Burn pit scandal! IG says $5 mln wasted on unused incinerators

Unused incinerators at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan Credit: SIGAR
Unused incinerators at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan Credit: SIGAR

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report today that says the Army paid $5 million for two massive incinerators to burn trash on a forward operating base (FOB)  in Afghanistan, but then never used them. The incinerators, mandated by congress after a deluge of reports that soldiers and veterans believed they got sick from the open air pits  in the war zone, have been sitting dormant since 2010 and are becoming their own health hazard.

Worse, FOB Salerno, located in Khost province in the volatile eastern region near the Pakistan border, is still burning trash in the open air, and is expected to do so until a local company starts coming to haul the trash daily starting July 31.

According to the report, Army officials there acknowledge it was the potential health hazards of burning the combined waste of food, toxic materials, human waste, medical detritus, rubber, batteries — everything — in the open air pit that forced them to get the incinerators in the first place (as well as the congressional mandate).

[Antiwar has been covering the burn pit controversy from the beginning. More background on that evolving story, here.]

So the Army Corps of Engineers contracted with a Turkish company to bring in two 8-ton incinerators. The contractor never finished the job, apparently, but got their money anyway. According to the report, there were a number of “deficiencies” like a leaking hydraulic line on one of the incinerators and missing pipe insulation, and the contractor was notified about it, but even though these items were never attended to, the contract was “closed out,” the money paid and the incinerators became the Army’s responsibility.

At that point they were never turned on. As explained in the report, the effort to burn all the trash cleanly was doomed from the start. According to specifications, the machines were supposed to process some 16 tons of waste a day, which would have required both to be operating 24-hours a day. Being in Khost where there is a greater threat level in place, the Army requires black out conditions at night, thus the incinerators couldn’t possibly be working around the clock.

So the circumstances would have required additional alternative trash removal anyway, according to the SIGAR. The Army used that, plus all the work that was left to be done on the machines (about $250,000 worth), as excuse enough to keep them offline.

The Army also noted that the maintenance for the incinerators would have cost $1 million a year, which they neglected to put in the budget, so “the facilities have fallen into disrepair.”

“In one case,” according to the report, “stagnant water has formed in an area beneath the incinerators, thereby creating a possible health hazard from malaria-infected mosquitoes.”

Absent the incinerators, FOB Salerno continues potentially hazardous open-air burn pit operations which violate Department of Defense guidelines and U.S. Central Command regulation. Although the base is now planning to contract for trash removal, it will not begin until July 2013, which is 3 to 5 months before the base’s scheduled closure.

The sweet smell of the FOB Salerno burn pit Credit: SIGAR

Something stinks and it’s not just the pit. So the Army Corps of Engineers contracts with a company that not only doesn’t complete the work but it produces incinerators that the Army admits will be insufficient for the task. Instead of working it out, the Army closes out the contract, letting the company off the hook. The Army does nothing to bring the facilities into working order and instead lets them fall into disrepair. The hazy toxic plume from the open air pit continues, uninterrupted.

About 4,000 people live and work on FOB Salerno. It has been estimated that tens of thousands of American troops and contractors have been affected by the toxic burn pits on U.S bases over the last 10 years. Many have complained of severe injuries and doctors have found permanent lung damage in vets they say can only be the result of toxic inhalation.

Turns out when the military finally gets goaded into doing the right thing, like installing incinerators, they find away to slough it off anyway.

What a waste.


14 thoughts on “Burn pit scandal! IG says $5 mln wasted on unused incinerators”

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