New Research Suggests Dust Could Be Critical Factor in Respiratory Disease Among Deployed Troops

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By Annette M. Boyle

STONY BROOK, NY – Research presented this month at the Second Annual Scientific Symposium on Lung Health after Deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan indicates that some of the lung disease seen in returning warriors may be caused by a surprising and ubiquitous agent – dust.

Maj. Michael Best, logistics officer, Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, heads for shelter on Camp Taji, Iraq, in 2007, as a sandstorm blows toward him. — U.S. Army courtesy photo by HHC, CAB, 4th Inf. Div.

A team led by Richard Reeder, PhD, director, Center for Environmental Molecular Science and chair of the Department of Geosciences, Stony Brook University, compared the dust from Camp Victory, Iraq, prior to 2012, to inert dust from San Joaquin, CA, provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and dust from Montana known to be heavily laden with titanium.

They found that, with particles smaller than five microns, the Iraq dust was easily respirable. If inhaled, the sharp and irregular shape could penetrate the lung, much as asbestos does. In addition, the Camp Victory dust contained trace amounts of titanium and minerals such as calcium.

Another team then compared the response of mouse lungs to the three types of dust, delivered in a solution through a tracheostomy. While all the dust produced some airway inflammation, the mice which received the Iraq dust had the greatest septate thickening and the most inflammation as well as crystals in the lung, according to lead researcher Anthony Szema, MD, assistant professor of Medicine and Surgery, Stony Brook University Medical Center.

“The crystals were polarizable,” said Szema “and similar in appearance to those found by Robert Miller at Vanderbilt University in lungs of soldiers” returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Miller’s research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, identified through biopsy the largest series of constrictive bronchiolitis seen in previously healthy individuals in 80 soldiers from Fort Campbell, KY, whose radiologic and other examinations showed no cause for shortness of breath and other respiratory symptoms.1

“We believe those crystals are titanium. We have found hot spots of titanium in three of the four human lungs we have examined, as well,” Szema said.

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