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Mustard Gas Exposure Likely, Report Finds

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 1997 – Army Pfc. David Fisher "likely" suffered from mustard gas exposure after examining an Iraqi bunker March 1, 1991. But the chemical agent could have been left over from earlier bunker use.

These are the findings reported in the latest case narrative published by DoD concerning possible exposure to chemical weapons by U.S. service members during Desert Storm. Bernard Rostker, DoD special assistant for Gulf War illnesses, announced the findings during a Pentagon press conference Aug. 28.

Assigned to the 3rd Armored Division, Fisher was likely exposed to mustard gas while exploring enemy bunker complexes near the Iraq-Kuwait border. The site is about 100 kilometers southeast of Khamisiyah, Iraq, where American soldiers destroyed Iraqi weapons now believed to have contained sarin nerve gas. Eight hours later, Fisher developed blisters, and physicians determined he'd come in contact with a liquid mustard chemical warfare agent. Fox reconnaissance vehicle readings of the bunker and Fisher's clothing were positive, as were Fisher's urine samples.

"Everything in the theater provides a strong indication of a mustard exposure," Rostker said. However, retests of the clothing and Fisher's urine back in the United States didn't show positive for mustard. Because of the contradictory findings, Rostker said, "our assessment was that this was a likely exposure rather than a definite exposure."

More puzzling is the U. N. Security Command's certainty that Iraq shipped no chemical weapons south of Khamisiyah. So where did the mustard gas come from? Rostker said it's possible the gas was left over from some earlier use of the bunker. Labeling mustard as "persistent," he said it could remain active for up to 50 years.

Fisher's case appears isolated. No other report of similar exposures surfaced in his unit or other units in the area -- or from anywhere else in the theater of operations.

Rostker said Fisher has since filed a medical claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs, primarily for his concerns with memory loss. He told DoD he's had no recurring problems as a result of scarring from the blister burns.

This is the sixth case narrative DoD has released on the Gulf War illness investigation. The complete narratives are on GulfLINK, DoD's official Gulf War illnesses web site, at www.gulflink.osd.mil. Individuals with any new information can call (800) 472-6719.

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