CHICAGO: Nearly two decades after veterans of the 1991 Gulf War came home complaining of odd illnesses, enough evidence has been gathered to determine that many of them were sickened by chemical exposure, a study has concluded.
And some of the damage was likely caused by pills prescribed to protect against the use of nerve gas and pesticides used to control sand flies, according to the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While the military has subsequently stopped using the pills, the pesticides continue to be used in agriculture and for pest control in homes and offices in the United States and around the globe.
“Enough studies have been conducted, and results shared, to be able to say with considerable confidence that there is a link between chemical exposure and chronic, multi-symptom health problems,” said study author Beatrice Golomb of the University of California San Diego's school of medicine.
“Furthermore, the same chemicals affecting Gulf War veterans may be involved in similar cases of unexplained, multi-symptom health problems in the general population.”
Golomb examined the results of scores of studies looking at the health impact of the class of chemicals to which the veterans were exposed either through pesticides, the anti-nerve gas pills or the demolition of a weapons depot containing the nerve gas sarin.
Her study linked exposure to the chemicals to Gulf War syndrome, a chronic health problem which affected between 26 and 32 percent of deployed troops.
Symptoms routinely reported by these veterans include memory problems, trouble sleeping, muscle or joint pain, fatigue, rashes and breathing problems.
While the findings “do not imply that all illness in Gulf War veterans” is the result of this exposure it “may account for some or perhaps much of the excess illness seen in Gulf War veterans” she concluded.
Golomb also discovered why some veterans were sickened while others with equal or greater chemical exposure were not affected.
“There is evidence that genetics have something to do with how a body handles exposure to these chemicals,” Golomb said.
“Some people are genetically less able to withstand these toxins and evidence shows that these individuals have higher chance of suffering the effects of exposure.”
Some 250,000 service members were given the bromide pills as a preventative measure. Those with the mutations that reduced their ability to detoxify the pills were at significantly higher risk of illness, Golomb found.
Previous studies have shown that this mutation is also linked to increased rates of some neurological diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease.