[ RadSafe ] Gulf War birth defects (and MS study)

Steven Dapra sjd at swcp.com
Sun Mar 26 17:28:31 CST 2006

March 26

         About a week ago the subject of a study of Mississippi Gulf War 
veterans was raised here.  This study was published in Military Medicine 
[161(1):1-6; Jan. 1996].  (Authors are Alan Penman, Russel Tarver, and Mary 

         Of this study, James Salsman wrote, “The Mississippi study cited 
is flawed; this one is better, and from the same time period.”  [The 
“better” study is "Prevalence of Birth Defects Among Infants of Gulf War 
Veterans in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, and Iowa, 
1989­1993," by M.R.G. Araneta, et al., in _Birth Defects Research (Part 
A)_, vol. 67, pp. 246­260 (2003.)]  On March 23 I asked Salsman (here, and 
by private e-mail), what was wrong with the MS study and why, but so far he 
has not replied.

         I have read the Mississippi (MS) study and will briefly discuss 
it, and then discuss a 1997 study in the New England Journal of Medicine 
(NEJOM) about birth defects in children of Gulf War veterans.

         The MS study grew out of anecdotal reports in the popular press 
about supposed excesses of birth defects in children of two MS National 
Guard units after their return from the Persian Gulf.  The Jackson, MS, 
Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the MS Dept. of Health, and the CDC 
conducted a “collaborative investigation” of these claims of excess birth 
defects.  Ninety percent of the veterans were located, and 54 of their 55 
children were studied.

         Instead of presenting a list of statistics, I will quote from the 
untitled abstract.  “ . . . observed numbers of birth defects and other 
health problems were compared with expected numbers using rates from birth 
defect surveillance systems and previous surveys.  The total number of all 
types of birth defects was not greater than expected, but whether the 
number of specific birth defects was greater than expected could not be 
determined.  The frequency of premature birth, low birth weight, and other 
health problems appeared similar to that in the general population.”

         According to the Conclusions (p. 4), “Perhaps the most significant 
finding is that a variety of birth defects was observed, and clustering of 
any one type or affected system did not occur.  Furthermore, no known 
genetic or chromosomal abnormality or teratogen is common to the various 

         The study in the NEJOM by David Cowan, Ph. D., et al., 
[336(23):1650-1656; June 5, 1997] gave similar results.  This study 
“evaluated the routinely collected data on live births at 135 military 
hospitals in 1991, 1992, and 1993,” and included 75,000 infants.  Of these, 
33,998 were born to Gulf War vets, and 41,463 were born to non-deployed 
vets.”  These were children of approximately 580,000 Gulf War veterans, 
with a control group of approximately 700,000 non-deployed veterans.

         “The overall risk of any birth defect was 7.45 percent, and the 
risk of severe birth defects was 1.85 percent.  These rates are similar to 
those reported in civilian populations.  In the multivariate analysis, 
there was no significant association for either men or women between 
service in the Gulf War and the risk of any birth defect or of severe birth 
defects in their children.”  (From the Abstract.)

Steven Dapra
sjd at swcp.com

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