Iraq/Afghanistan war lung injury reflects burn pits exposure

Olsen, Timothy, Caruana, Dennis, Cheslack-Postava, Keely, Szema, Austin, Thieme, Juergen, Kiss, Andrew, Singh, Malvika, Smith, Gregory, McClain, Steven, Glotch, Timothy, Esposito, Michael, Promisloff, Robert, Ng, David, He, Xueyan, Egeblad, Mikala, Kew, Richard, Szema, Anthony (August 2022) Iraq/Afghanistan war lung injury reflects burn pits exposure. Scientific Reports, 12 (1). p. 14671. ISSN 2045-2322

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DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-18252-2


This descriptive case series retrospectively reviewed medical records from thirty-one previously healthy, war-fighting veterans who self-reported exposure to airborne hazards while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and the present. They all noted new-onset dyspnea, which began during deployment or as a military contractor. Twenty-one subjects underwent non-invasive pulmonary diagnostic testing, including maximum expiratory pressure (MEP) and impulse oscillometry (IOS). In addition, five soldiers received a lung biopsy; tissue results were compared to a previously published sample from a soldier in our Iraq Afghanistan War Lung Injury database and others in our database with similar exposures, including burn pits. We also reviewed civilian control samples (5) from the Stony Brook University database. Military personnel were referred to our International Center of Excellence in Deployment Health and Medical Geosciences, Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell under the auspices of Northwell IRB: 17-0140-FIMR Feinstein Institution for Medical Research "Clinicopathologic characteristics of Iraq Afghanistan War Lung Injury." We retrospectively examined medical records, including exposure data, radiologic imaging, and non-invasive pulmonary function testing (MGC Diagnostic Platinum Elite Plethysmograph) using the American Thoracic Society (ATS) standard interpretation based on Morgan et al., and for a limited cohort, biopsy data. Lung tissue, when available, was examined for carbonaceous particles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (Raman spectroscopy), metals, titanium connected to iron (Brookhaven National Laboratory, National Synchrotron Light Source II, Beamline 5-ID), oxidized metals, combustion temperature, inflammatory cell accumulation and fibrosis, neutrophil extracellular traps, Sirius red, Prussian Blue, as well as polarizable crystals/particulate matter/dust. Among twenty-one previously healthy, deployable soldiers with non-invasive pulmonary diagnostic tests, post-deployment, all had severely decreased MEP values, averaging 42% predicted. These same patients concurrently demonstrated abnormal airways reactance (X5Hz) and peripheral/distal airways resistance (D5-D20%) via IOS, averaging - 1369% and 23% predicted, respectively. These tests support the concept of airways hyperresponsiveness and distal airways narrowing, respectively. Among the five soldiers biopsied, all had constrictive bronchiolitis. We detected the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)-which are products of incomplete combustion-in the lung tissue of all five warfighters. All also had detectable titanium and iron in the lungs. Metals were all oxidized, supporting the concept of inhaling burned metals. Combustion temperature was consistent with that of burned petrol rather than higher temperatures noted with cigarettes. All were nonsmokers. Neutrophil extracellular traps were reported in two biopsies. Compared to our prior biopsies in our Middle East deployment database, these histopathologic results are similar, since all database biopsies have constrictive bronchiolitis, one has lung fibrosis with titanium bound to iron in fixed mathematical ratios of 1:7 and demonstrated polarizable crystals. These results, particularly constrictive bronchiolitis and polarizable crystals, support the prior data of King et al. (N. Engl. J. Med. 365:222-230, 2011) Soldiers in this cohort deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003, with exposure to airborne hazards, including sandstorms, burn pits, and improvised explosive devices, are at high risk for developing chronic clinical respiratory problems, including: (1) reduction in respiratory muscle strength; (2) airways hyperresponsiveness; and (3) distal airway narrowing, which may be associated with histopathologic evidence of lung damage, reflecting inhalation of burned particles from burn pits along with particulate matter/dust. Non-invasive pulmonary diagnostic tests are a predictor of burn pit-induced lung injury.

Item Type: Paper
Subjects: organs, tissues, organelles, cell types and functions > organs types and functions > lung
organs, tissues, organelles, cell types and functions > organs types and functions
organs, tissues, organelles, cell types and functions
CSHL Authors:
Communities: CSHL labs > Egeblad lab
SWORD Depositor: CSHL Elements
Depositing User: CSHL Elements
Date: 29 August 2022
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2022 22:19
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2024 20:48
PMCID: PMC9424528

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