Troops Exposed to Nerve Agents– Long-term Effects
The immediate effects of these agents (collectively called Lethal Nerve Agents) are easily summed up in the anagram SLUDGE: salivation, lacrimation, urination, defecation, gastro-intestinal distress (explosive diarrhea) and emesis (vomiting).
Luckily, the Department of Defense has found, through two separate studies that the soldiers who volunteered at the Edgewood Arsenal for these experiments show no long term effect from exposure to these agents. The report does clarify that post- military service exposure to like agents (other organophosphate anticholinesterase) can result in some significant problems.
Organophosphorus anticholinesterase agents are used in insecticides including parathion, malathion, and diazinon. It seems reasonably certain that any man between the ages of 72 (if he was 18 in 1955) and 52 (if he was 18 in 1975) has had some, if not a lot of, exposure to one or more of these pesticides during his lifetime.
Parathion is used as a pesticide. Sprayed on cotton, rice, and fruit trees, it is banned from use on most food items. Accidental poisoning can occur via inhalation of the vapor or skin contact, or intentionally by ingestion. Its nickname in Germany (where it was developed during WWII) is "Schwiegermuttergift" (mother-in-law poison). The symptoms are the same as for Nerve Gas: S L U D G E, plus respiration ceases and brain damage can occur due to lack of oxygen. The US Environmental Protection Agency states it is a possible carcinogen. Other studies show that although it does not cause birth-defects, it can be fatal to a fetus. It is a “persistent organophosphate”, meaning it persists in the environment and its effects (actions on the body) are cumulative. Once someone is exposed to this organophosphorus anticholinesterase agent, every subsequent exposure causes greater sensitivity to the chemical. It is banned in 23 countries, and the World Health Organization has proposed a global ban on its use.
Malathion is used by most municipalities in aerial mosquito sprayings. It is also used to kill eggs and adult head lice. It is considered to have a relatively low human-toxicity. However, if malathion is ingested, it becomes malaoxon, which is considerably more deadly to humans; sixty-one times more toxic. The immediate symptoms are S L U D G E. Malaoxon is a “persistent organophosphate”, meaning it persists in the environment and its effects (actions on the body) are cumulative. Once someone is exposed to this organophosphorus anticholinesterase agent, every subsequent exposure causes greater sensitivity to the chemical.
Diazinon was used in the 1970’s and 1980’s to kill cockroaches, silverfish, and fleas as well as for gardening and indoor pest control. In 1988, the EPA banned its use on golf courses and sod farms. In 2004, it was banned from all but agricultural uses. Symptoms of over-exposure to diazinon are S L U D G E and slurred speech. Diazinon is a “persistent organophosphate”, meaning it persists in the environment and its effects (actions on the body) are cumulative. Once someone is exposed to this organophosphorus anticholinesterase agent, every subsequent exposure causes greater sensitivity to the chemical.
The Food Quality and Protection Act of 1996 was concerned enough about the “aggregate exposure and cumulative risk” of these pesticides to children’s health, they changed the way the EPA regulates pesticides.
[Opportunities to Improve Data Quality and Children’s Health through the Food Quality Protection Act]
The link between chronic low level organophosphate exposure and neuropsychiatric and behavioral effects has been documented for decades. Chronic Organophosphate-Induced Neurologic Dysfunction (along with its symptoms described as Organophosphate-Induced Chronic Neuropathy) has been recognized since the 1930’s.
The American Medical Association is unsure about the long-term effects of low-dose exposures of these pesticides on the human population. [Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association. (1997). Educational and Informational Strategies to Reduce Pesticide Risks. Preventive Medicine, Volume 26, Number 2]
There are numerous studies on the effects of pesticide exposure on women, children, and farm-workers, all citing high incidences of long-term health issues such as respiratory problems, memory disorders, dermatologic conditions, cancer, depression, neurological deficits, miscarriages, and birth defects.
The DoD reports on the possible long-term effects of voluntary exposure to nerve gas between 1955 and 1975 found “volunteers who reported exposure to civilian or military chemical agents outside of their participation in the Edgewood program reported many statistically significant adverse neurological and psychological effects, regardless of their experimental exposure.”
I’m relieved that the DoD studies of soldiers exposed to nerve gas between 1955 and 1975 only suffered long-term effects of improved attention and worsened sleep.
I’m extremely concerned about the soldiers who, after leaving the service, were repeatedly exposed to anticholinesterase agents in the form of pesticides sprayed on their foods, sprinkled in their gardens, and broken down to extremely toxic compounds in their water supplies. Their repetitive low-level exposures are persistent in the human body. Eventually, someone will have to say, “Gee, all of your symptoms had a beginning in your Army years and have developed cumulatively until, by golly, you’re right! There are long-term effects to your voluntary exposure to anticholinesterase agents during the Army.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out. How do we help the VA connect to the dots?
Remember the letter to the president of the United States written in 1855 by Chief Seattle of the Dewamish tribe, “What affects the Earth, will also affect the Earth’s children.”
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