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Health Outcomes & Concerns
Asthma Concerns Due to Oil-Fire-Smoke

 Iraqi forces set fire to about 605
 oil wells during February 1991
 resulting in dramatically dark
 skies for several weeks. There
 is surprisingly sparse
 epidemiology evidence available
 for evaluating the impact on the
health of military personnel. About 200 soldiers were evacuated from the theater of operations with a diagnosis of asthma, but the relationship to oil smoke is uncertain.

Studies of US Marines found associations between exposure to oil fire smoke and complaints of wheezing, cough, runny nose, and sore throat.

The oil smoke has been examined using satellite imagery, ground air monitoring, and dynamic computer modeling. Most particulate matter was less than 1.0 mm in diameter, a size that can be deeply respired. Total mass of suspended particulates in the near-field plumes typically ranged from 1-5 mg/m3. The density and particulate size are of concern, as the proposed National Ambient Air Quality Standard for 24-hour particulate matter of less than 2.5 mm diameter is 65 mg/m3.

Based on the chemical constituents of the smoke, a human health risk assessment concluded that there was little risk from exposure, but this assessment did not consider particulate size. There is no proof of long-term adverse effects of exposure to the oil well fire smoke, and only limited evidence of any effect. Only two post-war studies related to exposure to the oil fire smoke have been identified, and neither has yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, although both have been presented in scientific meetings. In a study using computer modeled plume data, no increase in risk of DoD hospitalization (overall or for respiratory problems) was identified. Another study of CCEP participants found a 40 percent increase in the likelihood of a diagnosis of asthma among the most heavily exposed Gulf War veterans.

Additional information on Asthma Concerns Due to Oil- Fire-Smoke in the Gulf War

Also see Environmental Exposure topics: Oil Well Fires, Particulates


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