The GAO Gulf War
Syndrom Report - Implications
For The General Public

By Brenda Livingston
Regarding one of the most important issues of our time -- The "Gulf War Syndrome" -- the GAO recently referenced the wonderful work of Robert Haley from the Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas. An epidemiologist, Haley conducted one of the most extensive studies of this syndrome in 1997.
In the 2004 GAO report released June 1, chemicals --specifically organophosphates -- are found to be the overriding cause of the symptoms of "Gulf War Syndrome" a devasting disorder affecting untold numbers of soldiers returning from the first war in Iraq (the cards are still out on the latest war there).
[excerpted from the GAO report **see reference below]
"....many of the approximately 700,000 veterans of the Persian Gulf War have experienced undiagnosed illnesses since the war's end in 1991. Some fear they are suffering from chronic disabling conditions because of wartime exposures to vaccines, as well as chemical warfare agents, pesticides, and other hazardous substances with known or suspected adverse health effects...
...We found some studies that suggest an association between chemical warfare agent exposure and Gulf War illnesses. Each of these studies has both strengths and limitations. In one privately funded study of Gulf War veterans, Haley and colleagues reported an association between a syndromic case definition of Gulf War illnesses, based upon the ill veterans symptomatic complaints, with exposure to chemical warfare agents.
Factor analysis of the data on symptoms was used to derive a case definition identifying six syndrome factors. Three syndrome factor variants found to be the most significant were (1) impaired cognition, (2) confusion-ataxia, and (3) arthro-myo-neuropathy.
...Several published scientific studies of exposure involving Gulf War suggest an association between low-level exposure to chemical warfare agents and chronic illnesses..." (What follows this paragraph is a bibliography of Robert Haley, Tom Kurt and others' studies and articles).
The GAO report contains criticism of the DoD and the CIA's conclusions regarding GWS and suggests that plumes of Sarin nerve gas may have contributed to the troops symptoms.
While the possibility of Gulf War troops low-level exposure to Sarin nerve toxin (an organophosate) may be crucial to understanding what has happened to the Gulf War veterans -- a much broader and more devastating issue implied from the Haley, Kurt, Fleckenstein et al. studies begs immediate attention.
Both the GAO report and the research by Haley et al. (exerpted below) indicate that the likely cause of the neurological damage suffered by certain Gulf War troops was organophosphate poisoning.
Two factors are emphasized in the research as to the cause: (1) those individuals affected by neurological symptoms (brain damage) show a genetic deficiency in an enzyme (PON-1/PON-Q) which made them unable to defend against the effects of organophosphates, and (2) the Haley study concentrates upon pesticides (insect repellents containing DEET, flea collars on boots, pesticides sprayed in the air often to control sand flies) and the synergistic interaction with pyridostigmine bromide (PB) as the major trigger in the "syndrome" in those studied. (Of course other organophosphate exposure would add to the effects).
These two factors should set off alarm bells in every community across the nation. The implications are enormous!
In "Brain Abnormalities in Gulf War Syndrome: Evaluation with 1H MR Spectroscopy1" ( Haley et al. reports: "....Not only was the elevated exposure risk to these potential neurotoxins documented in the symptomatic veterans, but a biochemical explanation for heightened susceptibility to these chemicals was demonstrated in the same group of Gulf War veterans (5). Specifically, the symptomatic veterans had substantially lower blood levels of paraoxonase-1 (PON1) type Q (PON-Q) arylesterase than did the control subjects; PON-Q is a genetically controlled isoenzyme that hydrolyzes organophosphate chemical warfare nerve agents and some pesticides (5).
While it is critical that our troops and veterans are treated and protected from future exposures or further exposures to organophosphates, the Gulf War troops are military volunteers -- a cross-section of the general population.
This means that very likely a similar percentage of **non-military** individuals from the general population also have low levels of the PON-Q enzyme or genetic susceptibility and therefore could also be suffering the same neurological damage when exposed to even low levels of organophosphates -- pesticides.
With a general increase in the use of pesticides in the home and outdoors and the increase of use of vector spraying for mosquitos, those persons with this disorder may be suffering from serious neurological damage as a result of continuous low-level exposure to pesticides and be totally unaware of the factors involved in their symptoms.
This question must be addressed: Is the "Gulf War Syndrome" the same disease process as what has been euphemistically termed "Environmental Illness" which includes Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Fibromyalgia?
It has taken over a decade for any recognition of chemical (organophosphate) exposure as a trigger for these devasting and life-altering symptoms/disease in our military troops. How long must the general population have to wait before being informed about their possible predisposition to this brain-damaging disease?
How long will it take before the absolutely horrendous damage to the population as a whole (other than this 'syndrome') brought about by the use of pesticides is publicly acknowledged?
The total effects of this 'scourge' on individual lives and our society are already devastating...measured in costs of pain, lost incomes, growing health care costs not to mention military readiness and economic growth.
Further independent research into the effects of pesticides on human beings (with and without this genetic disorder)-- from insect repellents so frequently used on children going out to play... to pesticides sprayed in homes and schools... to the continual aerial and truck spraying of insecticides in our air -- must be promoted and funded immediately if we are to stave off this public catastrophe.
See for further information on the effects of pesticide vector spraying for West Nile Virus on the public.
Robert W. Haley, MD et al., "Brain Abnormalities in Gulf War Syndrome: Evaluation with 1H MR Spectroscopy1"
R. W. Haley and T. L. Kurt, "Self-reported exposure to neurotoxic chemical combinations in the Gulf War. A cross-sectional epidemiologic study", JAMA Vol. 277 No. 3, January 15, 1997
Robert Haley, MD, Epidemiology Division, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, 75235-8874, USA.
United States General Accounting Office Testimony Before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives GAO GULF WAR ILLNESSES
"DOD's Conclusions About U.S. Troops' Exposure Cannot Be Adequately Supported" Statement of Keith Rhodes, Chief Technologist Center for Technology and Engineering, Applied Research and Methods



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