Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Jewish Health teamed up to investigate lung disease seen in previously deployed military personnel. Military personnel who were deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq may have been exposed to significant amounts of dust and other respiratory hazards. Retained dust in the lungs can cause persistent respiratory symptoms and diseases like asthma and bronchiolitis. The findings were presented at the Geological Society of America Connects 2022 meeting in Denver.
The study included 250 participants who came to the National Jewish Health clinic. 24 participants who had a surgical lung biopsy as part of their clinical care gave permission for their lung biopsy to be included in the study. These 24 lung biopsies were compared to 11 civilian control samples. These donated lung specimens match the age and smoking history of the participants.
The researchers used techniques to produce high-resolution images of microscopic particles and characterize their elemental composition, and geologist Dr. Heather Lowers extracted particulate matter found in the lungs and evaluated their composition and size. According to Lowers, “We found that generally speaking, the military deployers did have more retained dust in their lungs per cubic centimeter of tissue that we looked at compared to the controls. And the particles generally seemed to be a smaller size as well, compared to the dust that was retained in the control group.” They also found that both deployers who reported low/no sandstorm exposure or medium-high sandstorm exposure had higher amounts of dust in their lungs than the control samples.
Dust is considered a carcinogen, so it is important for all individuals to avoid breathing in dust that can irritate and damage the airways and lungs. Dust can carry mold, bacteria, and fungi and chemicals and negatively impact respiratory health. The study highlights the need for further studies of retained dust in the lungs and mitigation strategies to reduce soldiers’ exposure to dust.