STUDY FINDS TOXIC METALS IN DUST IN AFGHANISTAN

By Andrew Tilghman – Staff writer

Posted : Tuesday Jul 13, 2010

Here’s another thing to worry about when you deploy: toxic dust.

A new Navy study suggests that dust from Afghanistan contains metals that may cause respiratory problems and brain damage.

“Afghanistan sand produces neurotoxicity … with potential adverse health effects to our soldiers,” according to a briefing of the study presented at a medical conference in June in Portland, Ore.

The Navy conducted the study in response to anecdotal concerns that the dust and dust storms common in the Middle East may be harmful. The dust samples were taken from Forward Operating Base Salerno near Khost, which was selected because of its relative isolation with no nearby industry that could skew results.

A close analysis of the Afghan dust found traces of manganese, a toxic chemical known to cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Other metals found in the sand include silicon, iron, magnesium, aluminum and chromium.

Those metals, if trace elements are inhaled, can travel through the bloodstream to the brain and other organs, according to the study.

The study did not include testing on any people or animals, and Navy officials emphasized that the findings are only preliminary at this point.

“There is no definitive basis to say the sand is neurotoxic to people or animals,” said Cmdr. Cappy Surette, a spokesman for Navy medicine. “It is important to note though that in a great many cases, preliminary research outcomes do not bear out the earlier findings when the investigation involves replication of exposure in the living intact mammalian animal and human research subject. That said, research will continue until a complete picture is understood.”

Other jobs involving risk of metal inhalation include welding, mining, plating and in some cases roadway construction, Surette said.

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