Navy Researcher Capt. Mark Lyles has been telling everyone he knows for seven years that the dust in Iraq is so potentially toxic that it could be why U.S soldiers have been coming home with unexplained illnesses since the first Gulf War. His testing of the dust in Kuwait and Iraq in 2004 found the presence of dangerous fine particulate matter, including 37 different metals and 147 examples of bacteria — some of which could cause life-threatening diseases like cystic fibrosis, and meningitis. He believes that the dust could have short and long term health affects on soldiers. Incidentally, recent studies have shown that individuals who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are seven times more likely to come home with a “lung injury.” Meanwhile, the military says there has been a 47 percent increase in respiratory illness among active duty military, and a 241 percent increase in pulmonary problems.

But it’s been seven years of knocking on doors, talking to walls and missed opportunities. “A (15-cent) dust nuisance mask would have reduced the exposure 99 percent. Especially people in convoys or laying on the ground… that’s what we’re talking about. Are they still not taking the proper steps in acting on this?” Lyles charged in a recent exchange I had with him on the dust and his recent breakthrough (finally) into the mainstream consciousness. He made that recommendation about the masks to the Navy Surgeon General  in 2004. He has yet to hear back.

Lyles* takes into account the mounting evidence that burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq have contributed to the increase in illnesses, but he thinks the problem is much more complex (he says much of the dangerous metals, for example, are occurring in the dust organically, and that constant war has in part, kicked it up) and widespread than that.  But if the answer is in the dust, then it could have affected everybody. As I write in the piece, with over 2.2 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and more than 650,000 of them already seeing the VA for health care, this could be a potentially huge health cost for the federal government, and a major burden going forward — and to what end?

Not surprisingly, the DoD has been very resistant in acknowledging there’s even a problem…

For more on the DoD’s denial of the deadly dust data, check out my interview with Lyles today on Antiwar.com.

*Lyles reminds that his findings and insights are his own, and do not represent the U.S Navy, the Naval War College or the Department of Defense.

** UPDATE 1:50 P

A reader  forwarded me this response viewed on a Navy information site blog from Capt. Patrick Laraby, Director of Occupational & Environmental Medicine Policy & Practice for the U.S Navy Bureau of Medicine & Surgery in Washington:


The military medical community takes our role in safeguarding the health and welfare of our deployed men and women very seriously and we actively work to
identify and overcome any threat to their health and our military’s
readiness. As such, we have aggressively examined the concerns that Capt
Mark Lyles, and others have voiced regarding the blowing sand and dust and to
date, his assumptions have not been supported by scientific research. …
We have been aware of the Lyles’ theories since 2004 about the presence of
bacteria, fungus, and metals in the soil and dust samples in the Middle East
and these findings were not totally unexpected as these substances are
naturally occurring in sand and soil around the world. In a letter to the
editor of USA Today last Friday, Army Colonel Lisa Zacher, a respected
Pulmonary Medicine Physician and Consultant said:
“The United States Army Public Health Command has been conducting
surveillance of increased airborne particulate matter since 2005 and
concluded it had a similar composition to other desert regions. Additional
published peer-reviewed research by Army infectious disease experts have
failed to demonstrate a connection between bacteria in the soil and
infections in service members.”
During 2005 and 2006, the Army sampled the dust at 15 different locations in
theater over the course of a year. In general, dust samples from these
Middle East sites were found to be similar to dust and rocks from other
desert regions of the world. Most dusts contain mixtures of silicate
minerals, carbonates, oxides, sulfates, and salts in various proportions, as
reflected by their chemistry and mineralogy. Differences among regions lie
in the relative proportions of these minerals in soils. This extensive data
set was provided to the National Research Council (NRC) for them to assess
whether the data indicated a health risk to our personnel. After an
exhaustive review, the NRC was unable to identify any health risks and
indicated that they would need more data to determine whether there were any