Wednesday, December 23, 2009
By Peter Graves | FHP&R Strategic Communications
On Nov. 13, an assembly of some of the top physicians, epidemiologists, and researchers from across the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and even the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense gathered in a day long workshop to discuss the challenges of environmental exposures within the Iraqi and Afghan theaters of operation, and what was being done to address them. The workshop was sponsored and led by the DoD-VA Deployment Health Working Group, a chartered interagency committee charged with fostering enhanced cooperation regarding the health of service members, both active and separated. This workshop was organized because many veterans have returned from duty stations in the Middle East complaining of possible health effects associated with exposure to chemicals, particulate matter, smoke, and dust. The overall purpose of the workshop was to improve communication and cooperation among DoD and VA scientists, who are responsible for health studies and other responses to environmental exposures in theater. Although working-group members and a number of guest scientists reflected on a wide variety of exposures within Iraq, Afghanistan, and across the globe, the discussion was focused primarily on three high-profile cases within the Iraqi theater of operations. These are the 2003 exposures to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant; the 2003 Mishraq State sulfur fires; and exposures to smoke from the burn pit at Joint Base Balad. For each of these three exposure incidents, presentations were provided on the environmental investigation and on the completed and ongoing medical surveillance studies. Participant presentations were geared towards explaining exposure situations as they are currently understood, and educating the group on various interagency resources and databases which can be utilized for additional health studies to determine the potential for long-term health effects.