Tuesday January 21 6:57 PM EST

Study: Gulf War Blast May Have Harmed Troops

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - U.S. soldiers who were close to Iraqi gas weapons blown up at the end of the 1991 Gulf War have more pain in muscles and joints than those who were further away, a government report said Tuesday.

It was the first government study to show not only that U.S. troops were near the explosions of Iraqi chemical weapons but also that some might have been made sick by the blasts.

Dr. Kenneth Kizer, the Department of Veterans Affairs' undersecretary for health, reported the finding at a hearing by a House Government Reform subcommittee but said more research was needed to determine whether the gas explosions in fact caused the muscle and joint pains.

Kizer said the study was based on medical examinations of 1,978 of the 21,799 U.S. soldiers that the Defense Department had said were within 30 miles when U.S. troops blew up Iraq's Kamisiyah weapons dump, which contained sarin and mustard gas weapons, in March 1991.

He said 81 of the soldiers "who have been identified as part of the on-site Kamisiyah demolition team have been diagnosed with musculoskeletal conditions at a higher rate than veterans who were further away."

The finding was preliminary, coming from a computer analysis that showed those facts, he said, and more study was needed to determine whether low levels of gas at Kamisiyah indeed caused those and other ailments.

Bernard Rostker, the senior Pentagon official charged with overseeing the investigation into Gulf War illnesses, said later that the findings did not represent a formal study and that no conclusions could be reached immediately.

"This is not a study. It is five or six pages of tables with no explanation," Rostker, an assistant Navy secretary, told reporters. "I've got five tables without any documentation ... I'm confused as to what the differences in the different tables are."

Rostker said he could not say whether muscle ache and joint pain were common results of low level exposure to nerve agents because "we don't have a lot of experience with low level chemical exposures that we can document at this point."

The computer study produced the first evidence in what has been a mystery of whether chemical agents may have been one cause of symptoms suffered by thousands of Gulf War veterans that have been called Gulf War syndrome. They include fatigue, muscle and joint pains and memory trouble.

The study, released at the hearing, showed that 30.9 percent of the 81 soldiers close to the explosion had muscle and joint pains, compared to 25.9 percent of all 1,978 in the area and 25.3 percent of all 52,216 Gulf War veterans the Veterans Administration has examined.

But the computer study found the 81 soldiers suffered fewer mental problems and respiratory, nervous system and blood circulation problems than the other two groups.

After the war that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait the Defense Department insisted that U.S. troops were not exposed to Iraqi war gas, with the possible exception of one soldier.

But it announced last June that a large number of U.S. troops were nearby when demolition teams blew up the Kamisiyah weapons dump in southern Iraq. It said later that more than 20,000 U.S. troops may have been within reach of the smoke clouds from the weapons dump explosion.

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