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Chemical Warfare Agents

As veterans began reporting undiagnosed illnesses, attention focused on the possibility that chemical warfare agent exposures may have occurred.

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Coalition forces faced an enemy with known chemical warfare agent capabilities. Intelligence estimates were reinforced by the knowledge that Iraq had used chemical weapons during its war with Iran. Coalition forces� defensive measures included issuing to individuals protective masks and overgarments, pretreatment tablets (pyridostigmine bromide), and MARK I antidote kits (atropine and pralidoxime). Preparations also included employment of detector alarms, detector kits, Fox reconnaissance vehicles, and personnel and units trained in the detection of, and response to, the presence of chemical weapons in the field.

Following the Gulf War, the US government and its Coalition allies concluded that Iraq had not used its large chemical arsenal against the Coalition forces. This conclusion was mostly based upon the absence of confirmed evidence of any chemical attacks and the lack of any casualties confirmed to be due to chemical agents. Further, no chemical agents were initially identified among the huge quantities of captured Iraqi munitions in the territory occupied by the Coalition in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

Many veterans of the Gulf War, however, believed that they had been, or might have been, exposed to chemical warfare agents. Such beliefs were based upon specific events, incidents, or reports occurring while they were in the Kuwait theater of operations. A common event was the sounding of a chemical alarm, indicating the presence of a chemical agent in the vicinity. When alarm alerts went unexplained, many service members became concerned about a possible chemical agent exposure.

Congressional hearings provided a public forum for veterans to describe Gulf War incidents which they believed to represent exposure to chemical warfare agents or other chemicals of uncertain origin. Other veterans provided personal accounts of medical problems which they thought might be related to such agents. Some veterans reported observing chemical weapons among captured Iraqi munitions. Congressional staff examined the possibility that chemical vapors could have traveled from bombed Iraqi chemical weapons plants to the locations of Coalition forces.

The post-war inspections by the United Nations Special Commission and declarations by Iraq documented the breadth and extent of Iraq�s chemical weapons capabilities. These inspections formed the basis for the conclusion announced by the government in 1996 that, in March 1991, US forces had destroyed part of an Iraqi cache of rockets containing the nerve agents sarin and cyclosarin at a captured ammunition storage point in Khamisiyah, Iraq. The possibility that US forces had thereby been exposed to nerve agents heightened the interest in the possible role of chemical warfare agents in causing illness among Gulf veterans. As a result of this announcement, several important events took place.

The Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on Gulf War Veterans� Illnesses recommended several actions in its Final Report (1996). The government should clarify the scope of the release of nerve agents from Khamisiyah, notify and encourage military personnel in the vicinity of Khamisiyah to seek clinical evaluations, and investigate other reports of possible releases of chemical and biological agents.

The Research Working Group of the Persian Gulf Veterans Coordinating Board added two research questions about exposures to chemical warfare agents to its 1996 Working Plan for Research on Persian Gulf Veterans� Illnesses.

The Department of Defense appointed a Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses to lead a detailed investigation into the many reports of possible releases of, and exposures to, chemical weapons during the Gulf War. The Office of the Special Assistant (OSAGWI) conducted investigations of possible exposures to chemical warfare agents, including the Khamisiyah release, and notified possibly exposed veterans to seek medical evaluations. OSAGWI published 20 case narratives, 7 information papers, and 2 close-out reports on the subject of chemical warfare agents. Two investigations concluded that U.S. servicemembers might have been exposed to low levels of nerve agent released as a result of U.S. actions � the demolition activities at Khamisiyah and the bombing of the Iraqi storage facility at Muhammadiyat, Iraq. One narrative reported on a soldier who developed blisters, possibly the result of exposure to a chemical warfare blister agent, after searching through captured enemy bunkers.

The federal government has funded numerous research projects to evaluate the possible long-term health effects of exposures to low levels of chemical warfare agents. Most projects focus on toxicological effects in experimental animals, and others focus on the long-term effects in humans of short-term exposures to low-level nerve agents. Some studies are examining genetic susceptibility to chemical agents or biomarkers of exposure.


Perotta, Dennis M., "Long-Term Health Effects Associated with Sub-clinical Exposures to GB and Mustard," July 18, 1996.

Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense, "Modeling the Chemical Warfare Agent Release at the Khamisiyah Pit (U),"," 4 September 1997

Central Intelligence Agency, "Chemical Warfare Agent Issues During the Persian Gulf War," April 2002

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USPHS. "Final Recommendations for Protecting the Health and Safety Against Potential Adverse Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Low Doses of Agents: GA, GB, VX, Mustard Agent (H, HD, Y), and Lewisite (L)," March 15, 1998.

Augerson WS. A Review of the Scientific Literature as It Pertains to Gulf War Illnesses, Volume 5: Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents. RAND, 2000.

Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans� Affairs and International Relations, House Committee on Governmental Reform: "Coalition Warfare - Gulf War Allies Differed in Chemical and Biological Threats Identified and in Use of Defensive Measures," GAO-01-13, April 24, 2001

Office of the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses

Case Narratives

11th Marines - Final Report, May 31, 2001.

Al Jaber Air Base - Final Report, September 13, 2001.

Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia - Final Report, October 30, 2001.

An Nasiriyah ASP - Final Report, September 28, 2000.

Camp Monterey - Final Report, January 13, 2000.

Cement Factory - Final Report, September 28, 2000.

Chemical Warfare Agent Release at Muhammadiyat - April 25, 2002.

Czech-French Detections, August 4, 1998.

Fox Alerts in the 24th Infantry Division – Final Report, October 26, 2000.

Fox Detections in an ASP/Orchard – Final Report, November 29, 2001.

Injured Marine - Final Report, February 22, 2001.

Khamisiyah - April 25, 2002.

Kuwaiti Girls School - September 13, 2001.

Possible Chemical Agent on Scud Missile Sample - Final Report, July 27, 2000.

Possible Chemical Warfare Agent Release at Al Muthanna - Final Report, November 29, 2001.

Possible Mustard Release at Ukhaydir Ammunition Storage Depot - Final Report, February 22, 2001.

Possible Post-War Use of Chemical Warfare Agents Against Civilians By Iraq, Close Out Report, May 25, 2000.

Reported Chemical Warfare Agent Exposure in the 2d Reconnaissance Battalion - Final Report, November 29, 2001.

Reported Mustard Agent Exposure Operation Desert Storm - Final Report, July 12, 2001.

Tallil Air Base, Iraq - Final Report, May 25, 2000, February 22, 2001.

Information Papers

Air Campaign: Modeling and Simulation in the Planning of Attacks on Iraqi Chemical and Biological Warfare Targets - February 23, 2000.

Fox NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle - July 29, 1997.

Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid (IRFNA) - August 13, 1999.

Iraq's Scud Ballistic Missiles- July 27, 2000.

M256 Series Chemical Agent Detector Kit - August 13, 1999.

M8A1 Automatic Chemical Agent Alarm - November 13, 1997.

Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) and Chemical Protection - November 13, 1997.

Close-out Reports

ARCENT Close-Out Report, March 14, 2000.


To find reports, ongoing research projects, and published research that deal with chemical warfare agents, enter chemical warfare or other specific words in the window of the search box at the top right of this page. Select the appropriate collection of documents (reports, research projects and publications, or major focus areas) or all sections of this site. If you are interested in only the research projects and publications, you may also go directly to the Research Topics part of this web site and find Chemical Warfare.