Responses to controlled diesel vapor exposure among chemically sensitive Gulf War veterans

Nancy Fiedler, Nicholas Giardino, Benjamin Natelson, John E. Ottenweller, Clifford Weisel, Paul Lioy, Paul Lehrer, Pamela Ohman-Strickland, Kathie Kelly-McNeil, Howard Kipen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Objective: A significant proportion of Gulf War veterans (GWVs) report chemical sensitivity, fatigue, and unexplained symptoms resulting in ongoing disability. GWVs frequently recall an association between diesel and petrochemical fume exposure and symptoms during service. The purpose of the present study among GWVs was to evaluate the immediate health effects of acute exposure to chemicals (diesel vapors with acetaldehyde) with and without stress. Methods: In a single, controlled exposure to 5 parts per million (ppm) diesel vapors, symptoms, odor ratings, neurobehavioral performance, and psychophysiologic responses of 12 ill GWVs (GWV-I) were compared with 19 age- and gender-matched healthy GWVs (GWV-H). Results: Relative to baseline and to GWV-H, GWV-I reported significantly increased symptoms such as disorientation and dizziness and displayed significantly reduced end-tidal CO2 just after the onset of exposure. As exposure increased over time, GWV-I relative to GWV-H reported significantly increased symptoms of respiratory discomfort and general malaise. GWV-I were also physiologically hyporeactive in response to behavioral tasks administered during but not before exposure. Conclusions: Current symptoms among GWV-I may be exacerbated by ongoing environmental chemical exposures reminiscent of the Gulf War. Both psychologic and physiologic mechanisms contribute to current symptomatic responses of GWV-I.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)588-598
Number of pages11
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Chemical sensitivity
  • Diesel vapors
  • GWVs
  • Hyperventilation
  • Psychophysiology


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