The Department of Defense and RAND Corporation announced today the release of RAND's literature review concerning chemical and biological warfare agents. This scientific review, one of eight reports commissioned by the special assistant to the deputy secretary of Defense for Gulf War illnesses, is intended to provide information on the health effects of chemical warfare agents and toxins, and to help determine on clinical grounds if personnel were exposed to these agents during or shortly after the Gulf War.
The report, "Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents," summarizes the existing unclassified scientific literature on the health effects of selected chemical and biological warfare agents that may have affected servicemembers who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The review complements work recently released by the Institute of Medicine.
"This report is important because many veterans believe their illnesses can be traced to exposure to chemical warfare agents in the Gulf," Bernard Rostker, the special assistant said. "This review is one step in our ongoing search for answers as to why some of our veterans are sick."
The report takes a detailed look at nerve agents, with a particular focus on possible long-term consequences of exposure. Research examined by RAND investigators indicates that even low level exposure that results in minor symptoms can cause subtle neurological effects as much as a year after the exposure. However, according to the report, the review of the literature found no reference to the onset of symptoms years after exposure to chemical warfare agents. About half of Gulf War veterans reporting health problems did so a year or more after returning.
The report also examines skin-damaging agents and toxins. As their name suggests, skin-damaging agents can cause blistering of the skin, as well as damage to the eyes and lungs. The biological toxins considered in the report could all generate fatal illnesses that are virtually untreatable.
Citing gaps in the literature, the report recommends additional research, including a better understanding of the effects of mustard agents on the central nervous system, long-term follow-up studies of the Japanese exposed to sarin at low levels, and follow-up information from survivors of a Malaysian aflotoxin poisoning event.
RAND is a non-profit institution working to improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis. Its 50 years of experience and long history of working with the Department of Defense make the organization very well qualified to carry out this type of research.
This RAND literature review is posted on the GulfLINK web site at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/library/randrep/bw_paper ,
Other RAND literature reviews on pyridostigmine bromide, stress, depleted uranium and oil well fires, plus a review of the military use of drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration for chemical warfare and biological warfare agent defense are posted on the GulfLINK web site http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/narr_index.html .