Epidemiologic evidence of health effects from long-distance transit of chemical weapons fallout from bombing early in the 1991 Persian Gulf War

Neuroepidemiology. 2013;40(3):178-89. doi: 10.1159/000345124. Epub 2012 Dec 14.


Background: Military intelligence data published in a companion paper explain how chemical fallout from US and Coalition bombing of Iraqi chemical weapons facilities early in the air campaign transited long distance, triggering nerve agent alarms and exposing US troops. We report the findings of a population-based survey designed to test competing hypotheses on the impact on chronic Gulf War illness of nerve agent from early-war bombing versus post-war demolition.

Methods: The US Military Health Survey performed computer-assisted telephone interviews of a stratified random sample of Gulf War-era veterans (n = 8,020). Early-war exposure was measured by having heard nerve agent alarms and post-war exposure, by the computer-generated plume from the Khamisiyah demolition. Gulf War illness was measured by two widely published case definitions.

Results: The OR (95% CI) for the association of alarms with the Factor case definition was 4.13 (95% CI 2.51-6.80) compared with 1.21 (95% CI 0.86-1.69) for the Khamisiyah plume. There was a dose-related trend for the number of alarms (p(trend) < 0.001) but not for the number of days in the Khamisiyah plume (p(trend) = 0.17).

Conclusions: Exposure to low-level sarin nerve agent in fallout from bombing early in the air campaign contributed more to chronic illness than post-war demolition.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bombs*
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / adverse effects*
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Female
  • Gulf War*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel*
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / chemically induced*
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Transportation / methods


  • Chemical Warfare Agents