During the spring and summer of 2003, approximately one thousand U.S. service members, including National Guard, Reserve and active duty soldiers, guarded the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility in the Basrah oil fields in Iraq.
Those service members may have been exposed to toxic hexavalent chromium from exposure to sodium dichromate dust. Hexavalent chromium is a chemical known to cause lung cancer and other medical conditions, including nasal and skin irritations and respiratory problems.
It is only produced through industrial processes for specific purposes. At the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility, the chromium was used as an anti-corrosive for the water pipes, and was found on the ground after bags of the chemical were opened at the site.
In an effort to monitor the health of veterans who may have been exposed to hexavalent chromium at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility, VA established the Qarmat Ali Medical Surveillance Program. Under the program, VA provides medical screenings free of any charge or copay.
Veterans who participate in the program may receive an exam including complete physical exam with emphasis on the ears, nose and throat, lungs, and skin, and pulmonary function tests.
VA does not expect to find many serious Qarmat Ali-related illnesses. If any abnormalities are found, participants will be referred to the proper medical specialist.
If you served at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility, contact your local Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OND) Program Manager to make an appointment to enroll in the VA Qarmat Ali Medical Surveillance Program or to schedule your follow-up exam.
To find your local OEF/OIF/OND program office visit www.oefoif.va.gov/map.asp. Eligible Veterans may also be contacted directly by VA regarding their participation.
To learn more visit www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/qarmat-ali. (Source: Post 9/11 Vet Newsletter | Fall 2016)
Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veteran updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.