An unexpected hazard in the Kuwait theater of operations was exposure
to a highly corrosive oxidizer called inhibited red fuming nitric
acid that was used in a rocket propellant for Iraq's Scud missiles
Iraq began launching Scud missiles at Israel and Coalition
forces soon after the Coalition's Gulf War air campaign began on
January 17, 1991. Many Gulf War veterans observed or were aware
of incoming or overflying Scud missiles, Patriot missiles fired
in defense, and Scud missile or debris impacts. American and other
Coalition forces in the Kuwait theater of operations (KTO) knew
Iraq had the capability to use chemical weapons, so Scud missile
attacks represented a significant cause for concern for anyone within
their range. The fear of a chemical attack was reinforced by the
chemical warfare agent alarms that coincided with some Scud attacks.
Though the alarms subsequently proved to be false, their occurrence
fed the general anxiety.
When Scuds broke up on re-entry or were destroyed
by Patriot missile intercepts, they often released unexpended inhibited
red fuming nitric acid (IRFNA)
into the air. Many times this phenomenon was observed as a yellowish-brown
or orange mist. Veterans related incidents of nausea, dizziness,
tingling or burning skin and other symptoms consistent with IRFNA
exposure. Lacking an explanation for these observations at the time
of their occurrence, some veterans assumed that the cloud's presence
or mist and the accompanying symptoms meant they had been subjected
to a chemical weapons attack.
During investigations of many of these reported detections,
we reviewed records, interviewed witnesses, and coordinated results
with subject matter experts. In no case could we determine that
Iraq's Scud missiles contained chemical warfare agents. Our analyses
can be found in the following reports.
The DSP satellite detected Scud missile
Our information paper on Iraq's Scud
ballistic missiles describes the missile's characteristics and
targets, and assesses each Scud attack on the KTO. Iraq's Scud attacks
involved 88 missiles, of which 46 reached Coalition countries in
the KTO. Our paper discusses the possible IRFNA incidents caused
by missile break-up during reentry and the effect of these break-ups
on chemical agent detectors. The paper also briefly reviews topics
related to counter-Scud operations, including Patriot missile defenses.
Iraq filled both chemical and biological warheads for their Scud
missiles before the Gulf War, but probably feared retaliation if
they used them. In-depth research for this paper uncovered no evidence
that Iraq fired Scuds with chemical or biological warheads during
the Gulf War. All Scud debris indicated use of conventional warheads.
Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric
Area of exposure under a Scud breakup
Our information paper, Inhibited
Red Fuming Nitric Acid, is designed to provide a basic understanding
of IRFNA and identify where and how Gulf War veterans may have been
exposed to this oxidizer. IRFNA contains mostly nitric acid, nitrogen
oxides, a small percentage of water, and an inhibitor (an additive
which prevents the acid from eating through its metal storage tank).
This inhibitor is a halogen substance, such as hydrogen fluoride
or iodine. When IRFNA combines with rocket fuel, the resulting combustion
creates the thrust needed to launch a rocket or a missile. During
the Gulf War, Iraq's military used IRFNA as the oxidizer in several
weapon systems, including the Scud, Guideline, Silkworm/Seersucker,
and Kyle missiles. These weapon systems were used throughout the
Kuwait theater of operations. When a Scud missile broke up, impacted,
or was intercepted by Coalition weapons, the missile fuel and IRFNA
combination could have exposed some troops to nitric acid and nitric
Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia
Three significant events occurred in and around the
greater Al Jubayl area during Operation Desert Shield and Desert
Storm. One of these events is known as the "Scud impact"
Scud fuel tank recovered from Al Jubayl
On February 16, 1991, Iraq launched its 66th Scud
missile of the war. The missile impacted in the waters of Al Jubayl
harbor at approximately 2:00 AM. The Scud did not detonate and caused
no equipment damage or injury to Coalition personnel. Eyewitnesses
reported seeing an explosion that looked as if a Patriot missile
had intercepted the Scud. Although there was a Patriot missile battery
near the harbor, it was not operational at the time. The Scud missile's
warhead was recovered and examined by explosive ordnance disposal
personnel, who found no evidence of chemical warfare agents, but
did confirm that the missile's warhead contained high explosives.
Our investigation into the Al Jubayl Scud impact event
is detailed in our Al
Jubayl, Saudi Arabia, case narrative. The narrative also includes
a short history of Al Jubayl, a discussion of the environment military
personnel lived and worked in, the results of our investigations
into two other significant eventsthe "loud noise event"
and "the purple T-shirt event"and a synopsis of
medical studies involving Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion 24, who reported experiencing post-war medical problems.
Rust-colored fumes emanate from a bullet
hole (red circle) in a storage tank found at the Kuwaiti Girls'
Kuwaiti Girls' School
Following the expulsion of Iraq's forces from Kuwait,
the government of Kuwait began reconstructing the infrastructure
damaged during Iraq's occupation. The schools in Kuwait, which had
been closed for nearly a year, were a main focus of civil infrastructure
repair. Their reopening was considered an important indicator of
a return to normality within the country.
In early August 1991, a British explosive ordnance
disposal firm, Passive Barriers, subcontracted by Brown & Root,
an American firm carrying out reconstruction tasks on schools in
Kuwait, discovered a suspicious metal storage tank alongside the
perimeter wall of the Kuwaiti Girls' School. Rust-colored vapors
were puffing from two bullet holes in the tank.
Initial indications that the tank contained mustard
agent led to investigations by several US and British agencies.
For some of the individuals involved there were unanswered questions
about the nature of the tank's contents. Consequently, in 1997,
we looked into the incident and determined the tank did not contain
a chemical warfare agent, but did contain nitric acid, probably
red fuming nitric acid. IRFNA was used in the anti-ship missiles
that Iraq stored and repaired in the school's facilities. The story
of our investigation is chronicled in the Kuwaiti
Girls' School case narrative.
Possible Chemical Agent
on a Scud Missile Sample
US military personnel examine debris from
an Iraqi Scud missile.
On September 18, 1995, during a meeting in Charlotte,
N. C., a veteran provided a small piece of metal to the Presidential
Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses. The veteran
said the soldier who found it related it was a piece from a Scud
missile that a Patriot missile had intercepted near King Fahd Military
Airport in January 1991. The veteran said he experienced watering
eyes, tingling skin, and blisters when handling the piece of metal.
Analysis of the sample by the US Army Edgewood Research and Development
Engineering Center revealed no evidence of chemical warfare agents.
In July 2000, we published the final
report on our investigation into the possibility that this Scud
missile piece was contaminated with chemical warfare agent.