100 sick U.S. veterans of Gulf War to be tested for chemical sensitivity

October 29, 1992|By Chicago Tribune DL CHICAGO

CHICAGO -- The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has agreed to examine 100 sick Persian Gulf War veterans for evidence of chemical sensitivity.

The move was seen as a potential national experiment on the controversial illness.

The academy acted after hearing a plea from Richard Haines of New Albany, Ind., a major in the Army Reserves.

"I ask the academy to open your doors and take in these people and help them get some testing and treatment," said Mr. Haines, who has collected the names of 150 Operation Desert Storm vets in 25 states, describing them as "a debilitated group that needs a lot of help."

The number across the country could total 1,000, he said.

Acting on his own, Mr. Haines said many of those afflicted were "combat-support troops in tents" who were exposed to fumes from portable heaters fueled by a blend of leaded gasoline and diesel fuel.

Questions were also raised about inoculations, pesticide sprays and chemicals in food and water. Many of the soldiers, he added, were from four Indiana quartermaster companies.

"They had been contaminated, probably petrochemically, and are now unemployable, uninsured and uninsurable," said Mr. Haines.

The academy decided to accept the challenge, said its president, Charles T. Hinshaw.

"There's increasing interest in environmental medicine, especially chemical sensitivity," Mr. Hinshaw said yesterday. "We are not able to say what is affecting these people. "These were all purportedly healthy men and women before they went overseas -- a fairly select group of really healthy people."

The academy also adopted a diagnosis protocol for the examinations to be used by doctors from coast to coast, all donating time and services. Results are expected in three to six months.

The academy's annual meeting, which ended Tuesday, was held at Marriott's Lincolnshire, Ill., resort and attended by 275 members.

Chemical sensitivity was a key issue in the conference.

Dr. Claudia Miller, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, reported that a third of Americans complain of sensitivity to various chemicals.

In its worst form, victims are not able to tolerate extremely low doses of chemical odors, including cigarette smoke, perfume or fumes from synthetic carpets and building materials. Doctors disagree over whether the illness is physical or mental or both.

Dr. Miller, a chemical-sensitivity researcher, said the Desert Storm vets could mark the entry of a new group complaining of chemical sensitivity.

"There are striking similarities to individuals complaining of chemical sensitivity," she said. These include frequent mood and memory changes.

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