It is difficult to conclude whether PFC Fisher was exposed to chemical warfare agent residue while searching bunkers along the Iraq-Kuwait border on March 1, 1991. Among the strongest evidence supporting the conclusion he was exposed to a chemical warfare agent are statements from the well-trained medical personnel who diagnosed and treated his injury as mustard exposure. A subject matter expert in chemical warfare exposure as well as a medical doctor, Colonel Dunn examined this injury contemporaneously and concurred with a diagnosis of chemical warfare agent injury. Although Colonel Dunn stated something other than liquid mustard could have caused PFC Fisher’s injury (e.g., poison ivy, or some caustic chemical), he found no other cause present. In both his 1995 statements and 1999 interview, Colonel Dunn stated that other causes could explain PFC Fisher’s blisters. But in both instances, he focused on the latent period between exposure and first appearance of symptoms as well as the absence of other common causes in the area. While Colonel Dunn may not have found another cause to override his diagnosis, the nature of the injury leaves open the possibility of another cause. Also, the medical expert we contacted agreed with Colonel Dunn’s diagnosis, noting that although additional causes were possible, given the latent period between exposure and symptom appearance, mustard agent was the likely cause of PFC Fisher’s blisters.

The nuclear, biological, chemical soldiers who tested PFC Fisher’s coveralls and flak jacket with the Fox MM-1 remembered detecting sulfur mustard and sesqui-mustard. However, the surviving physical evidence, namely the MM-1 printout tapes from the coverall and flak jacket tests, does not agree with their recollections. Also, sesqui-mustard was not in Iraq’s inventory. Until recently, we believed one operator had obtained a spectrum providing a high degree of confidence of mustard’s presence on PFC Fisher’s flak jacket. We had based this conclusion on a review of the videotape because we were unable to find the paper tape printout of this spectrum. The videotape showing the operator’s screen during the MM-1 spectrometer analysis of a spot on the flak jacket indicated sulfur mustard presence, a known component of Iraq’s chemical warfare inventory; however, further review of this incident, particularly of the ion data from the videotape, casts doubt on the presence of mustard agent. The spectrum revealed the sample was missing critical ions necessary for mustard. PFC Fisher’s reported exposure occurred 100 miles from Iraq’s nearest chemical warfare agent storage facility, according to the CIA and UNSCOM. The CIA and UNSCOM have reported no evidence Iraq moved any chemical warfare agents south of Khamisiyah. Consequently, we do not know where the mustard would have come from to cause this reported exposure.

The urinalysis failed to detect thiodiglycol, a mustard breakdown product. This result was inconsistent with the diagnosis, but, in Colonel Dunn’s opinion, not unexpected because of the low level of exposure. Laboratory tests in the United States on the flak jacket and coverall swatch were negative for chemical warfare agent or any degradation byproducts.

Taking all the facts surrounding this incident into consideration, the medical diagnosis by trained doctors and the videotaped MM-1 operator’s screen of an apparent spectrum lead to the conclusion an exposure may have occurred. On the other hand, the analysis of the data extracted from the videotaped Fox spectrum showed critical ions were missing from the spectrum. In addition, other causes of blisters exist, we have no evidence of chemical weapons in that area of the Kuwait theater of operations, and laboratory testing in the United States failed to identify any chemical warfare agent or chemical warfare agent breakdown products on the flak jacket or coveralls material. Therefore, because of the conflicting evidence, we have reassessed this chemical warfare agent exposure incident as indeterminate.

This case still is being investigated. If additional information becomes available, we will incorporate it into a revised narrative. If you have records, photographs, or recollections or find errors in the details reported, please call 1-800-497-6261.

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