Military burn pits are globally used by the United States Government as a disposal method where various forms of waste are set on fire in designated, uncontained sites. Burn pits have negative environmental impacts, as they release toxic substances. Some impacts include climate pollution and long-term, sometimes fatal, health conditions. Despite these environmental impacts, the US Air Force continues to use their Explosive Ordnance burn pit in Guam.
The Anderson Airforce Base operates the Explosive Ordnance burn pit on Tarague Beach. The site is also near the aquifer that supplies Guamanians with over 80% of their drinking water. With the wide variety of explosives burned, kick outs from the site could be up to a half mile away. The kick outs could pollute nearby reefs, forests, and even soak into the soil, poisoning the community’s main aquifer.
The site’s process of burning explosive materials releases hazardous toxins, some of which are cancer-causing. As cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Guam, Guamanians suspect a link to toxin exposure. To recognize those affected by exposure, the community has been fighting to shut down the site.
In January 2022, the US Air Force submitted a permit renewal request to continue the use of the burn pit. A community group, Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian, attempted to prevent the renewal. The group filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force and the Department of Defense. The lawsuit was dismissed, leaving Guamanians in the dark once again on environmental legislation. The renewal decision is now in the hands of Guam’s Environmental Protection Agency.
To shed light on toxic exposures from burn pits, on August 10, 2022, President Biden signed into law the PACT Act. The law expanded healthcare benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits. Including benefits for 23 new exposure-related health conditions. Although the PACT Act didn’t shut down the Anderson burn pit, it is a vital piece in Guam’s fight. The law is bringing public awareness to burn pits, their locations, and the environmental hazards they bring.