Gulf War Experts Say Troops Likely Safe at Two Sites
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 29, 2001 Analysts studying events surrounding the bombing of two chemical weapon sites said March 27 that no U.S. troops were exposed in one incident and it’s likely none were in the other.
Officials in the Office of the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses, Medical Readiness and Military Deployments released reports regarding events at Al Muthanna and Muhammadiyat. Both sites were Iraqi weapon storage sites destroyed by coalition bombing during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.
Based on interviews with service members, examination of unit records, advanced computer modeling and other sources, officials have determined that no U.S. forces were exposed to any type of chemical weapon as a result of coalition bombing at Al Muthanna on Feb. 8, 1991.
Defense officials acknowledge about 10 kilograms of the nerve agent sarin escaped into the atmosphere after the bombing, but they determined any possible hazard area was still several hundred kilometers away from any U.S. forces.
Possible exposure to agents released from Muhammadiyat is harder to pin down. Muhammadiyat weapon storage site, 95 miles west of Baghdad, was bombed 17 times between Jan. 19 and Feb. 24, 1991. In October 1991, inspectors from the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq found damaged and destroyed mustard- and sarin/cyclosarin-filled bombs at the site, said Roy Finno, a DoD analyst who has studied events at Muhammadiyat.
Unfortunately, there is no way to know on which of the 15 days of bombing the release occurred. Officials modeled the possible hazard area based on likely amounts of release and weather conditions and then looked at where U.S. forces were on each of the 15 days. They found three days when the location of U.S. special operations soldiers and the potential hazard area possibly overlapped, Finno said.
“We had to model each day as if it was the day of release,” he said.
On Feb. 17, 26 soldiers were operating inside the potential hazard area. There were 75 on Feb. 19 and 58 on Feb. 24. If the release occurred on any of these days, there’s a chance the soldiers in the area were exposed to low levels of nerve agent, he said. If the release occurred on any of the other 12 days of bombing, no U.S. forces could have been exposed to these agents.
The nearest large group of U.S. forces was operating in Saudi Arabia at the time and was about 80 miles away from the potential hazard area for exposure to nerve agent and roughly 125 miles away from any possible exposure to mustard agent, Finno said.
Officials from the Office of the Special Assistant are working with U.S. Special Operations Command to identify and notify the individuals who may have been in the area.
Even if soldiers were in the area the day the release occurred, Finno said, it’s unlikely they would have any health effects because the exposure level would have been extremely low.
He explained that DoD scientists modeled possible exposure against a “general population limit,” which is the level of exposure below which you would expect no adverse health effects over a lifetime.
“At the 'general population limit,' you could live in it for 70 years and nothing would happen to you,” he said.
He said the special operations soldiers were just inside the potential hazard area and would not have been exposed enough to cause noticeable physical effects. "At worst, these guys were in the hazard area for a short period of time and out," Finno said. "With a brief, low-level exposure, we wouldn’t expect any adverse health effects.”