Catch part two of America Tonight's reporting on burn pits Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on Al Jazeera America.
Anthony Thornton has trouble speaking, can’t read anymore and has trouble keeping up with his 3-year-old daughter. He said he doesn’t remember everybody’s name.
Thornton, 35, suffers from a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. Doctors had to take out parts of his brain – his temporal lobe and part of his hippocampus.
“I’ve lost a lot, and what I would like to do, I don’t really have that anymore,” said Anthony Thornton. “I don’t like being like this.”
Thornton believes he got sick from toxins he was exposed to from massive, open-air burn pits while serving his country. Burn pits operated on U.S. military bases across Iraq and Afghanistan. At the height of the wars, more than 250 bases burned their trash, releasing large plumes of black smoke into the air.
“During the daytime, it was solid black. You could smell it,” he said. “And depending on where the sun was, it was so thick, it would block some of the sun.”
Thornton was a staff sergeant and worked as a prison guard at Camp Bucca in Iraq. He said the smoke from burn pits lingered above his living quarters. He was diagnosed with asthma and bronchitis while he was in Iraq. Three years after he came home, doctors found the tumor.
Kerry Baker is a former Veterans Affairs official who has analyzed the toxins found in burn pit smoke. For three years since he left the agency, he’s been fighting to get the Department of Defense and the VA to recognize that burn pit exposure has sickened veterans.