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IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release No: 237-01
May 31, 2001

DOD DECLARES CHEMICAL WARFARE AGENT EXPOSURE AN 'UNLIKELY' CAUSE FOR MARINES' BLISTERS

The Department of Defense released today the results of its latest investigation of events during the Gulf War. The case narrative, "Reported Chemical Warfare Agent Exposure in the 2d Reconnaissance Battalion," focuses on a group of Marines who reported experiencing injuries that originally appeared symptomatic of chemical warfare agent exposure. Investigators from the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, Medical Readiness and Military Deployments concluded the Marines involved were unlikely to have been exposed to chemical warfare agents. This assessment is based on interviews of the Marines who sought treatment and the medical personnel who treated them and the opinion from a medical expert who specializes in identifying chemical warfare casualties.

Between Feb. 4 and 14, 1991, six Marines from 2d Reconnaissance Battalion, Company B, reported developing blisters, bumps or sores on their hands, ears and necks. Due to the expectation of Iraq using chemical and biological warfare munitions, the company commander instructed the Marines to seek medical attention. These Marines who sought treatment had been assigned to different reconnaissance teams operating different observation posts when the blisters appeared.

Medical personnel who treated the Marines in the field could not diagnose probable causes for these blisters. Some speculated that the blisters might have resulted from a possible exposure to a blister agent or a leishmaniasis infection, but these were discounted because no other symptoms of these conditions were present. Although medical personnel could not make a definitive diagnosis, the symptoms were neither severe nor debilitating and the Marines were declared fit for duty and returned to their unit. The blisters healed within a few weeks, and the Marines participated in ground war operations without further symptoms.

It is clear that these Marines experienced symptoms that concerned them. The threat of chemical attack at the time of the Gulf War was real, and the blisters these Marines developed led at least one medical person to speculate that the blisters resulted from exposure to a chemical warfare agent. However, investigators were unable to find either medical personnel or other eyewitnesses who remembered treating anyone for chemical warfare agent injuries. In addition, a medical expert who specializes in chemical warfare identification and treatment could not identify with any degree of certainty what might have caused the Marines' blisters, but concluded it is unlikely that exposure to mustard agent caused the skin lesions.

Investigators thoroughly reviewed hospital admission logs, and interviewed the doctors and nurses directly involved in treating the Marines. None could confirm they treated Marines for chemical warfare agent exposures. Physical evidence - such as sand from the berm, or urine and blood specimens - which could have supported a confirmed chemical warfare agent detection was unavailable because it was not collected then.

This is an interim report. Veterans who may have additional information and want to share that information, should call the special assistant's office at (800) 497-6261. Case narratives examine Gulf War incidents that might have involved chemical warfare agents. They are part of DoD's efforts to inform the public about its investigations into the nature and possible causes for the illnesses experienced by some Gulf War veterans.

This narrative, and all other publications of the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, Medical Readiness and Military Deployments, is posted on the GulfLINK web site at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/2d_recon .

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