LA QUINTA, Calif. - News Channel 3 spoke with a former U.S. Marine, Steven Phillips who says working in a burn pit in Iraq caused a painful skin reaction that flared up years after retiring.
Now, he is demanding changes to help protect troops from the potential harms of burn pits.
News Channel 3’s Caitlin Thropay met him at his home in La Quinta to hear his story.
Phillips served in the United States Marine Corps and was stationed in 29 Palms.
During his service, he was deployed three times to Iraq between 2004 and 2007. He was assigned to work in a burn pit.
“It’s just one of those jobs that you know you’ve got to do it and I said okay, and I was managing it for three months," Phillips told News Channel 3.
Five years after his deployment he started noticing a painful skin condition.
“It started to get flaky and turn red," he said. "It was all on my face area and on top of my head. It just starts to feel painful and it comes and goes. It’s not from being out in the sun or anything like that. I spoke with doctors, and they said maybe it’s a type of dermatitis and to apply Head and Shoulders but that doesn’t work," he said.
After watching News Channel 3’s special report on Jennifer Kepner, who experienced medical problems after working in burn pits, Phillips started to wonder if his exposure to burn pits caused his skin reaction.
The pit he worked on was about half the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Phillips says it was much too close to marines on the base.
“The burn pit was 50 yards off of where people were sleeping," he said.
Phillips says roughly 300 marines were throwing their trash away in the pit.
“We have to make sure it’s constantly going because I mean 300 marines, eventually it’s going to start piling up, so we try to keep it burning about 24 hours a day,” he said.
Some items burned were batteries, plastic, feces and clothes but Phillips is most concerned with the batteries.
“There's lots of batteries blowing up in there. I could hear them popping," he shared.
He thinks a simple fix would be to move the burn pits off base or far enough away so marines aren’t getting direct exposure.
“That’s one thing I’d like to see the D.O.D take accountability for is all the batteries that are thrown out if they can get an account at how many batteries are actually brought back to the U.S.,” he added.
Now he is teaming up with congressman Raul Ruiz to get legislation passed to protect troops from potential burn pit harms.
“I hope that they take the waste management a little more seriously. I know that they have specific standards that the marines are supposed to deal with, with waste management but I think that open air burn pits and within the vicinity of sleep areas or within the conditions of the base where everybody’s around and exposed I hope that they take the consideration of not allowing that anymore," he said.
Congressman Raul Ruiz and Steven Phillips will be speaking on this topic Tuesday at a press conference at Forest Lawn in Cathedral City. The event starts at 11:30 a.m. and is open to the public.
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