25 April 2003
War Illness May Be Due To Pesticides, Says Pentagon
-- Tens of thousands of soldiers in the first Gulf War may have
been overexposed to pesticides and that may have contributed to
some veterans' unexplained illnesses, the Pentagon said in a report.
report, released Thursday, said it is likely that at least 41,000
service members may have been overexposed to combinations of pest
strips, sprayed pesticides and fly baits during the 1991 war. The
conclusions were reached after the department's Deployment Health
directorate conducted 900 interviews with veterans, including preventive-medicine
personnel. Of those interviewed, about 322 had specific information
related to pesticide exposure, the Pentagon said.
report is final "because no new information has been received
to change the findings and assessments of the previous report,"
a statement accompanying it said. A Pentagon spokeswoman said the
report was an update of a report released in January 2001.
Robinson, an advocate for Gulf War veterans, said the findings were
news to him and other veterans. "Had these conclusions been
released then we would have all talked about it," he said.
Mr. Robinson, who runs the National Gulf War Resource Center, said
the conclusions in the report further affirm sick veterans' long-held
beliefs that exposures to toxic substances in the gulf may be partly
to blame for their illnesses.
the 2001 report was announced, Bernard Rostker, then head of the
Pentagon's Gulf War illness office, said a link between pesticide
exposure and the soldiers' illnesses couldn't be established, although
he couldn't exclude the possibility.
of veterans returned from the first Gulf War complaining of a variety
of symptoms that included chronic fatigue, diarrhea, migraines,
dizziness, memory problems and in some cases Lou Gehrig's disease,
a debilitating, neurological illness.
veterans have been distrustful of government research on the illnesses
because they were first widely attributed to stress. Mr. Robinson
said the inconclusive findings in the report are an argument for
keeping accurate health information on soldiers before, during and
after their deployment.
the 41,000, at least 30,500 soldiers may have been at elevated risk
for short-term health effects because of exposure to pest strips.
Another group of about 7,000 may have been exposed to pesticides
applied during spraying operations and about 3,500 to 4,500 pesticide
applicators were "probably one of the more highly pesticide-exposed
groups," the Pentagon said.
addition to the interviews, the Pentagon report is based on information
from a review of scientific literature by Rand Corp. and a survey
of Gulf War veterans the think tank conducted.
report also found that the military did a good job of protecting
service members from infection by pest-borne diseases. The Defense
Department said only 40 cases of pest-borne diseases were documented,
due in part to the "effective pest management programs implemented
by the military."