Joe Biden Says Toxic Burn Pits May Have Contributed to His Son's Cancer

Brielle Urciuoli

For years, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Beau, was stationed near large, potentially toxic burn pits. After Beau died of glioblastoma (GBM) in May 2015, Joe Biden grew skeptical and started to question if the burn pits contributed to his son’s cancer diagnosis.

"I think they play a significant role. Science is recognizing that there are certain carcinogens that, when people are exposed to them, depending on the quantities and amount and the water and air, can have a carcinogenic impact on the body,” Joe Biden said in a recent interview with PBS News Hour.

The United States uses large burn pits to dispose of waste – ranging from paints and solvents to plastic furniture and batteries. Leftover jet fuel is frequently used as an accelerant. On multiple occasions, Beau Biden, who was a former Delaware Attorney General, found himself near such pits. First when he was training prosecutors in Kosovo after the 1998 to 1999 Kosovo War, and then again in 2009 when he served in the Iraq War.

Joe Biden admits that there is no scientific evidence that he’s aware of that links burn pits and cancer, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not acknowledge the link. But a growing body of research and publications are pushing them to do so. On this list is a book by Joseph Hickman called, “The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America's Soldiers.”

“There's a whole chapter on my son, Beau, in there. It stunned me,” Joe Biden said.

This is not the first time that patients, survivors and advocates have had a hard time getting the VA to recognize that wartime risks may lead to certain cancer types.

MPN Advocacy and Education International, a nonprofit dedicated to education, support and advocacy for patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), is working to get Agent Orange exposure on the Veteran’s Health Administration’s presumptive list. This means that Vietnam veterans exposed to the chemical who end up getting an MPN would have their disability covered by the VA.

But men and women who served in either the Iraq and/or Afghanistan wars may have a particularly high cancer risk, according to Joe Biden, who said that there is a higher number of veterans from these wars who eventually get a cancer diagnosis.

Research will continue to push on in this field. “There's been no direct scientific evidence that I'm aware of yet, but a lot of work is being done,” Biden said.
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