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Environmental Risks to Gulf Veterans

by David J. Hanson
January 3, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 1

An Institute of Medicine (IOM) review has concluded that veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War may have an increased risk of lung cancer because of war-related exposures to air pollution, vehicle exhaust, and other combustible products.

IOM committee chair Lynn R. Goldman, professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, says the IOM review "provides sufficient evidence that exposure to combustion products during the Gulf War could be associated with lung cancer in some veterans."

For other illnesses and conditions, the committee found only limited or insufficient evidence of increased health risks. This finding applies to oral, nasal, and bladder cancers; to asthma; and to low birth weight and preterm births by women who were exposed while pregnant.

The committee reviewed 800 studies, yet found scant information about actual exposure levels of pollutants to service members, an issue that prevented the committee from drawing specific conclusions about health problems veterans might experience. There was no systematic monitoring during the war of air contamination from oil-well fires and from other combustion sources, such as heaters or engines. And there are no data allowing comparisons between exposure to air contaminated during the Gulf War and to air with similar contamination in civilian settings.

This is the third study by IOM of health issues for Gulf War veterans. The complete report can be found on the Web at


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