Daily News Archive

Studies Link Gulf War To Lou Gehrig's Disease
(Beyond Pesticides, September 25, 2003)
Two unrelated recent studies have shown that an abnormally high number of veterans from the 1991 Gulf War have become sick and are dying of the neurodegenerative disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. According to both studies, the disease, which affects roughly 30,000 people in the U.S. between the ages of 50 and 70, is impacting this subsection of veterans at more than two times those in the general population.

"'This disease occurred in a very abnormal age group - in people in their 20s and 30s instead of 60s and 70s,'" said Dr. Robert Haley, chief of epidemiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and author of one of the studies. "'It raises the question whether the condition might have been caused - or triggered prematurely - by unusual environmental exposures in the war."

One of the main exposures to toxic chemicals during the war with Iraq identified by the Department of Defense was in March 1991 when the U.S. demolished a large Iraqi ammunition supply point in Khamisiyah, which exposed well over 32,000 soldiers to the chemical nerve agents sarin and cyclosarin. Like many widely used pesticides, both sarin and cyclosarin are in the organophosphate chemical family. According to the National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc., more than 70,000 of roughly 200,000 claims filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs have been for undiagnosed conditions possibly related to chemical warfare agents and biological toxin exposures.

Dr. Haley's study, published in the September 23, 2003 issue of Neurology, Vol. 61, used national vital statistics data from 1979 to 1998 to project that under normal circumstances 1.38 cases per year of Lou Gehrig's disease would be found in the veteran population instead of the five cases he observed for that year. By 1999, Dr. Haley confirmed 20 cases of Lou Gehrig's disease, 17 of which were under age 45, in about 690,000 1991 Gulf War veterans and suspected that the actual number may be twice as high.

Another unrelated study published in the same journal (Neurology) conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs resulted in the same overall finding that 1991 War veterans were developing the disease at double the rate of the average population, despite using a completely different methodology.

The findings of both studies have been subject to skepticism by critics who question conclusions drawn with such small samples. Dr. Michael Rose of King's College Hospital in London is among the critics who indicated that the findings could be skewed if the methodologies were found to have any flaws.

Yet, even the initial findings two years ago were good enough for the U.S. government represented by VA Secretary Anthony Principi, who after meeting with Dr. Haley and VA researchers approved full benefits for Gulf War veterans with Lou Gherig's disease.

For stories related to chemical exposures, illnesses, and the Gulf War see Beyond Pesticides:
Elevated Birth Defect Rate Tied to Gulf War Service (May 1, 2003)
Study Finds Pesticides Cause Genetic Effect Linked to Attention Deficit Disorder and Gulf War Syndrome (March 19, 2003)
Defense Department Admits Pesticides May be to Blame for Gulf War Syndrome (January 16, 2001)
Gulf War Vets Have Many More Health Problems (April 17, 2001)