Health Consequences of Air Pollution for Military and Emergency Workers
Database Validity and Originality
This paper proposes a study of some of the most significant long-term and short-term effects of air-pollution on two different sets of workers. The first of these is those were affected by localized and intense air pollution that was produced as a direct result of the Gulf War, pollution that was caused for the most part by the burning of Kuwaiti oil fields. The second group of workers is those who were affected by localized and intense air pollution (including airborne asbestos) during the rescue and clean-up efforts after the World Trade Center attracks.
Drawing on both the specific background of the war and the terrorist attack and the longer-term general studies of the effects of air pollution and the ways in which warfare and terrorism are both involved in environmental destruction, the proposal described below includes an analysis on both the environment in general of air pollution during the war and the terrorist attacks and an analysis in particular of the effect of air pollution of those people who were most directly exposed to it, including American soldiers and personnel who have been diagnosed with what is now generally referred to as Gulf War Syndrome and those rescue workers in New York who have suffered short-term exposure health problems and may be at risk for as-yet unknown longer-term health problems.
The health problems that will be examined will be both those that are obviously connected with air-borne pollution (such as emphysema and lung cancer) seem to have indirect links with pollution (such as those involving compromised immune systems such as lupus).
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to gain an understanding of the long-term as well as the short-term effects of air pollution on those workers who are involved in protecting the nation's interests and its citizens, whether in the capacity of members of the armed forces or as police officers or paramedics. Such an understanding is imperative if these workers are to be given adequate care not only in the immediate aftermath of military action or response to terrorism.
Such long-term care is a continuing concern for veterans, who have (in the wake of the war in Vietnam and the Gulf War) often felt that while they were treated for acute injuries they have been left to manage chronic health problems on their own. Such chronic problems are often, of course, harder to treat from a medical standpoint. And they are often harder to assess from a legal standpoint as well because the causes of long-term immune-system problems are often impossible to pinpoint. The statistical anomalies of clusters of symptoms from those serving together in a particular place and time are sometimes the only clear clues that doctors and epidemiologists have as to the cause.
Armed services personnel and emergency workers deserve the best treatment that medical science has to offer them in exchange for the risks that they have taken and in order them to return to work in either the military or civilian sector with as great a capacity for a full life as possible.
Importance of the Study
Although anyone who has ever visited an American city of any size has been exposed to air pollution, most of us have very little idea of what is actually meant by the term, save perhaps for a rather vague idea that is it synonymous with smog. In fact, air pollution is a complex phenomenon and a highly heterogeneous one as well, varying substantially from one situation to another depending both on local climatic conditions (such as temperature, wind, humidity and geographic features) as well as on the particular nature of the pollutants that have been released into the air. Before we begin a discussion of how to evaluate the problems that have resulted from air pollution in the Arabian Gulf states and from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, we need to define in general terms what we mean by air pollution, which shall be done in the section below.
This proposal looks at three specific consequences of air pollution during the Gulf War and in New York since September 11. Specifically it focuses on five three sets of phenomena that are considered by many people to be consequences of air pollution during the war and in New Work. These include in the first case the cluster of symptoms experienced by American soldiers and personnel called Gulf War Syndrome; any civilians in the war zone that are also suffering from similar syndromes; and the any similar effect on other mammals (i.e. wildlife) that were also exposed to the air pollution during the war. In the second case these include acute breathing problems experienced by rescue workers and civilians helping them in New York and any potential long-term consequences to rescue workers in New York, including specifically potential long-term exposure risks to air-borne asbestos.
Scope and Rationale of Problem
Air itself is, of course, a complex mixture of many different gases, although it is made up primarily of two gases: nitrogen (which accounts for about 78% of air by volume) and oxygen (which constitutes 21% by volume). Argon, an inert element, accounts for almost 1% of clean dry air, with the other ingredients being carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen, helium, ozone, and other gases. Water vapor is also a significant component of air, although it is far from constant and so hardly to quantify. The water vapor content of air varies highly from climate to climate and can range from 0.01 to 4% by volume. The level of humidity is often a key factor in the way in which air pollution's effects are felt and so it cannot be ignored when assessing health risks that occur because of expose to (www.epa.gov).
Air pollution is caused, in its most basic terms, by the emission or release into our atmosphere of various materials that do not naturally occur there and that are harmful to various forms of life. These materials can gases, solids that exist in the form of particulates or very fine matter, or liquids. These gases, solids, or liquids become pollution they are released at a rate that exceeds the chemical and physical ability of our atmosphere either to dissipate them over a sufficiently large area to reduce their concentrations in any one area to a point in which they are too minimal to be harmful or else to eliminate them entirely from the atmosphere through the process of incorporating these solid, liquid, or gaseous pollutants into one of the layers of the biosphere (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Air is generally considered to be polluted by scientists and public health officials when it contains over a "significant" duration (what constitutes a significant duration differs for different chemicals in various climatic conditions) certain specified substances in concentrations high enough to cause harm or undesirable effects (www.epa.gov).
These harmful effects range widely, and may include ill effects on human health -- the primary focus of this study, ill effects on the health of other animals or plants, damage to human property, and reduction in visibility.
It should be noted that air may become polluted through natural means as well as by the hand of humans: Some natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires, may have terrible and very widespread effects on air quality. However, a large amount of air pollution results from human activities from manufacturing to warfare; these (unlike volcanic eruptions) can be modified by humans to limit or eliminate harm to our air supply (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Governments at least in the developed world have for decades attempted to control air pollution and so to guarantee that the air supply we all depend upon is a safe one. These attempts to safeguard air have attempted to limit the specific compounds that produce smog (which is both hazardous to human health and unattractive) as well as limiting chemicals that are destroying the ozone and producing the greenhouse effect that is contributing to global warming. (www.nrdc.org).
However, while many of these standards for improved air quality have had a substantial effect on improving air quality as a general measure, such safeguards are often put aside when it comes to warfare, when all environmental protections are usually pushed aside (www.nrdc.org).
Scientists have known for decades that air pollution may affect humans directly, producing a number of adverse health consequences from eye irritation to coughing to death in those with respiratory problems. Researchers are becoming ever more aware of the indirect and delayed effects of air pollution: People (for example) may suffer health consequences from an chemical in the air even though they are miles from the point of release. They may also suffer cumulative damage from a number of the compounds commonly found in air pollution so that they suffer a diminishment in lung capacity, for example, after years of being exposed to high levels of smog (www.epa.gov).