POTENTIAL EXPOSURE TO SARIN FROM THE DEMOLITIONS AT KHAMISIYAH, IRAQ ON MARCH 10, 1991
When rockets were destroyed in the pit area at Khamisiyah on March 10, 1991, the nerve agent
sarin was released into the air. There have been no reports of injuries which required medical
treatment related to nerve agent exposure. Medical personnel who were near Khamisiyah in March
1991 have been interviewed. They have said there was no evidence of health problems related
to nerve agent exposure at the time.
There is a small area around Khamisiyah, in which the levels of sarin may have been high
enough to cause mild symptoms, if there were any humans present. No units have been
identified in this area.
The first noticeable health effect of low levels of sarin is pinpointing of the pupils of the
eyes, which is called miosis. Also, at about the same low levels of sarin, there are other
mild symptoms, including runny nose, tightness of the chest, and eye pain. After the
exposure stops, these temporary health effects go away. Humans exposed to sarin begin to
show these mild health effects, at levels which are about 100 times lower than the levels of
sarin which could be fatal.
There have been no reports of troops who were treated for miosis related to nerve agent
exposure. The troops who were around Khamisiyah on March 10, 1991, were too far away to
develop these mild health effects.
Some troops may have been briefly exposed to very low levels of sarin, which were at a level
called the general population limit. This exposure level would have been too low to activate
chemical alarms or to cause any symptoms at the time. The general population limit was set
at a very low level, so that even if a person was exposed to this level continuously for 72
hours, he or she would not develop any noticeable effects. This limit was set at 333,000
times lower than the level of sarin which can cause noticeable effects, such as pinpointing
of the pupils of the eyes.
If a person was exposed to a very low level of sarin for a brief time, the current medical evidence indicates that long-term health effects are unlikely. However, the scientific evidence on the long-term effects is limited, therefore, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are committed to gaining a better understanding of the potential health effects of brief, low level nerve agent exposures. They have funded several research studies on the long-term effects of low level exposure at universities and medical schools.
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