After a thorough investigation, the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses has released its assessment of chemical agent reports by the 11th Marines artillery regiment during the Gulf War.
This investigation addressed two questions: why did the 11th Marines record so many chemical alerts; and was chemical warfare agent (CWA) present during any potential nuclear/biological/chemical (NBC) incidents.
The numerous chemical alerts recorded by the 11th Marines were most likely due to various factors other than exposure to CWA. All of the devices available to Marine units could produce false positive readings in the presence of substances other than CWA. For much of the ground campaign in Kuwait, sabotaged oil wells exposed Marines to high concentrations of smoke and raw petroleum. Also, extensive radio nets for artillery fire coordination contributed to rapid propagation of alerts far and wide. Receiving units could not tell the originating unit, location or cause of the alert and had little choice but to don additional protective gear as a precaution and log the alert as if it was real. "In retrospect, it is clear that fallout from the oil well fires could affect detection equipment and could have caused many of the chemical alerts recorded by the 11th Marines," said Bernard Rostker, special assistant for Gulf War illnesses.
After studying the written documentation and interviewing witnesses, investigators cataloged 18 potential NBC incidents associated with the 11th Marines. In each case, the investigators judged the chance of agent presence as "unlikely." Some incidents involved precautionary reaction to conventional artillery fire or sightings of suspicious looking smoke. In a few cases, unit logs, chronologies, and messages contained limited detail, and available witnesses interviewed could recall nothing significant about the incidents. These cases were characterized as "unlikely" because no evidence could be found of unusual activity or delivery means for chemical agent. For all incidents, no chemical casualties were reported.
For more information on this case or other Gulf War illness issues, see GulfLINK, an interactive Internet site, at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil.