GWS There’s been a lot of discussion lately about depleted uranium as an unlikely cause of Gulf War Syndrome. Now it appears there may be an explanation of why so many Gulf War vets, and so many Iraqi civilians, have come down with symptoms consistent with chemical poisoning. The New Scientist reports that as much as 10% of the population has a sensitivity to even miniscule traces of chemicals, and that as a result they suffer permanent brain damage with as much as a whiff of these substances. This susceptibility is exacerbated by stress, which is why, proponents of the theory say, it is so prevalent in war areas and war situations. This same 10% have negative reactions to the drug pyridostigmine given to U.S. troops during the Gulf War (and also in this war) to increase their resistance to nerve agents.

This, of course, raises interesting ethical questions. If chemical weapons used by both sides in a war leave 90% of combatants and civilians unaffected but debilitate or kill the other 10%, is their use justifiable, and who’s responsible for reparations?

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  1. J. Marsh Nelson says:

    This 10% number doesn’t account for apparently 221,000 American Gulf War Vets have now been awarded disability by the Veterans Admin. (nearing 30% of GWI Vets, up from 16% in 1997, and they just keep coming…)I have downloaded the VA report on this, but I’m amazed and confused that I can’t find that any legit journos have peeped about this 221,000 number, which is astonishing by any standard. Am I missing something?Other possible syndrome culprit: US accidentally exposed troops to nerve/chem/bio agents when they blew the crap out of everything in sight in 1991.

  2. Rayne says:

    Ah, but I was being irrational to ask the same questions a few weeks ago after an article on the topic of DU in Wired.com. If we have conflicting information on a substance, should we use it? I don’t think so, particularly if the primary justification is cost effectiveness.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Hey, Rayne, I didn’t say you were irrational, and I concur with your earlier comment that tungsten would do just fine, especially in a war that’s so lopsided anyway that the extra 5% edge of using DU doesn’t warrant the risk. I think your quibble was with that other guy. And I’m also not the ‘ponytail’ Dave who keeps cropping up making comments to the same posts I do, with the opposite viewpoints. Maybe I need a pseudonym. JMN: I’m having as much trouble as you figuring out the math in this. The article I cited says the incidence of illness of GW vets is 30% higher than the norm in the US, and that 1/7 of GW vets have been compensated for GWS (your number is more like 1/3). Neither of these numbers jibe with the 10% figure. Would be useful to separate vets with physical vs psychological disabilities, though this might be nigh impossible to do. Its also aggravating that the reports by physicians of massive increases in chemical poisoning, cancer and neurological damage in Iraqi civilians after the last war keep being blown off by international medical authorities because Iraq has no ‘official registry’ of such diseases.

  4. Rayne says:

    Dave — I knew that, I was being ironic. <g>

  5. Jan Haugland says:

    It’s interesting to note that mortality among Gulf war vets are lower than the mortality of men of the same age who stayed home. If GWS was so serious, you’d expect it to be visible on the death statistics. It isn’t.On another note: Tungsten is just as chemically poisonous as DU, and much less studied. All heavy metals are poisonous to humans.

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