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Resolving whether inhalation of depleted uranium contributed to Gulf War Illness using high-sensitivity mass spectrometry

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  • Randall R. Parrish
  • Robert W. Haley
Of the hypothesized causes of Gulf War Illness (GWI), a chronic multi-symptom illness afflicting approximately 25% of military personnel deployed to the 1991 Gulf War, exposure to depleted uranium (DU) munitions has attracted international concern. Past research has not tested the potential association of GWI with inhaled DU nor used isotope mass spectrometry of sufficient sensitivity to rigorously assess prior DU exposure. We applied a standard biokinetic model to predict the urinary concentration and uranium isotopic ratios for a range of inhalation exposures. We then applied sensitive mass spectrometry capable of detecting the predicted urinary DU to 154 individuals of a population-representative sample of U.S. veterans in whom GWI had been determined by standard case definitions and DU inhalation exposures obtained by medical history. We found no difference in the 238U/235U ratio in veterans meeting the standard case definitions of GWI versus control veterans, no differences by levels of DU inhalation exposure, and no 236U associated with DU was detected. These findings show that even the highest likely levels of DU inhalation played no role in the development of GWI, leaving exposure to aerosolized organophosphate compounds (pesticides and sarin nerve agent) as the most likely cause(s) of GWI.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3218
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2021


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