View Full Version : Nerve Gas Exposure in Iraq in '91 Probed

06-01-03, 02:15 PM
Nerve Gas Exposure in Iraq in '91 Probed

.c The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government miscalculated the number of U.S. troops who may have been exposed to nerve gases when Iraqi weapons were destroyed during the first Gulf War, congressional investigators say.

The General Accounting Office is expected to testify in a House hearing Monday that the Pentagon and CIA used a flawed computer model to estimate the fallout from the weapons. The models were created with inaccurate data, and the height of the plume resulting from the 1991 weapons explosions was underestimated, according to a memo sent to members of a House Government Reform subcommittee.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo Friday.

The data indicate that initial reports that about 100,000 troops were exposed were wrong. The memo doesn't say whether more or fewer troops were likely to have been affected.

``We shouldn't be making policy by relying on that modeling,'' said Larry Halloran, a spokesman for the National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations subcommittee.

The GAO finding is sure to reverberate among Gulf War veterans and their advocates, who have said the exposure to the weapons' gases was one cause of mysterious illnesses among many veterans. Advocates also will use the testimony to argue for health care and compensation for veterans within a certain radius of the weapons explosions.

Veterans of the 1991 Gulf War have suffered from illnesses they believe are linked to their service in Gulf. Among reported symptoms are chronic fatigue, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory problems, loss of muscle control and loss of balance.

``We have to presume that the illnesses the veterans have are related to that exposure. We have to lean toward the veteran,'' said Steve Robinson, National Gulf War Resource Center executive director.

The findings also could have implications for research on illnesses reported by Gulf War veterans. GAO concluded that epidemiological studies that relied on the computer model would be invalid.

A Pentagon spokesman reached Friday would not immediately comment on the findings.

U.S. troops destroyed ammunitions caches in Khamisiyah, Iraq, on March 4 and March 10, 1991. Some of those weapons contained sarin and cyclosarin, two nerve gases.

The Pentagon has said more than 100,000 soldiers were exposed to low levels of nerve gas when the weapons were destroyed in Khamisiyah.

The computer model used was developed by a panel of experts convened by the Department of Defense's Institute for Defense Analyses. The panel used several computer models and combined them to make up for the lack of onsite measurements of chemical exposure and local weather data. But the GAO found the models had differed greatly on the size and path of the plume, the congressional memo said.

GAO found that the Pentagon did not have accurate weather data to model Khamisiyah and that made determining the speed and direction of the plume difficult, according to the subcommittee memo.

Monday's hearing, to be led by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., is designed to examine computer modeling's validity in tracking biological, chemical or radiological substances. The National Research Council will release a report on plume modeling, Halloran said.

``The lessons are that at least with the current state of science, (computer modeling) is particularly ineffective for any retrospective analysis,'' Halloran said. ``You need data collection that will allow you to eliminate all kinds of variables so you can warn people where (the weapon's plume) is going.''


Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.



06-03-03, 09:13 PM
GAO Report on Gulf War Illness

The General Accounting Office (GAO) today released the following
testimonies and correspondence:

2. Gulf War Illnesses: Preliminary Assessment of DOD's Plume Modeling
for U.S. Troops' Exposure to Chemical Agents, by Keith A. Rhodes, chief
technologist, before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging
Threats, and International Relations, House Committee on Government
Reform. GAO-03-833T, June 2.
http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d03833thigh.pdf Highlights
Posted on Sat, May. 31, 2003

Inquiry faults government analysis of gulf war illness
The Kansas City Star

WASHINGTON - The number of U.S. troops exposed to nerve gas after the first
gulf war was underestimated because of flaws in how troops were studied,
government investigators have concluded.

According to a congressional memo obtained by The Kansas City Star, computer
models used to determine the extent of sarin gas exposure were inaccurate
and incomplete.

Troops were exposed to sarin, a toxic nerve agent, when a missile arsenal at
Khamisiyah in southeastern Iraq was blown up in March 1991. Over the years,
the military has raised its estimate of the number of exposed troops from a
few hundred to more than 100,000.

Now the General Accounting Office is expected to say that even that estimate
is inadequate.

On Monday, the GAO is set to tell a congressional panel that the computer
models, developed by the Department of Defense and the CIA, did not take
weather patterns into account. The models also underestimated the height of
the plumes sent skyward when the arsenal was destroyed, the memo stated.

Defense and CIA "modeling underestimated the extent of U.S. troop exposure
since the modeling was not accurate enough to draw conclusions," the memo
stated. The memo did not give a specific number of troops exposed.

A Pentagon spokesman said the department did not comment on active GAO
investigations. The GAO also declined to comment.

The GAO finding is certain to be embraced by gulf war veterans and medical
researchers who contend that events like that at Khamisiyah are behind the
mysterious sickness known as gulf war syndrome.

Upon returning from the 1991 war with Iraq, thousands of veterans complained
of a variety of ailments, including headaches, memory loss, rashes,
equilibrium problems and loss of motor skills.

Despite numerous medical studies, no specific causes have been identified,
which has made it difficult for many to receive medical benefits from the
Department of Veterans Affairs for service-related injuries.

Among the possible causes cited have been desert diseases and parasites;
pollution from burning oil wells; the depleted uranium used in armaments;
sand; and incidents in which chemical or biological agents were released
when Iraq's stockpiles were bombed during the war or destroyed afterward.

"The modeling is flawed and has been used to say that exposure in the first
gulf war could not have caused long-term illness," said Steve Robinson,
executive director of National Gulf War Resources Center. "It should be
presumed that if you're a veteran who was at Khamisiyah and you have an
illness related to exposure to sarin, that exposure should be covered."

Jim Benson, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that VA
records indicate that more than 145,000 troops were in the vicinity of
Khamisiyah and may have been exposed to low levels of sarin.

He said the VA had received 54,000 claims related to exposure at the
munitions site. It has granted 41,000 and denied 7,000, he said. Others are

The GAO will present its findings at a hearing before the national security
subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Reform. Its chairman,
Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, has been one Congress'
leading investigators of the causes behind gulf war illness.

Lawrence Halloran, the subcommittee staff director and counsel, said the GAO
findings revealed "too many questions, too many variables and too many
guesses" about whether troops were exposed to toxic chemicals.

"What it means is that if you served in theater in the gulf war, there is a
substantial probability that you were exposed to low levels of chemical
weapons," he said.

After the gulf war ended in 1991, U.S. troops blew up ammunition bunkers at
Khamisiyah on March 4 and March 10. Some bunkers contained
chemical-warfare-tipped rockets.

The United Nations Special Commission on Iraq subsequently found that many
of the rockets contained sarin, a colorless and odorless but extremely toxic
gas. It disrupts the nervous system and can paralyze the muscles around the

Some researchers who have studied gulf war veterans say medical evidence
indicates that low-level exposure to sarin can lead to brain damage.

For years, however, the Pentagon denied that troops had been exposed to
toxic chemicals during the war or that it was factor in war-related
illnesses. But in 1996, the military acknowledged that troops had been
exposed to low levels of sarin.

The CIA also revealed that it had known about the presence of chemical
weapons at Khamisiyah as early as 1984. In 1997, the agency apologized to
gulf war veterans who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals that it had
long known about.

"The question of the extent of sarin exposure among our troops in the first
gulf war is a key issue in understanding what made 100,000 gulf war veterans
chronically ill from the war," said Robert Haley, a gulf war illness
researcher and a professor of internal medicine and epidemiology at the
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

"Support Our Soldiers"

United We Stand
God Bless America
Were it not for the brave,
there would be no Land of the Free!

Remember our POW/MIA's
I'll never forget!



06-03-03, 09:18 PM
Report: Gulf War nerve gas may have affected 350,000


News Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON A plume of nerve gas released during the cleanup from the first Gulf War may have traveled much farther than the Pentagon estimated and exposed potentially three times as many U.S. troops as previously thought, a new congressional report concludes.

The federal government should assume those additional veterans were exposed and treat them accordingly if they complain of illness, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said Monday.

The wider impact comes from more computer modeling on where and how far a contaminated cloud of air may have traveled from a depot in Khamisiyah, Iraq, when U.S. soldiers destroyed Iraqi ammunition in 1991. An earlier estimate of 100,000 troops exposed was based on a flawed model used by the Department of Defense, according to Keith Rhodes, chief technologist with the General Accounting Office. Another model done for the Department of Energy estimates the plume went much farther south and east, over an additional 250,000 troops and into Kuwait and Iran.

Any such models based on weather, terrain, the condition of the nerve agent, how it was stored and how it was destroyed are scientific but imperfect because so little was known about the exact conditions at Khamisiyah. Rhodes recommended that Congress instruct the Department of Veterans Affairs to rethink how it treats ill Gulf War veterans and presume from the outset that they were exposed to sarin.

"One of the disgraces we still have today is veterans having to prove their illness is Gulf War-related," Shays said

The Pentagon for years has gradually increased the number of troops it says could have been exposed to the Khamisiyah plume, starting in 1996 with 25 people. Since the first Gulf War, thousands of veterans have complained of a range of symptoms and illnesses, but it has been difficult for them to prove the ailments were related to their military service, a key to accessing medical benefits.

The Monday hearing before two members of the House Government Reform Committee included a panel of experts on computer modeling of plumes, a technique used widely by government agencies, including pollution watchdogs, emergency responders, weather forecasters and nuclear energy regulators.

Rhodes, the GAO investigator, said the Department of Defense and the CIA relied on a composite of several models that underestimated how high the plume of toxic gas extended from Khamisiyah and did not take into account multiple bombings of the site. The Department of Energy's model, done by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, showed the largest possible geographic impact of the plume and was discarded by military officials, Rhodes testified.

Anna Johnson-Winegar, deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense, told the committee that the science is improving and that the Pentagon wants to use the most accurate information possible. She said veterans are treated based on their symptoms, not just where they were on the battlefield.

"Men and women risk their lives in battle and we don't really know where that plume was," Shays said. "This is a huge issue."