View Full Version : Forces can't shake fecal dust fears

14 January 2004, 17:39
I can't even think of anything funny to say about this article.

Forces can't shake fecal dust fears
Camp Julien, Afghanistan: Senior officer calls it 'an urban myth,' but soldiers still concerned

Francine Dube
National Post

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Canadian Forces health hazard specialists determined troops serving in Afghanistan are not at long-term risk from the air, though it contains elevated levels of dust.
CREDIT: Aijaz Rahi, The Associated Press

CAMP JULIEN, Afghanistan - It's the rumour that can't be killed -- no matter how hard the Canadian military tries. Despite hundreds of soil and air tests, there are soldiers who continue to believe 30% of the dust in Kabul is made up of fecal matter and could affect their long-term health.

"The idea of there being fecal matter in the air is almost an urban myth," says Lieutenant-Colonel Allan Darch, the commanding officer for health services for the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. "It doesn't make sense, if you think about it."

It began as what was probably an opinion, which came, the Canadians say, from a German, and was accepted as fact by one of the Canadian medical personnel sent to evaluate the site before Canadian soldiers took over from the Germans last August as part of the International Security Assistance Force helping to maintain order in the war-ruined country.

The "fact" -- that 30% of the dust in Kabul contains coliform bacteria -- was included in the briefing information supplied to Canadian soldiers. Lt.-Col. Darch says the point of including it in the briefing was to emphasize how important it was for personnel to wash their hands often and thoroughly. It was not meant to suggest feces in the dust posed a breathing hazard.

What medical personnel could not have predicted was how firmly that nugget of information would become lodged in the minds of soldiers, and be repeated, in conversation and to the media. In a diary of his Christmas visit to Kabul, published in the Toronto Star, comedian Rick Mercer repeated the statistic, which had been supplied to him by soldiers.

The concern about the fecal matter in the air grew great enough that when the military ombudsman visited the base late last year, soldiers told him the quality of the air in Kabul -- where people burn garbage and men defecate by the sides of roads -- was their main concern about their tour of duty. They said they were afraid it could make them vulnerable to respiratory illnesses in later years.

Military environmental and industrial health hazard assessment teams twice visited the site, according to an article in the Canadian Forces publication the Maple Leaf, written by Captain Don Saunders, a geo-environmental design officer, and Colonel Dave Salisbury of Canadian Forces Health Services.

In June, a team conducted surveys of Camp Julien and numerous patrol sites. In September, another team returned to collect more samples, and set up long-term air quality monitoring stations.

They took 42 soil samples, 14 water samples, including the commercially available bottled water being consumed by troops, and 337 air samples. A radiological survey of all the sites was conducted, along with public health inspections.

Detailed analysis of the air samples showed no contaminants of concern were present at concentrations high enough to present significant long-term health risks.

Human, animal and insect fecal matter is a common part of outdoor and indoor air, even in Canada, according to the article in the Maple Leaf. Levels of fecal matter tend to be higher in locations where proper disposal of feces is not followed, but fecal matter in dust does not present a risk of infection because, according to Lt.-Col. Darch, most microbes have been killed by the ultraviolet light of the sun. Furthermore, microbes in fecal matter that do produce infection enter the body through the digestive system, not the respiratory system.

The surveys did find elevated levels of dust in the air, but concluded that while that may cause sore throat, sinus congestion, nosebleeds, coughing and sneezing, the symptoms are reversible and would clear up within a few days of returning to a cleaner environment.

When the Canadians contacted German authorities to ask about the origin of the figure, the Germans were surprised to hear of it, Lt.-Col. Darch said. And the Canadian who says he heard it from a German can't remember who that German was.

The current rumour floating around camp is that abnormal chest X-rays, attributed to exposure to dust, had been noted in German ISAF members. The Germans, Lt.-Col. Darch said, have not seen any evidence of such lung damage.

"I'd like to point out that I have a vested interest in this," Lt.-Col. Darch said. "I'm breathing this air too. If there was any problem, I would know, based on all the tests we've done, and I would ensure that everybody else knew as well. I have absolutely no concerns about breathing the air here, personally."

"I think it's a modern phenomenon," said Major Roland Lavoie, the communications officer for the base. "In every mission, there's questions of that nature that are raised."

Although there remain concerns among some, other soldiers are more sanguine.

"We got it in the briefing before we came here. Whether it's true or not, we all knew what we were coming into," said Private Hilary McFarlane, 35, as she packed up her barracks box in preparation for returning home. "We could have said no."

National Post 2004

I can't even think of anything funny to say about this article.

14 January 2004, 22:33
they tested the air in Camp Julien, yes.
They did not test "selected patrol sites" as they did not, in fact, leave Camp. (It's kinda scary out there...'specially after dark.)
But, so what. Anybody ever had to clean out a goddamned barn or stable would know shit stinks, but it ain't gonna kill ya. These city boys are pathetic.

15 January 2004, 10:32
Personally, I'm not worried about the fecal matter issue. I think the pollution is the real problem. When I return from a patrol, my clothes stink and my face is black. How healthy can that be? My eyes get so gritty after a few minutes that it seems as though I've been in a sand storm.....but there's no wind. That's the problem, not flying shit!

15 January 2004, 13:06
Shit happens.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

15 January 2004, 13:28
Makes me want to climb a shit rope.

15 January 2004, 20:25
I think its from all the crap, from Somalia,Croatia and Bosnia . After Somalia, quiet a few fellas were sick. One Cpl in A Sqn RCD, had picked up a perisite. He had to have his guts cut up. Now he pisses and shit in a bag. When we were there , he was 195, in about 6-9 months he was 115 lbs, white as a ghost. They posted him to Ottawa for a yr, then released him. I saw him last yr. His wife has to push him in a wheelchair.
We burned everything before we came back. My wife was on tour ( Iraq/Iran in 88.) She was sick with the shits for a month. Two sigs picked up something also. They had peristes when they came back, one was released.

15 January 2004, 23:29
Read a book that a Royal Marine officer wrote. He did a tour in Sierra Leone and got some type of bacteria or parasite that attached to his spine. He ended up paralyzed due to it.

16 January 2004, 12:01
Garett, are you referring to "Unscathed" by Maj Philip Ashby? I was just in Sierra Leone and it was recommended to me. Is it worth picking up?Unscathed (http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0330491474/qid=1074268254/sr=1-4/ref=sr_1_0_4/702-7925183-0716026)