The Defense Department announced today the release of a case narrative about the possible exposure of a U.S. Marine to a chemical warfare agent during the Gulf War. The report focuses on a Marine Corps corporal who developed blisters on his right arm after handling captured enemy equipment. Investigators have determined, based on numerous interviews with the Marine and medical experts that it is unlikely that a chemical warfare agent caused the Marine's blisters.
The incident occurred at the Kibrit Compound in Saudi Arabia on March 13, 1991, where the Marine examined and tested hundreds of pieces of Iraqi equipment to determine if they were contaminated with chemical warfare agent. According to the Marine, his Fox XM93 Reconnaissance Vehicle alarmed for the chemical warfare agent lewisite on several of the pieces. However, neither the Marine nor others in the area showed any immediate signs of exposure to a chemical warfare agent. The Fox spectrum analysis tapes could not be located.
The Marine sought medical treatment at Kibrit and later at Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia, and was initially treated for contact dermatitis - an inflammation of the skin. After returning from the Persian Gulf, the Marine underwent subsequent medical evaluations and continued treatment for dermatitis. He reported that the blisters healed in approximately six months. Since then, the Marine has reported no further problems, beyond scarring on the right arm.
Considering the lack of immediate chemical agent exposure effects experienced while testing the equipment; blisters on only one arm; the absence of medical reports of other casualties; the absence of lewisite in Iraq's inventory; and the judgments from medical experts; it is unlikely that a chemical warfare agent caused the Marine's blisters.
This report, as well as others on potential chemical and biological warfare agent exposures during the Gulf War, can be accessed through the GulfLINK web site at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/injured_marine/ .