The Army Research Laboratory has deployed equipment to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa to find out if particles floating around in the air in these places are causing Gulf War Syndrome and other illnesses.
The Aerosol Davis Rotating-drum Universal-size-cut Monitoring (DRUM) instrument captures particles to create a library of samples that military doctors and other researchers can access to determine air quality at any given date and hour. The tool can pinpoint concentration of elements such as lead, nickel, iron and sulfur, which often result in health complaints from soldiers.
Every three weeks, drums are retrieved from overseas for analysis and replaced with new instruments. Researchers want to create a kit that would allow real-time analysis to see what is in the air and predict what may be floating around soon.
The focus is on smaller particles that can get deep inside the lungs, officials said. Larger elements “don’t ever get past your nose and have much less of a chance of making you ill,” said Alan Wetmore, who works in the Army Research Lab’s atmospheric sensing branch.
In addition to helping military doctors understand medical cases, the research could provide a clearer picture of the threat of dust to soldiers for those who design uniforms and masks for troops.
Starting this year, the lab began collecting samples at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, where the primary U.S. base is located downwind from stadium-sized burn pits. Everything from tires to animal carcasses are set on fire in these chasms.