DoD Releases Paper on Iraqi Rocket Fuel Oxidizer

WASHINGTON, Aug. 13, 1999 (GulfLINK) - The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses released today an interim information paper on Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid - a missile fuel oxidizer used by the Iraqi military to propel its Scud, Guideline, Silkworm and Kyle missiles. This latest release from the DoD office is designed to provide a basic understanding of inhibited red fuming nitric acid "IRFNA" and identify where and how Gulf War veterans may have been exposed to the propellant.

Some Gulf War veterans have reported incidents involving colored clouds and mist during the Gulf War. These clouds were described as having strong odors, causing an immediate burning sensation to the eyes, skin, nose and throat as well as respiratory irritation, nausea and vomiting. While yet there is no evidence Iraq ever offensively deployed chemical or biological weapons against coalition troops, there is growing evidence of the possible exposure of veterans to industrial chemicals and other weapons-system components such as IRFNA.

"To date, the evidence we have indicates that weapons that used IRFNA did not carry biological or chemical warheads," said Kelly Niernberger, a chemical and biological warfare analyst with the special assistant's office. "If you were exposed to IRFNA, you'd know it. But it's unlike anything most people reported from the experiences in the Gulf."

During the Gulf War, Iraq used the oxidizer in combination with fuel to create the thrust needed to launch a rocket or missile. When a SCUD broke-up, impacted or was intercepted by coalition weapons, the missile fuel and IRFNA combination could have exposed some troops to the hazards of nitric acid and nitric dioxide which can be confused as a chemical or biological warfare agent attack.

Some blister chemical warfare agents have a "pleasant" or no odor and the onset of respiratory problems is not immediate. Conversely and according to the information paper, IRFNA has a distinctive, recognizable color, a suffocating, acrid or pungent odor, and in high concentrations causes immediate respiratory distress.

"We know of no one that got that far. There are reports of coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing but only a few people that we know of were hospitalized during the war," said Niernberger. "Even of those hospitalized, we could only guess that they had been exposed to IRFNA because we know so little about one-time, short-term exposure to nitric acid."

While the possibility exists that IRFNA caused these reported symptoms, troops observing them did not have monitoring devices designed to detect the oxidizer's presence. They had no way to confirm whether these exposures involved IRFNA. Additionally, immediate signs, not the delayed symptoms expected from a chemical warfare agent attack, lead investigators to believe IRFNA to be a likely explanation in some reported cases.

The CIA also confirmed the likelihood of IRFNA exposure in an August 1996 report on intelligence related to Gulf War illnesses citing that, "Although we know of no long-term illnesses related to these chemicals, we assess that [IRFNA] is a likely cause of some burning sensations reported by veterans near Scud impacts."

Some of the other symptoms reported are immediate headache, dizziness, lethargy, anxiety and difficulty breathing. According to the report, there are no indications that most symptoms are persistent following short-term exposure, but contact can cause serious chemical burns to the eyes and skin or permanent lung damage at moderate or high levels of exposure.

The information paper recommends improved Fox vehicle detection capabilities, improved monitoring and detection equipment, and improved doctrine, training and awareness of troops who may encounter IRFNA on the battlefield.

This report can be accessed through the website GulfLINK(http://www.gulflink.osd.mil). Anyone with questions or additional information on the use of missile fuels and propellants, which would help better understand IRFNA and more accurately report its use during the Gulf War, contact the office at 1-800-472-6719.

 

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