Pentagon Press Conference on Environmental Exposure in the Gulf War Features Details of Recently Released RAND Research

Dr. Bernard Rostker, who served as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness during the Clinton Administration, discussed the results of newly released RAND reports about possible links between pesticide exposure and Gulf War illnesses at a Pentagon press conference on January 12, 2001.

Dr. Rostker sponsored RAND's work as the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses. The Department of Defense (DoD) found RAND's reports instrumental in the DoD's subsequent attempt to perform a qualitative health risk assessment on the use of certain pesticides during Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield.

Report Summaries

  • A Review of the Scientific Literature as it Pertains to Gulf War Illnesses, Volume 8: Pesticides. Gary Cecchine, Beatrice A. Golomb, Lee H. Hilborne, Dalia M. Spektor, C. Ross Anthony, MR-1018/8-OSD, 2001 (HTML) or (PDF).

    This report summarizes the scientific literature on 12 of the 35 pesticide active ingredients that are likely to have been used during the Persian Gulf War. Where possible, it focuses on known pesticide exposures or doses and related health outcomes that may be relevant to symptoms reported by some Gulf War veterans. Particular attention is paid to long-term, chronic effects of reported exposures to organophosphate and carbamate pesticides.

    Like nerve agents and pyridostigmine bromide, these pesticides inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and can produce neurological effects. Evidence from epidemiological studies, studies of genetic and biological differences between ill and healthy subjects, and studies of the physiological mechanisms of AChE inhibitors lead to the conclusion that a potential role of some pesticides cannot be ruled out in the undiagnosed illnesses of some veterans. The report discusses the roles of multiple exposures and other factors that can confound conclusions about what causes some veterans' symptoms. It further concludes that more research is needed to confirm or refute a causal link between pesticides and other agents and the symptoms associated with Gulf War illnesses.
  • Pesticide Use During the Gulf War: A Survey of Gulf War Veterans. Ronald D. Fricker, Jr., Elaine Reardon, Dalia M. Spektor, Sarah H. Cotton, Jennifer Hawes-Dawson, Jennifer E. Pace, and Susan D. Hosek, MR-1018/12-OSD, 2000 (HTML) or (PDF).

    Also: Documentation for the Survey of Pesticide Use During the Gulf War: The Survey Instrument. Dalia M. Spektor Elaine Reardon Sarah K. Cotton, MR-1226-OSD, 2000 (PDF). Survey dataset includes notes (notes.txt) and text fields (public_comments.txt). (Requires WinZip, StuffIt Expander, or other file expander software).

    This report summarizes the results of a RAND survey designed to quantify the use of pesticides by the average U.S. military service member during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm between August 1990 and July 1991. The survey was administered by telephone to 2,005 Gulf War veterans who served on the ground in the Kuwaiti theater of operations. Survey results characterize U.S. service members' personal and field use of pesticides, as well as observed pesticide use by others. The pesticide information was elicited in the context of the veterans' living, working, and eating conditions for a random month that each respondent was in-theater. RAND carefully designed the survey to facilitate veterans' recall of pesticides use.

    Since this survey was fielded eight to nine years after the end of the Gulf War, there was little expectation that the respondents would be able to recall the names of all the products used, especially those used in the field. Therefore, the survey employed a strategy in which the respondents focused on the forms and other descriptive information about the pesticides. This strategy was found to work best during extensive pretesting with veterans.

    Results show that the majority of personnel reported using or observing some pesticides, most often personal pesticides, which included insect repellents. Results also show that there were differences in pesticide use by branch of service, small differences by season and by rank, and larger differences by living arrangements. Relatively few veterans reported using multiple pesticides (31% used more than one at a time, and 9% used three or more). Although the authors found no evidence of widespread misuse of pesticides, some cases of possible misuse were identified. However, with the exception of animal flea collars worn by service members, these cases could just as well be attributed to mis-identification of pesticides.

The Pentagon press conference included presentations by RAND representatives Ron Fricker, a co-Principal Investigator on the project, and C. Ross Anthony, Director of the Center for Military Health Policy Research.

To access more information about Gulf War illness research at RAND visit the project Web site.