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Gulf War Illness Case Narrative - Kuwaiti Girls School

Presenters: Dr. Bernard D. Rostker, Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses
March 19, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Whitman: Good afternoon. Thank you for all showing up today.

We have a double hitter for you this afternoon. First Dr. Rostker will present to you his tenth case narrative on his ongoing investigations into possible causes of Gulf War Illnesses. Following that at two o'clock this afternoon Dr. Gansler, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology will be down here to talk about acquisition reform with you. So, let's go ahead and get started. Dr. Rostker.

Dr. Rostker: I'm joined here by Colonel Dee Morris who is the Deputy Director of our Investigations Committee and led the inquiry into the girls' school; and Dr. Brennie Hackley from the Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense who is the scientific advisor and a chemist, and he can answer any technical questions that you might have.

The girls' school is a rather long and complicated case because it covers a number of events over an extended period of time with a great many actors. A lot of the actors had information that was not necessarily known to other players in this drama, so putting the pieces together was a matter of developing a number of leads and tracing all of the leads over time.

I think the best way to look at the case is in terms of three questions. What happened in the Gulf, and I'll review that with you quickly. Why did everyone believe at the beginning that this was a tank of mustard, and now we can demonstrate that it was a tank of red fuming nitric acid? Finally, why are we bringing this case to you now, and how does it fit together?

The girls' school in Kuwait is pictured here. This is a March 1991 overhead, and you can see from the overhead the tank. This is the famous tank. Our first presence at the girls' school was in March of 1991 when we went there to retrieve a number of Silkworm anti-ship missiles. This was, it turns out, a Silkworm maintenance facility, and the missiles and their warheads were moved out of the facility. The warheads were sent back to the United States and all of the warheads were determined to be conventional, high explosive warheads.

The tank was not noticed at the time. It was outside, behind the school, and it was not retrieved or recorded as part of the equipment that was at the school, although from the overhead in March 1991 we know that it was actually there.

It was identified as a mysterious object in August of 1991 during surveys to assess the damage to the infrastructure of Kuwait as part of their program to rebuild their infrastructure, and this was a school.

It feel, for the purposes of decontamination or removal of hazardous material, it fell within the British sector, so they took responsibility and did some initial tests. It was pointed out to them that the leaking tank, leaking from a bullet hole, had an orangy color and an acid smell. When they went to investigate their CAM, [chemical agent monitor], their hand-held chemical detectors, indicated eight bars for mustard. But, there was some ambiguity in other tests that they did with sensitivity paper. Moreover, some of the liquid got on the gloves of some of the people and the commander of the British unit, Major Watkinson, found that he had a burn from coming into contact with that material, with the substance, immediately. All of that was suspicious, because that's not quite the characteristics one would expect with mustard.

So they decided to do further tests. They requested American assistance in the form of the Fox vehicles. Two Fox vehicles were dispatched to the scene about three days later. They took a number of samples that were somewhat, again, ambiguous. The samples indicated not just for mustard but phosgene and an unknown substance. At the same time a British soldier was contaminated with some of the liquid, was in immediate pain, it raised a blister on him immediately. Again, that was not consistent with mustard. It was thought at the time it might have been mustard mixed with some acid, although further assessment by chemists would say that that was not a compatible environment.

The Fox vehicle tapes were secured by the senior American military officer present, although there is no custody of receipts. He took those tapes, prepared a fax which was sent to Edgewood and copies were also sent to other places including the British laboratory facilities at Porton Downs.

There were two other events that occurred in Kuwait sometime later. The samples that were drawn from the tank and had been secured and custody had been maintained were put onto a resin to safely conduct them to the laboratory and they were moved to Porton Downs. The British team concerned that now on several occasions the substance had eaten through their chemical equipment, their MOPP gear, decided to do a test in which they took layers of their chemical equipment with sensitivity paper, testing paper, put it in a stack, and dripped samples of the liquid on the equipment, and it immediately ate completely through the equipment and burned a hole in some wood planking that the equipment was on.

The tests from Porton Downs in September which were shared back to the theater, to the Brits in the theater, showed that the material was not a chemical warfare agent but was red fuming nitric acid.

The question of why could we have confused, how could we have confused mustard with red fuming nitric acid... First of all, all of the tests were ambiguous. The initial CAM testing which showed mustard earlier in the campaign, in February in fact, there was a message throughout the theater which indicated that red fuming nitric acid could false alarm the CAM for mustard. That was determined when several CAM units were burned out when they went to examine SCUD sites which had residuals from red fuming nitric acid which is the oxidizer for the SCUD missile. In other words, a component of SCUD missile fuel. So the people in theater had been warned in February that the CAM would false alarm for mustard in the presence of red fuming nitric acid. Unfortunately, all of the people who were involved in the August exercise were not in theater at the time and were not aware of this theater-wide alarm.

The detector papers in the various tests were ambiguous. The final full mass spectrometer reading and the sample reading done by Porton Downs while shared with the British in the Gulf were never shared with the Americans, and by the time that information got back to the Gulf, the Americans who had done the testing were long since redeployed.

This then leads to the last question of how come we're doing this announcement now.

When I took on this assignment I promised that we would start afresh and reexamine every one of the potential chemical exposure cases, this being one of the more important ones. We originally thought we would be documenting a case of mustard gas exposure. But, that turned out not to be the case. We established a close working relationship with our British counterparts. In fact this case narrative is a joint product between ourselves and the British Ministry of Defence, and it is being released in London at the same time it's being released here.

The British made available to us the crews and the personnel who had overall responsibility for this action. Remember I said this was in the British sector. The British had full and overall responsibility. The American involvement was in a supporting role in only one of the four incidents that related to taking samples and taking readings.

The British personnel that we were able to interview confirmed that they had come to the conclusion based upon the tests on their chemical protection gear as well as the feedback they did receive from Porton Downs that this was red fuming nitric acid, not mustard.

We asked the British to provide us with the original lab notes for the assessment of the sample which had occurred which was done at Porton Downs in September of 1991, and they have done that, and that's included in your materials. They also found a copy of the original 14 page fax that had taken the chemical, the Fox tapes, and had been sent to Edgewood and sent to Porton Downs. We had those tapes reassessed by Porton Downs, by--and I always say the National Bureau of Standards, but...

Morris: ...the National Institutes of Science and Technology...

Rostker: ...which was the National Bureau of Standards--by the manufacturer of the equipment, Bruker, by Edgewood. The tapes have been identified by the person who prepared the fax as the correct tapes. While we don't have a signed chain of custody, the tapes clearly are dated, have the warning for phosgene and for mustard--which was the original warning--have the full printouts for the tapes. All of the labs agree that this is characteristic of red fuming nitric acid.

In fact at one point there was an issue of whether the nitric acid would burn out the mass spectrometer, so we authorized a test where they actually took lab grade nitric acid and ran it through. It didn't burn it out. It didn't alarm for the same mustard, but it did provide a mass spectrometer reading which was identical to the mass spectrometer reading that was on the tapes that were retrieved from Porton Downs.

There are some lessons to be learned here. First of all, everyone did what they were supposed to do. The Fox vehicle team took correct readings. They followed the right procedures. They had a warning for a chemical agent. And they were not trained to read and interpret the mass spectrometer readings.

Those tapes were then taken by the senior chemical officer present and sent to competent labs. Unfortunately, the labs, the American lab did not maintain proper control of that, so even today we can't find, the lab can't find the 14 page fax that was sent to them. But, the fax was located, as I said, in the English lab.

So we have nothing but appreciation and praise for the way the American troops operated their equipment. They followed procedures and they did what was expected of them. They did not have all of the information that was later developed, and that was part of what was our responsibility in the Defense Department to pull together.

The second comment I would make is the conclusions reached by the Riegle Committee and by the President's Advisory Committee [for Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses]. They were faced with a number of tasks, which turned out to be the initial alarming. While there was testimony before them that the government thought it was red fuming nitric acid, we were unable at the time to produce either the direct lab results or the Fox vehicle tapes. So, the committee drew a conclusion that was reasonable, and it was the government's obligation to provide all of the information which we were unable to provide at the time.

Having said that, the conclusion that both we and the Ministry of Defence have drawn is that this was unambiguously, or definitely, red fuming nitric acid.

There's another lesson to be learned here, and we see this in case after case. That is a reading or determination that a sample is not a chemical agent should not mean that we disregard those results. A negative finding is, frankly, just as important as a positive finding. Clearly the attitude that folks had in 1991 is, "Well I guess it's not a chemical weapon. We don't have to worry about it." You see that in the Porton Downs results which said here are our conclusions, we'll write a final report when we get to it. Clearly if they had come to the conclusion that it was a chemical warfare agent we would have seen a final report produced immediately.

But we now know how important it is to document all suspected encounters with chemical agents whether the documentation, whether the tests proved that they were a chemical agent or were not a chemical agent.

We are still carrying this as an interim report because we have ongoing discussions with the Kuwaiti government, looking towards a receipt for the final disposition of the tank. And we do not have that. So, a final report will wait until we can fully document exactly where the tank ended up.

I would point out that these charts here are in page 64 and 65 of the paper. We have one more chart to show you. This is a listing of the various players, the personnel across the top and down the side. It's critical pieces of information, and you can see they're both red and green. Red would mean that this critical piece of information was not known to the particular person; green that it was. As you can see, there is not a single person who had all of the key pieces of information.

For example, a key piece of information is why would there have been a tank of red fuming nitric acid at this site? The answer to that relates to it being a Silkworm site. That was a classified piece of information for a long while, and even Major [Watkinson] who was the British major who was in control of the whole situation did not have that critical piece of information until many years after the August 1991 encounter with this particular tank.

With those comments, I'd be happy to take any questions.

Q: You said that two of the British soldiers, I think you said two of them had some contact, and had some burning or something. What was the total number of troops -- either British or allied -- who had any sort of contact or what you would consider an exposure to this caustic agent, if nothing else?

Morris: Considering that everyone with the exception of those two people who got an actual burn on their skin who encountered this tank were in protective clothing at the time, they're actually about the only two folks who could be considered to be exposed.

There was an American, and possibly he had someone with him, who checked this out, who was a Corps of Engineers employee, who was unprotected when he approached the tank. So, he could also be considered to have been exposed.

Q: This is not a chemical warfare agent. Nevertheless, what are the known health effects of exposure to this kind of...

Hackley: It's a caustic material. It's used in manufacture. It is a hazardous material. The material safety data sheet requires that you do protection, and you can get in a lot of trouble with it. There were a lot of accidents in the U.S. when we had the Nike series anti-aircraft which also used an oxidant fuming nitric acid as well as hydrozene as a propellant.

Q: Does it have any known long term health effects?

Hackley: No long term health effects. Obviously, inhalation is a problem. But it has a substantial contact effect.

Q: There's speculation over the years that illnesses could be caused from exposure to a variety of substances, and I'm just wondering if this is one of those things.

Rostker: It certainly is a concern, and we will be doing an information paper on red fuming nitric acid because we've seen the substance several times in theater. Wherever there was a SCUD site, there was red fuming nitric acid. While the Silkworm had built into it a container of this material, this was not a fueling site. The SCUDs would have had large amounts of it available because they needed to be fueled in real time.

You might remember the Al Jubayl case and the concern of people to a yellowish, reddish cloud that burned them. We believe this is the same red fuming nitric acid as the propellant. That as the SCUDs broke up, as they entered the atmosphere, these tanks broke open and there was likely to be residual nitric acid that would have rained down. We see this not only at Al Jubayl, but the Israelis report it in Tel Aviv also in terms of the breaking up of the SCUDs. They had the same experience in terms of the burning. They also attribute it to red fuming nitric acid.

Q: As you point out in the case narrative, the Presidential Advisory Committee did not amend its May '97 conclusion that this tank had chemical warfare agents in it, despite testimony in July from UNSCOM and in September, I think, by yourself. But I'm hearing you say the reason is they didn't have all the information; they didn't have the Fox tapes and other things...

Rostker: That's correct.

You testified, could you tell them where we were at that point in the investigation?

Morris: We had not formally gone back and reinterviewed British witnesses, but we were in contact with the Ministry of Defence in September when I testified as to what we had.

We had most of the elements. We had gotten the Fox tapes back from the Brits, and we had had the opportunity to have them analyzed. So we were proceeding down this road. But there were still an awful lot of loose ends that we had to tie up because they created uncertainty. So, the basic facts were present in September, but it took us probably about another six months to get all the loose ends tied up so we could have an explanation for everything that everybody who was present remembered, which didn't quite follow the flow.

Rostker: We met with the British in late September. We had with us members of the Senate Veterans Committee investigative staff. They saw, heard, participated in everything we had, so they were privy to all of the information in real time, firsthand.

If you go back to the testimony, the transcript of the PAC. We had said at that point we thought it premature to make a judgment. The staff director talks about knocking this stuff off the table and, I think, says at the time, well, if we made a mistake... They asked us to notify people. I think she said if they made a mistake we could go back and just tell them we made a mistake. So they had a certain sense, given their timeline, that they were eager to I think knock these things off, as they referred.

We were working towards the full picture and did not share their assessment at the time and did not make any notice at the time.

Q: Given the limited number of people that you described, if I understand you correctly, as to who were exposed on this particular occasion, what would you say is the import of the narrative you're releasing today for the Gulf War Illness community? For those who...

Rostker: At no time would this incident have had any major medical implications. Even if it had been determined for whatever reason this was mustard, you're exactly right. It was in a container, and the exposure would have been extremely limited.

The important fact in understanding the cases...how could we at one point have thought it was mustard, now determined absolutely it wasn't. How could we have not had a clear picture of all of the events. What lessons could we learn for the way this was handled from the way the samples were handled, the fact that material was not shared with all those concerned. These all constitute some lessons learned for the way we have to do our business in the future.

Q: So you're saying there are implications of this for, the difficulty of trying to ascertain anything...

Rostker: For example...

Q: ...other events?

Rostker: For example, again, I think a clear lesson learned is if you get a suspected chemical and other people suspect and presume that it is a chemical warfare agent, and the definitive lab results say that it isn't, this is an important piece of information which must be documented and archived and not treated as oh, well, bring the next sample, and this one's of no interest to us, which is clearly the kind of attitude we all had in 1991.

Q: Have we fixed the equipment so it doesn't give a false...

Rostker: You can't fix the equipment. There are known interferences. You have to understand, the purpose of the equipment is first and foremost to alarm. Let me back up. This has two stages.

There is an alarm stage and there is an assay stage. In the alarm stage the equipment is set to be extremely sensitive to possible chemical warfare agents, and we understand that that will cause false alarms. This is not a stage for confirmation of chemicals on the battlefield. It is a stage which the appropriate action is get in your MOPP gear and take further tests.

The appropriate for confirmation is the full assay. That's what we did in this case. Reading those tapes is complicated. Our troops did not have the training to read them. They were appropriately sent off to the labs. What was not appropriate was the labs needed to better document the assay and we need to make sure that people who are in this process get feedback so that they understand the full story.

A lot of the claims have been "I've made this claim, I determined there was chemicals, and my chain of command hasn't supported me even all of these years later." What we've had to do here at some time and quite an expense, is to recreate these events. Hopefully we'll sensitize ourselves so that in the future we won't have to recreate the events.

But let me ask the chemist to comment.

Hackley: The key point is what you're trying to do in terms of warning, and the alarm is basically a warning. Something is about to happen. We think go do that. It's like a fire alarm goes off. The first thing you don't decide, you say well until I see the flames I'm not going to do anything. The smoke alarm goes off. It's an alarm. It say something unusual is happening. That's what you're trying to do tactically for troop protection. It's a warning order.

For actual forensic determination, and there's been some forward movement for the laboratories to be able to do more sophisticated mass spectrometry analysis far forward -- not in a tactical vehicle, but in a fixed facility or a mobile facility that's there. So...

Q: So now they have them in theater where...

Rostker: We do have forward labs in theater that have enhanced chemical and biological capabilities.

Q: For the biological things they have these BIDS [Biological Integrated Detection System] things in the relatively, like within an hour or something they can assay certain things. Do you not have that capability for chemicals in the field?

Rostker: These are tactical vehicles. In addition to BIDS, we have forward laboratories.

Hackley: There is a theater Army medical laboratory which was deployed to Bosnia for several reasons. One is to do an epidemiological assessment of what the problems are healthwise as far as all the troops which are endemic to the geographical area. They also have the capability of doing detection, also, actually of whether or not an individual has been exposed to a chemical agent and which one. So those kinds of capabilities do exist and can deploy fairly rapidly with troops.

Rostker: In fact we have a number of those that will deploy to the Gulf with this latest deployment. They also have an ability to determine whether there is low-level chemical contamination. Although we are also building, putting out specs, for a new generation of chemical alarms, moving this up six years that these fourth generation alarms will not only be for thresholds of battle casualties, but will have an ability to look for low level chemical contamination.

Q: When was the Silkworm presence declassified when you finally got the material?

Rostker: I hope it's been declassified or I'm going to jail. (Laughter)

Q: Why was it ever classified?

Morris: Largely because of the fact that we were exploiting the capability of the equipment. But the message was declassified to the point where I could talk about it when I testified in September. We got the message as a reference in the narrative.

Q: Did your investigation conclude, then, that the Iraqis had the red fuming nitric acid there simply as a backup, seeing that Silkworm has a self-contained unit? Why did they have it there?

Morris: This particular facility was a test and maintenance facility. Based on the location of the tank, which was outside the back fence, it was most likely a hazardous waste holding area for when they had to take a certain amount of the fuel out to get to certain components of the missile to maintain it.

Q: Dr. Rostker, I'd like to ask you about a charge made this week by Senator Jay Rockefeller who said that the United States improperly administered the drug pyridostigmine bromide to the troops. If I can just quote briefly from his press release, he said: "The DoD has finally acknowledged that our troops were given a drug to protect against a nerve agent they knew the enemy did not have. That this happened to our troops is very disturbing. That it took the DoD seven years to admit their error is inconceivable." He says...

Rostker: Could you read the next couple of words, because they were kind of good news for the Defense Department.

Q: He continued one, "But I'm hopeful the DoD's admission marks the beginning of a new, more open, and more comprehensive effort to protect the health of our troops."

Rostker: Those are great words. At least those last words were great words.

Q: He says here that you knew that not only would pyridostigmine bromide not work against sarin, but it in fact could make things worse. Can I just get your reaction?

Rostker: Let me put it in context and then we'll...

In 1991, PB was an investigatory drug for the issue of effectiveness against nerve agent, against soman. It was deemed by the FDA to be perfectly safe. There were intelligence reports at the time that Saddam Hussein might have soman. Certainly, the Soviets, who were their mentors, had soman. The determination was made not to wait before we had confirmation of soman or sarin, but to work on the broad concern for chemical weapons. It was believed at the time that there would be no adverse medical effects.

Subsequent to that, there has been a number of pieces of research that indicate there might be some concern about PB's health. We have revised our thinking and taken a more cautious view of the use of pyridostigmine bromide.

The decision in 1991 was an appropriate decision, but we learn from new information and we make new judgments, and that's what we have done in bringing this, making this information available, and changing it.

Hackley: I will tell you that as far as the nerve agents generally -- that's GA, GB, GD, VX, and sarin -- that pyridostigmine bromide increases the effectiveness of the atropine and 2-PAM over and above that of atropine and 2-PAM itself. For all of the agents.

Q: What about this statement in Senator Rockefeller's release in which he says, "In fact research indicates treating sarin exposure with PB may well harm, not help, the victim." Is that not true?

Hackley: It depends from what you say harm. In other words, the data in animals, from rodents through rhesus monkeys, indicate that if for sake of the argument with atropine, 2-PAM and diazepam, no pyridostigmine bromide, you can save animals against five times an LD-50. By adding pyridostigmine bromide that goes up to 20. It may not go to 25, but it goes up to 20.

So the point I'm saying is that it's a question of utilizing something that's effective. I don't think it was done capriciously at all.

The other thing is the drug itself has been used clinically in humans for myasthenia gravis for over 50 years to include...

Rostker: It's a somewhat different story because people who have that disease have a deficiency in their cholinesterase system. This is used to come up to standards. There is an issue of people who are at a fully operating system now getting the PB.

There is a table that I know Senator Rockefeller has used before that shows that in the case of sarin exposure, PB would be slightly less effective than 2-PAM and atropine alone. But that is so far above the level of protection that that change was deemed to be medically insignificant compared to the possibility of exposure.

Let me tell you a little bit more which I mentioned in my testimony before the committee. We spent several days with the Israelis, who are the world's leader in research on the cholinesterase system, and whose research in fact is the basis for concern about PB passing the blood brain barrier.

It was normal procedure in the Israeli army to give every recruit five day exposure to PB, which will have some acute effects, some digestive effects, everybody will be affected somewhat differently. And they did this as a matter of policy to show the troops that while they may have some cramping and some discomfort, there's no problem.

As a result of the PB research they have one, they have stopped that practice. However, when I asked the Surgeon General of Israel under what conditions would they use PB, they said any nerve agent attack or any indication of a nerve agent attack. I said, "Would you wait for confirmation of soman?" The answer was no. Any nerve agent attack they would start using PB again.

Q: The charge here from Senator Rockefeller is that the Pentagon knew in 1991 that this was, not questioning the safety, but saying that it was essentially useless against the known nerve agents that Iraq had. Are you rejecting that?

Rostker: There was intelligence that it was possible that they had the capability of producing soman, although we have not found any soman, UNSCOM has not found any soman. But it was, at best ambiguous, in terms of the order of battle, if you will, of the Iraqis that they might have this potential. There was no indication at the time that taking PB would have a deleterious medical effect.

Q: Would you consider using PB again today facing a threat of soman?

Rostker: Oh, very much. It's the only thing we can do. If you don't take PB at this point, and a troop is exposed to soman, he will die. Soman acts too quickly compared to sarin and there is no opportunity to use atropine and 2-PAM under a soman attack.

Q: Sir, you mentioned a new cautiousness on PB. Is that from the Duke Abou-Donia studies, or...

Rostker: It's from all of the studies. We will release, hopefully in a number of weeks, a rather extensive review of PB by the Rand Corporation. It's in final review and it has been very useful in informing our judgments about PB. It's over a 300-page report.

Q: Let's go back to the red fuming nitric acid for one moment. You've told us basically that SCUDs that were tumbling through the air have rained this unused...

Rostker: Well, we have one accounting.

Q: You also said anecdotally in Tel Aviv also.

Rostker: Yes.

Q: Is there any possibility that exposure in that way could have led to long term adverse health effects? In your view.

Rostker: As the doctor said, if you ingest this fume, you would have damage to your respiratory system, but it would have been acute damage that would have...

Q: ...at the time.

Rostker: ...immediately, and as with an acid burn. Again, there are no epidemiological patterns, so we have the same accounts, the same reports of medical complaints and symptoms throughout the theater in areas that certainly were never under SCUD attack. So it's always possible in unique circumstances, although this particular acid should have had an acute effect if it was burning your lungs.

Q: Can you also just comment on the recent assertion by a Gulf War Veterans group that depleted uranium dust, dust created from the impact of depleted uranium rounds, might have resulted in widespread exposure, whether that could be a health...

Rostker: We take exception to two cases. First of all, on the number that it used. I'm very appreciative of the fact that they tried to style their report off of our case narratives, but one of the things we do is make all of the references and the supporting documents available to you through the Internet. The basis for their estimate of hundreds of thousands is not at all credible. The research, the surveys they have are not competent surveys, they are not scientific surveys. In fact if you look at the number of people who were in combat situations who could have even come in contact with the vehicles, it was much less than the 400,000. So the number is not credible.

The issue of medical significance of these fleeting contacts is not credible, either.

We have identified three, or categorized exposures into three groups. The first group are those who had direct contact with, immediately, with the friendly fire vehicles. We believe the number there is about 113. We are in the process with the Department of Veterans Affairs of working up a health protocol. All of those 113 will be called into either military or VA hospitals for a health assessment. This is being done in concert with the health assessment team in Baltimore which is monitoring the 33 people who have had exposure including 16 people with depleted uranium fragments. And by the way, those people have shown no deleterious health effects even though we know they were contaminated with depleted uranium.

There is another group of perhaps 200 that were involved in the retrograde, the movement of the friendly fire vehicles. We will also call them in. Those are the only people we've been able to identify by name through networking, through leads.

There is another unknown group who may have climbed on a vehicle, had pictures taken on the vehicles and the like. I would include in that group the lieutenant colonel and myself, because we did that when we were in Kuwait in November.

One of the claims of the group is that we have strewn depleted uranium on the battlefield, and it's poisoning the water and everything. In fact there is an Army report in 1994 which makes the statement that we had not been monitoring the battlefield. That is not correct. In fact in 1994 the Army's environmental people, in a deployment, took water, took soil and air samples at the boneyard in Kuwait, which is where all the vehicles were gathered. We will make available to you--do we have it today, Joe? We have them today. We'll make available to you their report which found that there was no difference in background radiation from the soil samples including catchment basins where there would have been runoff and the like. That would have been the most concentrated area.

We've been taking samples now. CENTCOM's been taking samples since 1976, over 7,000 air and water and soil samples in Kuwait as part of our monitoring program and our awareness for environmental monitoring. None of the 7,000 samples have been above EPA standards.

Q: What about the general notion that there could be widespread exposure not from necessarily climbing on the vehicles, but from this dust that would be generated that could be spread over a wide area...

Rostker: That's what I'm talking about. When we take a look at the most concentrated place where dust would be, Jamie, we don't find measurable amounts. If it's not there, it's not likely to be there, and that's our expectation. CHPPM [U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine] is also working on exposure scenarios for us. We'll have more to say in terms of a whole range of scenarios starting with the most concentrated, those who were in vehicles that were hit, and how much they were exposed based upon test data. We're working on those scenarios. But those also don't look to be medically significant in terms of the amount of exposure to depleted uranium.

Q: Can you give us an update on 7th Corps exposure to sarin, low levels of sarin?

Rostker: We're in the process, we're still doing the S3/G3s. I think we'll be finished with them. Dale, when's the last one?

LTG Dale Vesser (USA R et.) (Deputy to the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses): About two months, sir.

Rostker: O.K. Then we will take that information and we will do a reassessment of the Khamisiyah plume. We have now been through several peer review processes and have made some changes to the model. We've had some other organizations doing a plume analysis, also. The results are highly consistent. We're waiting to get all of the position/time conferences finished before we do an announcement. That announcement will include telling some people that based upon the conferences they were not exposed, and other people saying based upon the conferences that they were exposed.

You'll remember that we had done detailed work on the 18th Airborne Corps. When the plume was physically larger than we thought, although low level, it clearly extended into 7th Corps area and we had to do these detail conferences for the 7th Corps.

The 18th Airborne Corps, we had data down for the company level because of the conferences. The 7th Corps, when we made the announcement, we had data that was sensitive to the battalion level, and we go down to the companies. That's when we'll be able to say some people were not in it that we thought might have been, and some people who we thought might not have been are in it. We'll do that as an announcement.

Q: Iraq has charged that they have a great increase in the number of childhood cancers, leukemia, because of exposure to depleted uranium. Is that possible?

Rostker: We don't believe it's possible. I can also say, and this is on GulfLINK, that our intelligence community has been monitoring for years the disinformation campaign on this subject from Iraq. There are intelligence summaries that we posted on GulfLINK last June that you can read. This has been a campaign of disinformation.

I gave you the answer about the background in Kuwait, but there are, I understand, Iraqi studies. I have copies for you if you'd like, of Kuwaiti studies, of the soil in the battlefields, all through the region, and there is no contamination of the soil. This is just part of the general disinformation.

I must say that given the effectiveness of depleted uranium as an armor in protecting our troops, and as a first kill projectile, as a very effective round; and given the fact that Saddam Hussein didn't have it, [if I were Saddam Hussein] I would be trying every trick I could to discredit it and get it off the battlefield. It was a very substantial advantage to our troops. If anything, lives were saved, and those lives were American lives.

Press: Thank you.

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