ANAHEIM, Calif., March 31 (UPI) -- U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq are being exposed to air laden with heavy metals and particles that can lead to chronic health problems, researchers say.
A University of Alaska study found particles in air samples collected at several sites in Iraq since 2008 that can lead to chronic respiratory infections, asthma and elevated risk of cardiovascular problems, ScienceNews.org reported.
Jennifer Bell of the university's Geophysical Institute presented the findings Wednesday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, Calif.
Typical concentrations of lead particles ranged from 0.6 to 1 microgram per cubic meter of air, Bell said, at least four times greater than exposure standards set by U.S. national air quality standards.
The polluted air probably comes from a combination of natural and man-made sources, Bell said.
Iraq has a number of geologic features containing zinc, lead and silicate minerals that get picked up and moved in enormous dust storms that blanket the region on average more than 20 times a year.
Also, leaded gasoline is still widely used in Iraq, and open-air trash burning, oil fires and debris from explosions makes naturally dusty air even worse, she said.
Deployment to Iraq was linked to a significantly higher risk of asthma compared with stateside duty, other studies reported last year.