Chemical warfare agent presence on SCUD missile sample "unlikely"

WASHINGTON, August 26, 1997 (GulfLINK) – The case assessment for the presence of chemical warfare agent on a fragment of a SCUD missile is "unlikely," Lt. Gen. (Ret) Dale Vesser, deputy special assistant to the deputy secretary of defense for Gulf War illnesses, announced in a press briefing held at the Pentagon August 13, 1997.

Based on metallurgical analysis, the sample provided for study probably was from a SCUD missile, the narrative reports. However, the chemical analysis found no evidence of chemical warfare agent contamination. "No compounds were found in either of the leachates of the metal submitted for analysis," Vesser said.

The missile fragment study began on September 18, 1995, when members of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (PAC) were given a small piece of metal purported to be from a SCUD missile downed by a Patriot missile near King Fahd Military Airport on January 19, 1991. The soldier who found the fragment – about 6 inches long, 5 inches wide, 3/8 inches thick and burnt on both sides – kept the piece in a plastic bag until he rediscovered it in August 1994. At that time, the soldier gave the piece to another veteran who submitted it to the PAC.

The person who provided the sample told investigators that brief exposure to the metal fragment caused watery eyes and tingling skin. This witness further stated that physical contact with the fragment resulted in a burning sensation, followed by blistering of the skin.

To analyze this fragment, the PAC gave the sample to the Department of Defense Foreign Materiel Program, which in turn arranged for testing at the U.S. Army Edgewood Research

and Development Engineering Center.

According to the report, the technicians used gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging techniques, high performance liquid chromatography/ion chromatography, and chemical ionization in their extremely thorough analysis. No attempt was made to determine if the symptoms due to direct exposure could be duplicated. The scientists analyzing the sample wore gloves and worked in a ventilated laboratory, routine precautions for analysis of this nature. The tests focused on determining if chemical agents were present.

Based on the metallurgical analysis which was conducted, scientists determined that the metal fragment probably came from a SCUD missile. Because the chain of custody prior to the sample’s submission was unknown and the reported symptoms due to exposure were not confirmed, the assessment that chemical warfare agents were present in this case is "unlikely" rather than "definitely not."

Vesser noted that this assessment is tentative, based on the facts as they are currently known. "This is another step in the investigation process," he said. "This is not a final report. All narratives are dynamic in nature and will be updated as more information comes to light."

Vesser encouraged veterans who have information regarding this SCUD fragment or similar incidents and experiences to contact the DoD Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-472-6719.

This is the fifth case narrative released since the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses was established in November, 1996. Case narratives previously released include: Khamisiyah, Camp Monterey, the Marine breaching operation. A case narrative on Al Jubayl, was also released on August 13th.

Other case narratives planned for release include: the mustard exposure case (a U.S. Army private was confirmed for blister agent exposure and was treated). the Kuwaiti Girls’ School (a tank outside the school was alleged to have contained mustard agent); and the Czech and French chemical detection cases (these two coalition forces’ troops allegedly detected chemical agents).