New Studies Show Soil Dust May be “Smoking Gun” for Illnesses Among Iraq Vets


Jim Fausone, Esq

Veteran Disability Lawyer

Many veterans experience respiratory problems after returning from active duty, and this has been even more common for those who have served in the Persian Gulf region. Iraq War veterans often think their respiratory problems stem from smoke from a burn pit – however, this assumption may be mistaken.

A growing body of research now shows that microscopic dust particles containing heavy metals and other toxins may indeed be a significant contributor to long-term respiratory diseases of Iraq War veterans. Navy Captain Mark Lyles, a professor of health and security studies at the Naval War College inNewport,RI, began warning of potential health hazards from fine dust particles back in 2003.

Captain Lyles’s team’s analysis found that soil and dust samples from the Persian Gulf region contained microscopic particles carrying microbes and 37 elements and metals, some of which have been linked to respiratory problems and neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

Lyles, in a recent Navy Times report, speaking as a researcher rather than in an official Navy capacity said: “I believe only 3 to 5 percent of service members were exposed to a burn pit. But 100 percent of people who served were exposed to mineralized dust.”

A 2011 study from the Institute of Medicine confirmed that the biggest pollution concern at one of the most controversial sites, Joint Base Balad, Iraq, is likely particulate dust matter, and whether burn pits cause long-term health effects cannot yet be determined.  The DoD is working to develop screening tools for troops and veterans with symptoms, as well as diagnostic tools to identify disease.

However, according to Captain Lyles, the government is falling short in their efforts to address the threat of soil dust. Defense and Veterans Affairs Department health officials have held two annual Airborne Hazards Symposia — both closed to the public — and have not invited him to speak or present his team’s data.

In 2004, the Navy never acted on his recommendations that ground-based troops be supplied with masks to limit exposure.

“No one wants me to sit down and show them the scientific facts and data that we gathered,” Lyles said. “[The Department of Defense] has known about our data for 10 years. They don’t want to think about it, and they certainly don’t seem to want to know about it.”


Read more on this issue in the Navy Times:


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