Overseas Civilian Contractors

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Toxic Sand: Another Enemy in Afghanistan?

American forces in Afghanistan, who already face roadside bombs and insurgent attacks, may be dealing with an environmental enemy as well — toxic sand that can damage their brains, according to a recent Navy study.

In a presentation at a neurotoxicology conference in Portland, Ore., earlier this month, Palur G. Gunasekar, a senior scientist with the Navy Environmental Health Effects Laboratory, said that dust kicked up in sandstorms contains manganese and other metals. “The sand is a risk factor for inducing neurotoxicity,” Gunasekar said. Compounds that are neurotoxic are those that damage the nervous system or the brain.

The Navy said the findings are preliminary and that so far no definitive link has been found between the inhalation of sand and brain damage. Still, the study followed reports that returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq are experiencing impairments such as memory loss and difficulty concentrating, which may not always be attributable to traumatic brain injuries.

Gunasekar told the group, most of them academic and government scientists, that he and his colleagues focused on “subtle environmental issues that our soldiers face.” Troops caught in sandstorms may inhale toxic particles, which can be carried to the brain, lungs and other organs. “Once they return…they complain about respiratory problems and also they complain about some of the cognitive functions,” he said.

June 27, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Defense Base Act, Iraq, Pentagon, Private Military Contractors, Toxic | , , , , , , | Leave a comment