incinerated in this way. The incineration of the waste cause a plume of black smoke that was visible for miles around.  

In the US and The Netherlands a number of soldiers have reported suffering medical ailments resulting from exposure to toxic smoke emitted from so-called burn-pits. Thousands of troops are reported to have become ill after having served at Kandahar Airfield. In the United State the Departement of Veteran Affairs has asked those affected to report their health issues to them. So far 2,300 troops have done so. Lung problems and asthma are among the medical complaints reported.    

At the time the Belgian Army carried out an air quality study at the base. The study concluded that air pollution was within acceptable.  

De Morgen showed the study to the toxicologist Jan Tytgat who questions the way in which it was carried out. For example because the study lasted just 9 days. More over the study uses pollution norms applicable to workers that only remain on site for 8 hours a day and not for soldiers that remain on base for anything up to 24 hours a day.  

The unions are concerned

The unions that represent Belgian military personnel are concerned. Edwin Lauwereis of the liberal union VSOA told journalists that. “Solidiers always undergo a medical examination before and after a mission, but clearly more is required”.

The unions are (amongst other things) requesting more research into possible health issue arising from the use of burn-pits.

Yves Huwart  of the ACMP union said "The Army had always claimed that their wasn’t an issue and no it would appear that the measurements taken are dubious”. Mr Huwart wants the Belgian Army to follow the example of the Americans and set up  a hot line where (former) soldiers that believe that they have become ill due to exposure to burn-pit smoke can report their health issue. Meanwhile, the Belgian Army says that it has had no reports of any Belgians having become ill after having served at Kandahar Airfield.    

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