Metals found in Iraq dust have lead to a number of soldiers’ illnesses in recent years, a new study says.
“We biopsied several patients and found titanium in every single one of them” assistant professor at Stony Brook School of Medicine Anthony Szema told USA Today. “They’ve inhaled metal. It’s not a little; it’s a lot.”
Szema, who also directs the allergy clinic at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Newport, N.Y., said that six soldiers’ who had recently come in due to shortness of breath had metals such as titanium, iron and copper in their lungs. He has also diagnosed dozens of Iraq War veterans with constrictive bronchitis at his branch alone.
Several theories exist as to why the dust is different in Iraq than anywhere else in the world. One theory is that because of the number of bombs dropped by U.S. and Iraqi forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the metals fused with the dust and became permanently embedded. Another theory is that the dust was contaminated by burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, where workers burned 240 tons of trash a day in order to get rid of waste, creating the pits just miles from where service members were sleeping.
The dust particles have sharp edges and attach themselves to the interior of the lungs. “The cells that defend lung cells can not engulf and digest the titanium. It’s different from other dust” Szema said. Both titanium and iron are associated with diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension, according to Szema.
When the Department of Defense released its annual relative morbidity report last month, USA Today performed an analysis of all the reports dating from 2001 to 2013 and found that the number of people reporting respiratory and chest symptoms increased from a rate of 406 per 10,000 in 2001 to 744 per 10,000 in 2013. Szema’s own research found that 14 percent of service members who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan had new respiratory problems, including shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.
This new data is striking, but there is not much that can be done to prevent the inhalation of dust barring removing U.S. soldiers from the country. In regards to the new data coming out on this issue, Szema simply said “It’s pretty scary.”