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Huffington This Week: Dangerous Substances

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This week, Lynne Peeples puts the spotlight on one of the rarely discussed dangers facing soldiers in war zones: exposure to contaminated environments.

After years of skepticism about the effects of those environments on soldiers' health -- a skepticism partly driven by insurance companies -- the tide is turning. New medical studies and environmental statistics show that soldiers' exposure to a complex mix of environmental threats is compounding the more obvious dangers of war zones. "Even when not engaged directly in combat," Peeples writes, "servicemen and women -- typically without protective masks or other simple precautions -- live and work amid clouds of Middle Eastern dust laden with toxic metals, bacteria and viruses, and surrounded by plumes of smoke rising from burn pits, a common U.S. military practice of burning feces, plastic bottles and other solid waste in open pits, often with jet fuel."

Growing awareness of these dangers has resulted in an acknowledgment, in the medical and military fields, that we can be doing much more to protect our soldiers. As Dr. Anthony Szema, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, put it, "There are lots of dangers of war. But at least some of them are preventable."

We meet former U.S. Army Spc. Candy Lovett, who arrived in Kuwait in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm as a healthy 29-year-old, but now suffers from lung disease, sleep apnea and terminal breast cancer. "At one point," she said, "I was on over 50 pills." And former Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tim Wymore, who was deployed to Iraq in 2004, and has suffered from extreme weight loss, among other ailments. "Everyone," he says, "has the same things."

Elsewhere in the issue, Ryan Grim and Ryan J. Reilly wade into the battle over medical marijuana against the backdrop of our nation's decades-long and disastrous drug war.

Their reporting centers on what is known as the "Ogden memo," in which Deputy Attorney General David Ogden told federal law enforcers that they should not focus federal resources on individuals complying with existing state marijuana laws -- a missive that led to a medical marijuana boom in states like Montana and Washington.

But as Grim and O'Reilly write, "the Ogden memo was not the beginning of the end of the war on pot. Instead, it kicked off a new battle that still rages." The Obama administration, for its part, has given out mixed signals on recreational pot, and marijuana policy has split the Justice Department into dueling factions. And as Steve DeAngelo, who opened Harborside Health Center in 2006, the most prominent medical marijuana dispensary in the country, put it: "The only way I'll stop doing what I'm doing is if they drag me away in chains. And as soon as they let me out, I'll be back doing it again."

This story appears in Issue 37 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, Feb. 22.

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