(WASHINGTON) -- While most bases in Iraq and Afghanistan at some point during the war contained open burn pits, a new report suggests there's not enough evidence to directly link respiratory problems of soldiers, to fumes emitted by the burn pits.
The report, released by the Institute of Medicine, a health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed past research collected by the U.S. Department of Defense. Insufficient data and limited research made it difficult for the IOM committee to draw hard conclusions, the report stated.
The committee called for long-term studies that would track soldiers from the time of their deployment to Joint Base Balad over many years and monitor their development of chronic diseases.
"Such a study will also help physicians and other scientists determine if the burn pits contributed to chronic diseases experienced by armed service personnel after being exposed to the burn pits," the American Thoracic Society, a nonprofit organization that has followed the issue among military service members, said a written statement.
The U.S. Department of Defense, which sponsored the report, states that it has shut down all burn pits in Iraq – replacing some with closed incinerators -- and plans to do the same in Afghanistan by the end of the year.
While the data is not so clear cut, mounting evidence suggests that a growing number already exposed to fumes from burn pits may later develop later chronic and irreparable diseases, according to Dr. Robert Miller, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.
Miller's study, published July in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that nearly half of 80 soldiers in Fort Campbell, Ky., who could not pass a standard two mile run because of breathing problems, were diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis. More than 80 percent of those with constrictive bronchiolitis had been exposed to dust storms, and more than 60 percent had been exposed to burn pits.
"We did not have data that said these guys were sick because of burn pits," said Miller. "We have to follow these guys very closely."
Standard tests that are used to detect respiratory diseases, such as a pulmonary function test, may not pick up the soldier's condition.
"There are a number of them that are concerned that they're written off as being normal because their pulmonary function tests are normal," said Miller. "Some are concerned they're not eligible for disability, because even though they're not deployable, their pulmonary tests are normal."
For many who are more commonly diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis, not even a CT scan can detect the disease. Only a lung biopsy works, Miller said.
Miller suggested that soldiers undergo a baseline pulmonary function test pre-deployment. Soldiers should then be administered another test once they return home to compare the results for any changes, he said.
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