While deployed to Southwest Asia, many Soldiers and other service members were exposed to very high levels of naturally occurring fine dust particles in the air. Environmental monitoring by the Army has shown that the particle levels in Iraq and Afghanistan often exceed US Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limits, and military exposure guidelines. In addition to the natural dust, many service members were also exposed to burn pit smoke and to industrial, vehicular, and residential air pollution originating from local communities.
Although deployed military personnel are generally fit and in good health, the high levels of exposure to dust and air pollution at some locations has raised concerns about possible risks to service members' health.
Beginning in Fiscal Year 2014, USACEHR will manage a Department of Defense-funded Pulmonary Health Research Program to investigate the possible health effects of exposure to Southwest Asian dust and air pollution on service members. The program builds on research that began under the USACEHR Biomarkers Program. Studies on the toxicity of natural Southwest Asian dusts and some clinical investigations are already under way.
USACEHR has built strong connections to military and non-military federal agencies and academic organizations concerned with airborne hazards by participating in national symposia and convening multidisciplinary, multi-agency working groups to shape the Pulmonary Health Program. Working group participants have been drawn from the US Army Public Health Command, the Navy medical research community, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the NIOSH, National Jewish Health, the University of California at Davis, and elsewhere.
Over the next five years, the Pulmonary Health Research Program will take an integrated approach using clinical, epidemiological, and toxicological studies to determine the prevalence and severity of pulmonary disease associated with deployment to Southwest Asia and identify behavioral, geographic, and other factors that may affect disease causation and progression.