The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, led to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and the deployment of approximately 697,000 US military personnel. As part of the deployment, the United States shipped thousands of vehicles and other equipment into the Kuwait theater of operations. Though the majority of the equipment was immediately available for operational use, much of it had the three-color woodland camouflage paint scheme characteristic of the European theater or the continental United States. Consequently, there was an urgent requirement to repaint some of the incoming equipment with tan chemical agent resistant coating (CARC) to provide desert camouflage protection.

CARC is a polyurethane paint that provides superior durability, extends service life for military vehicles and equipment, provides surfaces with superior resistance to chemical warfare agent penetration and greatly simplifies decontamination. Occupational safety and health requirements provide for proper personal protective equipment, including respiratory equipment, to protect painters. Several compounds in CARC formulations may cause short- and long-term health effects. The most notable of these compounds is hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI), which hardens, or plasticizes, the paint. Exposure to high concentrations of aerosolized HDI during spray painting leads to immediate respiratory irritation and watery eyes. Long-term exposure can cause respiratory problems, in particular, asthma. The use of personal protective equipment, such as respirators, coveralls, eye protection, gloves and head coverings, minimizes exposure to HDI. The HDI in polyurethane paint does not present a hazard after the paint dries and cures, unless exposed to heat sufficient for thermal decomposition of the coating.

Solvents used in CARC and paint thinners as well as solvents used to clean equipment can be hazardous via skin contact and breathing. Exposures to solvents can lead to dizziness, rashes, and nausea. However, wearing personal protective equipment lessens the hazards of exposure to solvents.

The purpose of this report is to:

Beginning in September 1990, a small group of Department of Army civilians established the first in-theater painting operation at the port of Ad Dammam, Saudi Arabia. This group, experienced with CARC painting operations, brought with them a significant amount of personal protective equipment, including paint suits, gloves, boot covers, and air-purifying respirators. The 900th Maintenance Company, a National Guard unit from Alabama, assumed operation of this paint site in February 1991.

The Army Materiel Command established two new major CARC spray painting operations in-theater at the Saudi Arabian ports of Ad Dammam and Al Jubayl in December 1990 to process the majority of the Army equipment that arrived in theater. The 325th Maintenance Company, of the Florida Army National Guard, operated these sites. The members of the 325th Maintenance Company were untrained and inexperienced in CARC spray paint operations. They were also ill-equipped and lacked the necessary personal protective equipment.

In addition to the two major CARC painting sites, a number of smaller CARC painting operations were established throughout the theater. These smaller sites operated for shorter periods and usually used brush and roller painting application techniques. By the time the two main painting sites ceased operations in February 1991, a total of over 8,500 vehicles and other equipment had been painted in theater.

In April 1991, before redeployment from the Kuwait theater of operations, the Army’s VII Corps reestablished painting operations in Ad Dammam and Al Jubayl to return tan vehicles to the color green. Personnel from the 325th Maintenance Company initially staffed these operations, but members of VII Corps eventually replaced them. Altogether, these sites processed over 8,000 vehicles and other equipment, painting them with olive-green CARC before shipping them to Europe, the United States, or other destinations.

During the painting operations, some servicemembers in the 325th Maintenance Company reported health problems. Prompted by these complaints, health and safety inspectors visited the major CARC painting sites repeatedly throughout the period from December 1990 through June 1991. With few exceptions, the inspection reports cited weak overall command and control, serious deficiencies in the type and amount of personal protective equipment available, and soldiers who did not understand the hazards of CARC application operations. The inspections also revealed that some soldiers exhibited symptoms consistent with exposure to CARC.

Because of these inspections, the quality and availability of the personal protective equipment improved, additional training was provided, and in some instances, paint operations were closed until the safety deficiencies were corrected. Air-supplied respirators, replacement air hoses, air compressors, gloves, and eye protection, as well as explosion-resistant lighting and electrical outlets, became increasingly available. Nevertheless, some of this equipment did not arrive at the paint sites until months after the initiation of painting activities. Equipment failure and maintenance difficulties, as well as inconsistent adherence to proper health and safety procedures by painters and their chain-of-command, were some of the factors that led to the persistent problem of unsafe working conditions.

Some servicemembers from the 325th Maintenance Company communicated their CARC painting experiences to their US representative, Charles Canady of Florida’s 12th District. A series of correspondence between the congressman and DoD officials discussed the issues of CARC exposures and medical care for Operation Desert Storm National Guard members. The matter was referred to the National Guard Bureau for investigation. The National Guard Bureau inspector general issued an assessment addressing health care issues for veterans of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in June 1994.

A number of veterans of the 325th Maintenance Company have gone to the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs health care systems to receive examinations, treatment, and compensation for illnesses. The Department of Veterans Affairs has linked the illnesses suffered by some of the members of the 325th to exposures to CARC. The process of evaluating and treating veterans of the 325th Maintenance Company continues to the present.

Veterans have voiced concerns about health problems that they attribute to their exposure to CARC. They cite symptoms such as coughing, eye and throat irritation, skin rashes, headaches, nausea, and asthma—symptoms often indicative of adverse health effects resulting from exposures to the HDI in CARC and the solvents often used in the mixing, spray application, and clean-up activities. In a number of cases, involving personnel who were directly involved in the major spray painting operations of CARC, their diagnosed respiratory ailments could be attributed to exposure to CARC.  However, this investigation cannot definitively link CARC paint to undiagnosed illnesses reported by Gulf War veterans that were not engaged in painting operations.

The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses developed three important lessons from its investigation of CARC painting performed in the Gulf theater. These lessons and recommendations are summarized below.

Subsequent sections of this report will examine issues relevant to CARC painting and include:

Tabs A and B contain an acronym and abbreviation listing, a glossary, and a bibliography. See Tabs C through E for a technical discussion of CARC specifications and formulations, examples of solvents used in painting operations, and a discussion of safety and health regulations, respectively.


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