Use of experimental drugs and vaccines on soldiers during the Persian Gulf War may have caused the mysterious diseases many of them suffer - and may have sickened workers at Utah's Dugway Proving Ground over the years.
That's according to a six-month study by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and witnesses who testified about it on Friday.They also said some supposedly safe substances still used in open-air tests at Dugway to simulate more toxic chemical and biological weapons may also be dangerous, which the Army has denied.
"We'd like to think that these kinds of abuses are a thing of the past, but the legacy continues," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., the committee chairman. "This situation is unacceptable."
The committee investigation said Persian Gulf soldiers were given two experimental drugs - pyridostigmine bromide and a botulism vaccine - and several other vaccines (which had been given to Dugway workers for years) without being told what they were.
It said before the war, Army researchers carefully screened anyone given pyridostigmine to ensure they were not sensitive to it. But when the war began, large doses were given to "400,000 U.S. solders, none of whom had been screened."
The committee investigation said that drug had never been proven "safe or effective for repeated use by healthy persons under any circumstances," but the military thought it would help protect soldiers against some chemical arms.
Likewise, the committee investigation said the experimental botulism vaccine was given too late to have been any good, either - and research has shown many people are hypersensitive to it and have adverse reactions.
Neil R. Tetzlaff of Fredericksburg, Va., a gulf war veteran, testified he became sick immediately after taking it. Ever since, he has had memory loss, body pain, fatigue, weakness, headaches, rashes and nausea - as have many other veterans reporting similar mysterious illnesses.
The committee investigation said the drug appeared to make some soldiers more sensitive to pesticides and neurological problems.
Another gulf war veteran with similar problems, Barry M. Walker of East Palestine, Ohio, said soldiers were given many other vaccines without being told what they were, only that they would help protect them against chemical and biological attack.
He and the committee found that such medication was not recorded on soldiers' records, or that many of their records have been lost.
Earl P. Davenport of Tooele, a former Dugway worker, testified that for years Dugway workers were also given similar shots without being told what they were - and they either were not recorded on medical records, or the records have been lost.
"When I questioned taking these shots, I was told I was receiving hazard pay and it was part of my job. At this time, hazard pay was 6 cents an hour," Davenport said.
He said a number of former co-workers meeting about such problems "discovered that at least 29 of the people, including myself, who had worked with chemical and bio testing at Dugway and who had received the shots, had also had heart attacks, and 12 of them had died. Another 13 had serious problems such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and Q fever."
Davenport also told how he has been sick with respiratory and heart problems ever since he was accidentally sprayed with what was supposedly a safe chemical that simulated some characteristics of nerve gas in open-air tests.
The Army later found the chemical - dimethyl methyl-phos-phon-ate - may cause cancer and discontinued its use in open-air trials. However, Davenport said the military has blamed his health problems on cigarettes that he used to smoke.
Rutgers political science professor Leonard Cole - who has written a book on germ warfare testing - said Dugway used many substances through the years in open tests that it said once were safe but later decided were not, including: aspergillus fumigatus, zinc cadmium and seratia marcescens.
He added, "Simulants now used at Dugway continue to pose risks."