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Activists Urge Greater Medical Support for Gulf War Veterans Exposed to Sarin Gas

When US forces destroyed a chemical munitions dump in Khamisiyah, Iraq in March 1991, the soldiers concerned did not realize what they were getting into. Only much later it was revealed they could have been exposed to the deadly sarin gas, released during the demolition.

Sarin is a chemical weapon estimated to be over 500 times as toxic as cyanide. Non-lethal doses can create permanent neurological damage and symptoms such as loss of memory, paralysis, seizures and respiratory problems. Turns out that over eight metric tons of sarin were released during the Khamisiyah demolitions.

Still many scientists sounded skeptical. But last week a research funded by the defence department showed that even a low-level exposure to sarin nerve gas could have caused lasting brain deficits in former service members.

Also symptoms were found to be exacerbated by the use of bug repellant and a nerve-agent antidote given to roughly 250,000 troops during the Gulf War.

When the roughly 700,000 deployed troops returned home, about one in seven began experiencing a mysterious set of ailments, often called gulf war illnesses, with problems including persistent fatigue, chronic headaches, joint pain and nausea. Those symptoms persist today for more than 150,000 of them, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than the number of troops exposed to the gases.

Advocates for veterans have argued for more than a decade and a half that a link exists between many of these symptoms and the exposure that occurred in Khamisiyah, but evidence has been limited.

The latest study, financed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the first to use Pentagon data on potential exposure levels faced by the troops and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of military personnel in the exposure zone. It found signs of brain changes that could be due to ex
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