Pa­per ties nerve agents to Gulf War ail­ments

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - Byjames Dao New york Times

Re­viv­ing a 20-year de­bate over ill­nesses of veter­ans of the 1991 Per­sian Gulf War, a new sci­en­tific pa­per presents ev­i­dence that nerve agents re­leased by the bomb­ing of Iraqi chem­i­cal weapons de­pots just be­fore the ground war be­gan could have car­ried down­wind and fallen on U.S. troops staged in Saudi Arabia.

The pa­per, pub­lished in the jour­nal Neu­roepi­demi­ol­ogy, tries to re­but the long-stand­ing Pen­tagon po­si­tion, sup­ported by many sci­en­tists, that neu­ro­tox­ins, par­tic­u­larly sarin gas, could not have car­ried far enough to sicken U.S. forces.

The au­thors are James J. Tuite and Dr. Robert Ha­ley, who has writ­ten sev­eral pa­pers as­sert­ing links be­tween chem­i­cal ex­po­sures and Gulf War ill­nesses. They as­sem­bled data from me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal and in­tel­li­gence re­ports to sup­port their the­sis that Amer­i­can bombs were pow­er­ful enough to pro­pel sarin from de­pots in Muthanna and Fal­lu­jah high into the at­mos­phere, where winds whisked it hun­dreds of miles south to the Saudi bor­der.

Once over the U.S. en­camp­ments, the toxic plume could have stalled and fallen back to the sur­face be­cause of weather con­di­tions, the pa­per says. Though troops would have been ex­posed to low lev­els of the agent, the au­thors as­sert that the ex­po­sures may have con­tin­ued for sev­eral days, in­creas­ing their ef­fect.

Though chem­i­cal weapons de­tec­tors sounded alarms in those en­camp­ments in the days af­ter the Jan­uary 1991 bomb­ing raids, they were viewed as false by many troops, the au­thors report.

But a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of med­i­cal ex­perts have cast doubts on the sarin gas the­ory over the years, and sev­eral said Thurs­day that the new pa­per did lit­tle to change their minds.

Dr. John Bailar, an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Chicago who led a group that stud­ied Gulf War ill­nesses in 1996, said there was still no clear ev­i­dence that troops might have been ex­posed to lev­els of sarin sig­nif­i­cant enough to have a bi­o­log­i­cal ef­fect.

Bailar said that the stress of war rather than chem­i­cal agents might be a more likely cause of the veter­ans’ prob­lems. “Gulf War syn­drome is real,” he said, us­ing the term for a con­stel­la­tion of symp­toms. “And the veter­ans who have it de­serve ap­pro­pri­ate med­i­cal care. But we should not kid our­selves about its causes or about the most ef­fec­tive means of treat­ment.”

Nearly half of the 700,000 ser­vice mem­bers who were de­ployed in 1990 and 1991 for the Gulf War have filed dis­abil­ity claims with the De­part­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs, and more than 85 per­cent of those have been granted ben­e­fits, the de­part­ment has re­ported.

Many of those veter­ans have re­ported long-last­ing prob­lems, in­clud­ing chronic pain, me­mory loss, per­sis­tent fa­tigue and di­ar­rhea, some of which had no clear causes. Many veter­ans in­sist that their prob­lems are not the re­sult of stress but have a bi­o­log­i­cal ba­sis.

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