Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gulf War 1 Troops Exposed To Sarin Risk Brain Damage

Reuters reports:
Scientists have found evidence that the kind of low-level exposure to sarin gas experienced by more than 100,000 U.S. troops in the first Gulf war can cause "lasting brain deficits," The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

While the results are preliminary, scientists working with the U.S. Department of Defense said they found apparent changes in the brain's connective tissue -- known as white matter -- in soldiers exposed to the gas.

The extent of the changes -- less white matter and slightly larger brain cavities -- correspond to the extent of exposure, the Times reported on its Web site. The results are to be published in the June issue of the journal NeuroToxicology, it said.

The report is likely to revive the debate over why so many troops returned from the 1991 Gulf conflict with unexplained physical problems. Many scientists have questioned whether Gulf war-related illnesses have a physiological basis.

Far more research will have to be done before it is known whether those illnesses can be traced to exposure to sarin, the Times reported, and the long-term effects of sarin exposure on the brain are not well understood.

The Times said several lawmakers briefed on the study say the Department of Veterans Affairs is obligated to provide increased neurological care to veterans who may have been exposed to sarin gas.

The article named Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, and Christopher Bond, a Missouri Republican.

Approximately one in seven of the 700,000 troops deployed in the first Gulf war experienced a mysterious set of ailments, with problems including persistent fatigue, chronic headaches, joint pain and nausea, the paper noted in the story to appear in Thursday's print edition.

The Veterans Affairs department says those symptoms persist today for more than 150,000 troops, more than the number of troops exposed to the gases.

In a companion study, researchers tested 140 troops thought to have experienced differing degrees of exposure to the chemical agents to check their fine motor coordination.

Individuals with potentially greater exposure had a deterioration in fine motor skills, performing the tests at a level similar to people 20 years their senior, the Times said.