Pentagon: U.S. troops were exposed to nerve gas
Estimate of number affected not yet availableJuly 17, 1997
Web posted at: 8:34 p.m. EDT (0034 GMT)
From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon admitted Thursday that an undetermined number of U.S. troops were exposed to low levels of a nerve gas, sarin, when Iraqi rockets were destroyed shortly after the end of the Persian Gulf War.
But the Pentagon says it still has no evidence linking the health complaints of veterans, collectively known as Gulf War syndrome, to the low-level exposure.
Bernard Rostker, the Pentagon's special assistant for Gulf War illness issues, said he hopes to have by next week an estimate of the number of soldiers who were exposed.
In March 1991, U.S. troops destroyed sarin-filled rockets in a bunker and in an open area at the Khamisiyah ammunition storage facility in southeastern Iraq.
The CIA says it now believes there were 1,250 rockets in an open area known as "the pit," each containing about 6.3 kilograms of sarin and cyclosarin, of about 50 percent purity. Of those, about 500 were destroyed, generating a large cloud over the area.
Rostker said most of the troops believed to have been exposed were among the 27,000 soldiers within 30 miles of Khamisiyah. But he acknowledged some troops farther away might have also had some low-level exposure because computer modeling shows some of the chemicals may have drifted outside a 30-mile radius.
The computer modeling uses data collected from a series of tests done at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. It takes into account the findings of new investigations into the number of rockets destroyed, the amount of sarin gas they contained and the purity of the nerve agent inside, as well as new weather data.
Asked about an Army Times report last week that put the number of troops exposed at 80,000, Rostker said he knew of no such number, given that the computer analysis has not yet been completed.
"I just don't know what that number will be," he said.
In 1996, the Pentagon acknowledged that the demolition work at Khamisiyah could have led to the exposure of U.S. troops to chemical agents. Some veterans believe the exposure explains Gulf War syndrome, although the Pentagon maintains no link has been established.
Sarin is the same deadly nerve gas used in terrorist attacks on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. The possible harmful effects of low-level exposure will be part of the Pentagon's probe of Gulf War syndrome, and investigators expect the new estimates of exposure will aid their search for an explanation.
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