Report examines possible chemical agent
on Scud missile sample

WASHINGTON, July 27, 2000 (GulfLINK) –The Department of Defense released today the final report, "Possible Chemical Agent On Scud Missile Sample." The case narrative, originally published in August 1997, assesses "unlikely" the presence of any chemical warfare agent on a piece of a Scud missile a veteran gave members of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses five years ago.

Since this narrative was first published, the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses has received no new information and no additional leads that would have changed the original assessments of the report. Additionally, the Presidential Special Oversight Board reviewed the narrative and recommended that the special assistant’s office republish it as a final report.

"After all the tests performed on the metal fragment, we consider it ‘unlikely’ that it contained any chemical warfare agent," said Bernard Hayes, an investigator from the special assistant’s office who worked on the report.

The newer narrative reflects the current methodology and footnoting standards of the special assistant’s office. Some new source documents have been referenced to enhance the accuracy of the narrative; and two new sections, "Analysis" and "Lessons Learned," were added.

On September 18, 1995, during a meeting in Charlotte, N. C., a veteran provided a small piece of metal to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses. The veteran said the soldier who found it told him it was a piece from a Scud missile intercepted by a Patriot missile near King Fahd Military Airport on Jan. 19, 1991. He further reported that a soldier from King Fahd Military Airport picked up the metal piece as a souvenir, stored the fragment in a plastic bag and then forgot about it for more than three years. In August 1994, it was rediscovered and given to the veteran who gave a sample of it to the PAC.

The veteran who provided the sample described the original piece of the Scud as being about six inches long, five inches wide, about 3/8 inches thick, and burned on both sides. In a conversation with an investigator from the Army’s Foreign Materiel Program Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the veteran described a reaction to the missile piece :

"The unprotected sample, when examined in an enclosed room with no ventilation, will cause a person’s eyes to water after about 10 minutes and sometimes will cause a tingly sensation. Additionally, touching the sample will cause a burning sensation within about 10 minutes on the contacted skin," the veteran said. "Within 20 minutes, the area is red. Within 30 minutes there is a slight ring around the red part. Within an hour, there is a watery blister, and within three to four hours there is a large blister. The blister will rupture on its own in six to seven hours."

The Persian Gulf Illnesses Investigation Team, the predecessor organization to the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, reviewed reports of Scud missile attacks in the vicinity of King Fahd Military Airport during the period Jan. 12–26, 1991. Veterans who called the incident reporting line reported Scud alerts in the vicinity of King Fahd Military Airport during that period of time. On the date the soldier reported the Scud intercept, Jan. 19, 1991, the only Scud activity was four missiles fired from Iraq toward Tel Aviv, Israel. However, available data suggests Iraq launched missiles toward Dhahran – located near King Fahd Military Airport – on Jan. 20–21, 1991. Patriot missiles intercepted these Scuds, so it was determined that this sample would most likely have come from the Scud attack on the evening of Jan. 20, 1991, or early morning of Jan. 21, 1991.

The PAC gave the sample to the Department of Defense Foreign Materiel Program, which arranged for the U.S. Army Edgewood Research and Development Engineering Center in Maryland to test for the presence of any known chemical warfare agents. The ERDEC did a thorough analysis of the metal piece using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance, high-performance liquid chromatography/ion chromatography, and chemical ionization. Investigators found no compounds in either of the leachates – material removed from the metal piece submitted for analysis. To further test its findings, the ERDEC also compared the spectra taken from the fragment with spectra taken from a test sample which had been spiked with mustard agent. All test results on the original metal piece were negative.

The scientists who analyzed the sample wore protective gloves and worked in a ventilated laboratory, a routine safety procedure for conducting such analyses. They did not attempt to duplicate the reported scenario that created the symptoms, and the scientists were not exposed to the unprotected sample and were therefore unable to verify the reported symptoms.

The PGIIT also arranged for the Missile and Space Intelligence Center in Alabama to perform a metallurgical analysis of the sample to determine its source. The piece was found to be consistent with the metallurgical properties of Scud missiles. The veteran who provided the sample to the Presidential Advisory Committee was informed of all test results.

"The key lesson learned from this incident is that soldiers should not pick up battlefield souvenirs or artifacts," said Hayes. "Items on the battlefield might contain contaminants or present other safety hazards which are not immediately obvious."

Although this is a final report, veterans who believe that they may have additional or new information should call the veteran’s direct hotline at (800) 497-6261. Additionally, any veteran desiring a free, in-depth medical examination should call the DoD's Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program at (800) 796-9699 or the VA's Persian Gulf Registry at (800) 749-8387 to enroll.