Pesticides Linked To Gulf War Illness

The 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.

The report is final “because no new information has been received to change the findings and assessments of the previous report,” said a statement accompanying the report.

Barbara Goodno, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the report was an update of a report released in January 2001.

Steve 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.

When the 2001 report was announced, Bernard Rostker, then head of the Pentagon’s Gulf War illness office, said a link between pesticide exposures and the soldiers’ illnesses could not be established, although
he could not exclude the possibility that some pesticides caused health problems.

Robinson, who runs the National Gulf War Resource Center, said the conclusions in the report further affirm veterans’ long-held beliefs that exposures to toxic substances in the Gulf may be partly to blame
for their illnesses.

Thousands of veterans returned from the first Gulf War complaining of a variety of illness that included chronic fatigue, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory problems and in some cases Lou Gehrig’s disease, a debilitating, neurological illness.

Many veterans have been distrustful of government research on the illnesses because they were first widely attributed to stress.

Robinson said the inconclusive findings in the report are an argument for why keeping accurate health information on soldiers before, during and after their deployment.

Of 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.

In addition to the interviews, the Pentagon report is based on information from a review of scientific literature by the RAND Corp. research firm and a survey of Gulf War veterans the firm conducted.

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