Pulmonary Health Program

Program Director: Dr. David Jackson


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 Army public health showed 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, as well as 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 have raised concerns about possible risks to service members' well-being.

USACEHR manages 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 burn pit smokes are under way. Thorough clinical studies of active duty Service members who began experiencing shortness of breath after deployment are nearly complete, and clinical evaluations of Service members before and after deployment are being analyzed. The Program also has projects that are seeking objective biomarkers that will 1) help establish the extent of exposure to burn pit smoke that Service member had and 2) assist in evaluating new onset asthma after deployment. This arm of the Pulmonary Health Research Program supports the VA/DoD Joint Airborne Hazards Action Plan.

Recently, the Pulmonary Health Research Program has also begun funding research directed toward improved military occupational health monitoring using sensitive cognitive tests, real time exposure monitoring, and tests for lung injury in divers.

USACEHR has built strong connections to military and non-military federal agencies and academic organizations concerned with airborne hazards and inhalational exposures by participating in national symposia and convening multidisciplinary, multi-agency working groups to shape the Pulmonary Health Program. Advice has 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.

The Pulmonary Health Research Program has taken 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. It is expected that the Program's emphasis on improving occupational exposure assessment will continue to expand.