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Insectides, Solvents Linked to Gulf War Syndrome

WASHINGTON, DC, February 19, 2003 (ENS) - A comprehensive assessment of the available scientific literature reaffirms findings of a link between Gulf War Syndrome and exposures to a few specific insecticides or solvents.

A new report from the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies of Sciences confirms what is known already about specific human health effects associated with the Persian Gulf War. There is some limited evidence to link certain long term health problems with exposures to some specific chemicals, the report argues.

However, for the majority of solvents and insecticides that have been studied, there is not enough epidemiologic evidence to determine whether associations exist between diseases and exposures to these chemicals, the researchers conclude.

"Our exhaustive examination of the literature produced no unexpected findings," said Jack Colwill, emeritus professor of family and community medicine, University of Missouri, Columbia, and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

"Our conclusions about exposure to insecticides and solvents and long-term health problems largely mirror those reached by many other scientific groups," Colwill continued. "While we would like to have more definitive answers to questions about the specific diseases that may be associated with these chemicals, in most cases the evidence simply is not strong enough or does not exist."

The committee evaluated the published, peer reviewed research on exposure to various insecticides and solvents - such as cleaning agents - for any evidence of links to specific cancers, neurological effects, or other health problems that occur or persist after exposure. Of the 3,000 studies the committee reviewed, most involved individuals who were exposed to these agents in occupational settings such as agricultural and industrial sites.

Only a small number of reports studied veterans who may have been exposed while serving in the Persian Gulf. Toxicology studies conducted in animals also were reviewed, but played only a supportive role in this assessment.

The insecticides and solvents used during the Gulf War were agents that have also been used for industrial and personal applications. Insecticides and repellents, including DEET and permethrin, were applied by service members to control insects that can carry infectious diseases endemic to the area, such as malaria and leishmaniasis. Personnel came into contact with solvents during activities such as equipment cleaning and vehicle maintenance and repair.

However, little information exists on the use of insecticides or solvents by individual service members, and how that use may have differed from stateside use or exposure. Because scant information exists on actual exposure levels - a critical factor when assessing health effects - the committee emphasized that it could not draw specific conclusions about the health problems of Gulf War veterans.

Veterans who have experienced chronic health problems following their service in the Persian Gulf are asking whether exposure to various chemical or biological agents might be responsible. Thousands of troops did come in contact with a number of agents before, during, and after the war.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs requested an Institute of Medicine (IOM) study of potentially harmful chemical, biological, or environmental agents to which Gulf War veterans might have been exposed. Congress mandated a similar study, listing several specific agents.

This report on insecticides and solvents is the second in a series from the IOM that responds to these requests. The first report focused on depleted uranium, pyridostigmine bromide, sarin, and vaccines. The next report will examine the health effects of exposure to selected environmental pollutants and particulates, such as smoke from oil well fires, diesel heater fumes and jet fuels.

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Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights Reserved.


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