Exposures to the Kuwait oil fires and their association with asthma and bronchitis among gulf war veterans

J. L. Lange
D. A. Schwartz
B. N. Doebbeling
J. M. Heller


Military personnel deployed to the Persian Gulf War have reported a variety of symptoms attributed to their exposures. We examined relationships between symptoms of respiratory illness present 5 years after the war and both self-reported and modeled exposures to oil-fire smoke that occurred during deployment. Exposure and symptom information was obtained by structured telephone interview in a population-based sample of 1,560 veterans who served in the Gulf War. Modeled exposures were exhaustively developed using a geographic information system to integrate spatial and temporal records of smoke concentrations with troop movements ascertained from global positioning systems records. For the oil-fire period, there were 600,000 modeled data points with solar absorbance used to represent smoke concentrations to a 15-km resolution. Outcomes included respiratory symptoms (asthma, bronchitis) and control outcomes (major depression, injury). Approximately 94% of the study cohort were still in the gulf theater during the time of the oil-well fires, and 21% remained there more than 100 days during the fires. There was modest correlation between self-reported and modeled exposures (r = 0.48, p < 0.05). Odds ratios for asthma, bronchitis, and major depression increased with increasing self-reported exposure. In contrast, there was no association between the modeled exposure and any of the outcomes. These findings do not support speculation that exposures to oil-fire smoke caused respiratory symptoms among veterans.