In a survey of about 20,000 Iraqi War veterans, researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs identified a strong correlation between exposure to potentially dangerous respiratory substances and subsequent respiratory illnesses.
Previous studies reported that deployed veterans of that era had increased rates of respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, sinusitis, or asthma.
This new research more closely examined the degree of exposure to potentially hazardous respiratory substances such as:
- Industrial pollution
- Oil fires
- Petrochemical fumes
- Burning trash
- Dust and sand
It also included non-deployed veterans in its analysis. About 13,000 of the veterans surveyed had been deployed, while 7,000 had not been.
Seventy percent of the non-deployed veterans reported exposure to at least one of these types of air pollutants, while 95% of those deployed had been exposed.
The researchers defined high exposure as breathing in three of these types of hazards. Seventy percent of the deployed veterans reported high levels of exposure, while 24% of the non-deployed veterans reported this level of exposure.
Veterans who reported any respiratory exposure were more likely to have a respiratory illness. More than 20% of deployed and non-deployed veterans reported at least one such illness.
Those who reported higher levels of exposure had an increased likelihood of having a respiratory disorder. These associations persisted even after the researchers corrected for smoking.
The researchers wrote that respiratory exposures should be considered a general risk of military service and not just solely of deployment.
They also stressed the need to conduct further research to determine if veterans display a casual relationship between respiratory diseases and exposure to potentially hazardous respiratory substances.