Investigator lends credence to gulf war illness Chemical agents might be cause, panel says

November 21, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The chairwoman of a federal panel investigating the illnesses of veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf war said yesterday that she believed that the veterans were clearly experiencing more health problems than other veterans, and that Iraqi chemical weapons and other chemical agents might be to blame for many of their ailments.

The chairwoman, Dr. Eula Bingham, a toxicologist who is the former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said it was too early to rule out Iraqi chemical or biological weapons as the cause of many of the illnesses of the veterans, given how little was known about the weapons' long-term health effects.

Bingham's remarks -- which were echoed by other members of the panel, the Persian Gulf Expert Scientific Committee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, after meetings in Washington this week -- reflect the sharp disagreements among scientists and physicians over the cause of the ailments reported by thousands of gulf war veterans.

Government studies published last week suggested that at least through September 1993, gulf war veterans were not dying or falling seriously ill at unusual rates. A separate expert panel created by the White House concluded last month that battlefield stress was probably the cause of many of the veterans' ailments.

But the study results are not surprising since gulf war veterans tend to suffer from health problems that are debilitating but do not result in hospital stays or lead to an early death, said Bingham, a professor of environmental health at the University of DTC Cincinnati Medical College.

Their health problems typically include gastrointestinal ailments, chronic fatigue and joint aches.

Bingham said that the information gathered by her panel showed that gulf war veterans were falling ill with those sorts of ailments at unusually high rates, and that this might be explained by exposure to low levels of chemical weapons and other chemical agents that were found in the gulf, including the fumes from oil-well fires in Kuwait.

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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