- A US scientist has found evidence that suggests the combination
of chemicals administered to Gulf War troops may have made them ill.
- The scientist, Professor Mohamed Abou-Donia, says he
will soon prove that "the cocktail effect of chemicals" causes
real physical damage.
- There is no doubt in my mind that what we are seeing
in the veterans is real Prof Mohamed Abou-Donia
- His work appears to show that Gulf War Syndrome (GWS),
the range of symptoms experienced by many Gulf veterans, really does exist
and is not largely psychological.
- The news comes as other research is published showing
that the brain scans of Gulf veterans reveal significant brain-cell loss
in some troops.
- Professor Abou-Donia, of Duke University, North Carolina,
also says the effect of chemicals acting in combination may explain some
cases of degenerative disease and asthma.
- Fatal experiments
- He was speaking to BBC Radio 4's environment programme
Costing the Earth, which investigated the effect of chemicals in daily
- Professor Abou-Donia tested the three chemicals administered
to troops in the Gulf on chickens and rats.
- Professor Mohamed Abou-Donia is developing a test
- The chemicals were anti-nerve gas pills, an insect repellent
called Deet, and Permethrin, an insecticide. All three are entirely harmless
on their own.
- He described what the experiments showed: "We used
each one of these chemicals alone, even at very high dose levels.
- "We found there was no toxicity whatsoever, no poisoning,
- "When we used two of these chemicals together, we
saw some neurological dysfunctions and some behavioural problems.
- "When we had the three chemicals together, we saw
not only a neurological deficit but paralysis, and some animals even died."
- Professor Abou-Donia is convinced of the reality of GWS,
whose symptoms typically include chronic fatigue, infertility, and mental
health problems, despite continued military scepticism that it exists.
- Protein leak
- "There is no doubt in my mind that what we are seeing
in the veterans is real.
- "We are trying to develop the diagnostic tools to
determine whether there is neurological damage in the veterans by running
a blood test.
- Troops were given several injections
- "We look for specific antibodies produced against
proteins that are normally in the brain. When there is brain damage, these
proteins leak into the blood stream and the blood forms antibodies against
- "This test will hopefully show whether an individual
complaining of neurological problems has brain damage or not."
- Professor Abou-Donia believes it is not only Gulf veterans
who are at risk from the effects of similar "chemical cocktails".
- "In the US about 3% of children have asthma. And
this could be related to chemical exposure or other biological factors.
- "And most diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
have a genetic component, and also an environmental component."
- Another doctor interviewed by the programme is Keith
Eaton, who practices in London. He is concerned at the paucity of data
on chemicals in everyday use.
- Groups at risk
- "Staggeringly, 64% of drugs, 81% of food additives
and 88-90% of commercial chemicals do not have minimum acceptable toxicity
- "Virtually none has been looked at acting in combination
with another chemical.
- The military authorities are not convinced by the research
- "I think this is a giant uncontrolled experiment
- Dr Eaton believes from 5% to 10% of people in the UK
may be at particular risk of illness from the effect of combinations of
common chemicals and their genetic make-up.
- "The particularly vulnerable groups are pregnant
women, unborn children and young infants.
- "If they are exposed to a chemical load, the effect
on the next generation may be greater.
- "The fact that something hasn't happened so far
doesn't mean that it necessarily won't."
- 'No convincing evidence'
- The UK Government's health department told Costing the
Earth it recognised that mixtures of chemicals could exert "very much
greater toxicity" than they would in isolation.
- "But such cases are very rare. There is no convincing
evidence for such effects at low, environmentally relevant exposures,"
- The evidence of brain-cell loss, published in the journal
Radiology, found that sick Gulf veterans had 20% fewer cells in the brain
stem than healthy colleagues, 12% fewer in the right basal ganglia, and
a loss of 5% in the left basal ganglia.
- The study's lead author, Dr Robert Haley, said: "When
you sustain such losses, you get a host of subtle malfunctions of all systems
of the body." _____
- Costing the Earth, presented by Alex Kirby, is broadcast
at 2100 BST every Thursday on BBC Radio 4 until 1 June 2000.
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