ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KTVI) - An Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran from South St. Louis County is warning fellow veterans to have their lungs checked by a doctor.
His name is Tim Smith. He`s 37-years-old, and even though he says he has never been a smoker, doctors recently discovered he has lung cancer.
Now he's wondering if it might have been caused by a different kind of smoke.
'We`d see black smoke all the time, we`d see some weird colored smoke clouds up in the air that would turn different colors at times. We really didn`t know what it was,' said Smith.
He owns Patriot Contract Commercial Cleaning, which hires veterans to tidy up offices and schools.
But he says when he served in Iraq, there was no one hauling off trash.
'There was trash everywhere, so you would just burn the trash to get rid of it and it (went) up in smoke into a really black cloud,' Smith said.
He says at the time he never really gave much thought to the polluted air he was breathing, but a few weeks ago that changed when his wife forced him to go see a doctor after he developed a bad cough.
It was discovered Smith has a cancerous nodule on his right lung that must be removed because it is malignant.
Now, Smith wonders if his cancer might have been caused by breathing smoke from the burn pits.
It`s something the Department of Veterans Affairs has started tracking, because military members who worked near the burn pits are developing respiratory illnesses at rates higher than normal, though according to the VA, cancer is not on the list.
Still, there are plenty of doubters and Tim Smith is one of them, which is why he wants to send a message to other veterans.
'I just encourage veterans to get their yearly checkup to get this stuff checked out so if there is a problem you can catch it early and just pass it on to your fellow veterans and be a battle buddy and look out for one another.
To remove the cancer, surgeons will have to cut out 25 percent of Smith`s right lung, which they will do Thursday morning -- a date Tim and his wife chose deliberately because it`s St. Patrick`s day, which they hope means he will have the luck of the Irish.