In the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, the US Interagency Air Quality Assessment Team, the USAEHA, and various national teams under a World Meteorological Organization program collected data to assess the air quality in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, primarily in the areas immediately downwind of the burning oil wells. Collectively, the data from these programs indicated that, with the exception of PM, pollutant levels were surprisingly low. For example, the 1991 median volatile organic compound (VOC) levels at sampling sites located in cities in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were compared against levels observed in several cities in the United States for the same time period. Overall, with the exception of PM concentrations, the median VOC concentrations for benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and the xylenes from the Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian sites were near or below the respective concentration values for the US cities.[13]

The USAEHA conducted the largest and most comprehensive air-monitoring program. At the request of the US Army Surgeon General, the USAEHA developed an air-sampling program to determine the magnitude and extent of pollutants released into the atmosphere from the burning oil wells. Sampling, conducted at eight locations in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, began in early May 1991 and continued through October 1991. These sites included King Khalid Military City, Al Eskan Village, Al Jubayl, and Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the US Embassy, Camp Thunderock, the Armed Forces Hospital, and the Ahmadi Hospital in Kuwait. These sites were selected based on their proximity to most US military personnel for extended time periods during and after the war, including areas where the smoke was considered the heaviest. The sampling focused on the expected by-products of crude oil combustion. In addition, the USAEHA measured PM10 levels using high-volume samplers.

To further assess ambient air quality in the region, the USAEHA continued to measure PM10 levels in November and December 1991 at Camp Thunderock and the Armed Forces Hospital after the oil well fires were extinguished. These additional samples provided baseline information on ambient air quality under more typical conditions; they helped differentiate the added inhalation risk posed by the oil well fires, as distinct from the background sources in the region. For PM, the sampling results were particularly interesting. In general, the USAEHA frequently observed high levels of airborne sand and soot at several monitoring sites. Table 1 presents the average PM10 levels and the maximum observed concentrations at the eight sampling locations. These concentrations are 24-hour averages and represent the air quality from May to October 1991, the period in which the oil wells were burning. As such, they represent conditions that reflect PM contributions from various background sources as well as the oil fires.

Table 1. PM10 Concentrations by Site; May-October 1991[14]

Air Monitoring Location

Avg. 24-hour Concentration

Max. 24-hour Concentration

US Embassy, Kuwait



King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia



Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia



Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia



Military Hospital, Kuwait



Al Eskan Village, Saudi Arabia



Camp Thunderock, Kuwait



Ahmadi Hospital, Kuwait



The R. J. Lee Corporation (contractor to USAEHA) analyzed the PM10 samples to determine the chemical and physical properties of the PM. The USAEHA used this information as part of its overall health risk assessment on exposures to contaminants from the burning oil wells.

Analysis of the chemical composition of the samples indicated that roughly 75 percent of the airborne PM measured in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in 1991 consisted of clays (primarily calcium and silica) from the sand indigenous to this part of the world. Approximately 23 percent was carbon (soot) that originated from oil fires and various industrial sources, and about 2 percent originated from salt and miscellaneous sources.[15] Figure 1 shows the total PM composition in the Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian air samples taken in 1991. Silica, calcium, salt, and miscellaneous compounds constitute the contribution from sand. The oil well fires contribution is reflected by the carbon compounds measurement.

Although high levels of PM were observed, these concentrations fell within a range consistent with background levels observed in Kuwait where the average level of PM10 is nearly 600 mg/, the highest in the world.[16]

fig1s.gif (1822 bytes)

Figure 1. Particulate matter composition of air samples in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait[17]

| First Page | Prev Page | Next Page |