BOX 13 Follow-up of Veterans Experimentally Exposed to Chemical Agents
Interest in the effects of exposure to anticholinesterase agents—for example, the nerve gas sarin—grew in response to reports of the possible exposure of Persian Gulf War veterans to such agents. Thus, the Medical Follow-up Agency was asked to conduct an additional long-term follow-up study of a group of soldiers who had been experimentally exposed to chemical agents in the past. The MFUA had already conducted an initial follow-up of some 6,720 Army soldiers who were enrolled in a program of experimental exposure to chemical warfare and other agents at the Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, between 1955 and 1975. A three-volume report was issued in 1980; the last volume—of which MFUA staff had lead authorship—dealt with the current health status of test subjects, including 1,581 men exposed to anticholinesterase compounds such as GA (tabun), GB (sarin), GD (soman), GF, and VX. Subjects exposed to such compounds did not differ substantially from those exposed to other compounds or from unexposed comparison individuals in their replies to questions about current health. However, given the limitations of the study design, only large health effects were likely to be uncovered. As this volume goes to print, the MFUA is waiting word on funding of the proposed study to continue follow-up of these same subjects. The new study, however, will be of a more focused nature than the earlier investigation; in particular, research is expected to focus on the neurological and neuropsychological sequelae of low-level exposures to organophosphate pesticides, which are somewhat similar in their chemical action to the nerve agents tested at Edgewood Arsenal.
National Research Council. Possible Long-Term Health Effects of Short-Term Exposure to Chemical Agents, Volume 3: Final Report: Current Health Status of Test Subjects. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1985.
budget that showed steady growth was the Department of Defense (DOD). With MFUA funding constricted in all directions, Jablon looked to this department for new studies. The MFUA and the DOD were an ideal fit. The Defense Department sought experts to study the exposure of various veteran cohorts to atomic radiation. Jablon's experience with the ABCC and some related, smaller-scale studies in the 1970s, gave him and his staff experience needed to carry out such work. Beginning in 1978, the Medical Follow-up Agency and the Defense Department's Defense Nuclear Agency entered into a series of contracts that would last into the 1990s. These radiation contracts were almost the agency's predominant means of support for much of the early 1980s. They were not without political conflicts. Jablon's first study, on the incidence of cancer among veterans who entered Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 immediately after atomic bombs leveled these two Japanese cities, found no unusual incidence of multiple myeloma among