Veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War exposed to pollution from oil well fires, exhausts and other sources face an increased risk of lung cancer, a government advisory group reported Monday.
A committee of the Institute of Medicine concluded there isn't enough evidence to determine whether most of veterans' health problems are associated with such exposures.
But it said occupational and environmental exposure to combustion products has been shown to increase danger of lung cancer.
"Studies of people exposed to air pollution, vehicle exhaust and burning of coal and other heating and cooking fuels consistently show that such exposures are linked to increased risk for developing lung cancer," committee chair Lynn Goldman said in a statement.
"This provides sufficient evidence that exposure to combustion products during the Gulf War could be associated with lung cancer for some veterans," said Goldman, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
However, Goldman added, "it should be emphasized that smoking is the major culprit for lung cancer, accounting for 80 percent of all cases, according to the American Cancer Society."
The committee said evidence is too weak to connect other cancers to exposure to combustion products. But it said there are indications that such exposure may be linked to asthma, cancers of the nose, mouth and throat, bladder and to low birth weight and premature births among women exposed while pregnant.
A major problem, the report said, is that there is little information about the actual exposure of individual service members to these pollutants during the war.
Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait ignited more than 600 oil well fires and the smoke and other combustion products sometimes remained low to the ground mixing with other products from vehicle exhaust, heaters and cooking.
The Institute of Medicine is a branch of the National Academy of Science, an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.
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