Research Changes Conclusions on Gulf War Exposures
By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2000 Researchers said Dec. 5 they have changed their minds about who might and might not have been exposed to nerve agents after the destruction of a weapons storage facility in Khamisiyah, Iraq, at the end of the Gulf War.
Roughly 100,000 veterans of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War will receive letters in coming days notifying them they either were or were not in what is now believed to be the affected areas.
The areas in green were identified by the latest research and computer modeling as potentially exposed to nerve agents after Iraq's Khamisiyah weapons storage facility was destroyed following the 1991 Gulf War.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
DoD also notified veterans of their possible exposure after it released a 1997 report. Since then, more extensive research and better computerized atmospheric and mathematical modeling technology have redrawn the map of potentially affected areas.
The department now believes 32,000 troops notified after the 1997 report were never in a potential hazard area. However, about 34,000 troops not included in the original notification were in areas of concern drawn by the new study.
The report refers to events at Khamisiyah on March 4 and 10, 1991, when U.S. Army engineers demolished a sprawling Iraqi ammunition supply point. Investigators later learned some of the bunkers contained munitions with the chemical nerve agents sarin and cyclosarin.
"It wouldn't have mattered if we had emptied every bunker there. We discovered later that those chemical munitions were unmarked," said Tom Whitsett, lead investigator on Khamisiyah for the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, Medical Readiness and Military Deployments.
Bernard Rostker, the special assistant and also undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the 1997 report was completed quickly. Researchers knew at the time that their work would have to be revised as more information became available, he said.
Rostker said new information in three main areas prompted the new models.
- The CIA provided more complete information on the volume of chemical munitions present at Khamisiyah.
- DoD undertook an extensive study to determine more closely where U.S. troops were at the time of the demolition. The 2000 report pinpointed units down to company level while the 1997 report only went to battalion level.
- More research was done into the toxicity of the nerve agents destroyed and how they break down in the atmosphere.
Rostker stressed the new and old information is based on supposition and there's no way to know for sure exactly what happened at the time. "No one had sensors on the battlefield," he said in an American Forces Press Service interview. "They're the best predictions we can make, but I can't tell you with any certainty that these are the actual readings. They're simply simulations."
It's imperative to keep studying incidents from the Gulf War to ensure the health of veterans, Rostker said. "We have an obligation to provide our veterans with the best information we can about what happened in the Gulf so that they can make informed decisions about their health."
Whitsett urged veterans not to panic if they should receive letters telling them they were in the new, potential hazard area. He and Rostker insisted there were no reported symptoms of nerve-agent poisoning in the area surrounding Khamisiyah during the time of the demolitions.
Rostker said active duty members with health concerns related to Persian Gulf service should enroll in the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program at their nearest military medical facility or by calling 1-800-796-9699. The program was designed to study and treat veterans suffering from Gulf War-related illnesses.
Veterans no longer affiliated with the military can receive information about a similar Department of Veterans Affairs program by calling 1-800-749-8387.
Whitsett said individuals can call the special assistant's hot line at 1-800-497-6261 if they think they were in the possible hazard area around the time of the Khamisiyah demolitions or would like to provide more information.
To learn more about the special assistant's office and activities, visit DoD's Gulflink Web site at www.gulflink.osd.mil.