At a public hearing held on July 13, 1999, the Presidential Special Oversight Board for Department of Defense Investigations of Gulf War Chemical and Biological Incidents (PSOB) directed that the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI) report on the status (including preliminary findings and conclusions reached to date) of on-going investigations, including the Water Use investigation. The purpose of this request was to determine whether the available information supported a decision for the continuation of the investigation at hand. They wanted to know whether continued work would eventually lead to identifying a cause and effect relationship between water use and unexplained illnesses in Gulf War veterans.

In response to the PSOB, OSAGWI provided a summary of the preliminary findings of all work in progress at a public hearing on September 16, 1999. Based on its review of this material, the Board concluded that the information obtained to date on water use during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm did not support a cause and effect relationship, and that emerging results and anticipated outcomes are not likely to improve our understanding of any of the unexplained illnesses. Consequently, the PSOB directed that further activities be curtailed and the Water Use investigation terminated. To bring the investigation to closure, however, the Board requested that the Office of the Special Assistant complete a close-out report and present the data, documentary evidence, and personal accounts obtained during the investigation. The following sections of this report provide such an accounting.


The rapid influx of Coalition forces into the Persian Gulf region during the early stages of Operation Desert Shield taxed the region's available potable water resources. Host nation and commercial outlets were unable to provide sufficient supplies of potable water to incoming troops. Water purification systems were brought in by the United States to supply US forces with chlorinated drinking water and flexible water use policies were implemented in theater with respect to non-potable water.

In the post-war era, some American Gulf War veterans voiced concerns that the water they had either consumed or come into contact with during their deployment may have contributed to their own reported illnesses, or to a variety of illnesses reported by other Gulf War veterans. In response to these concerns, the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses launched an investigation into the possible link between water use in the Gulf and health problems reported by veterans. After an extensive review of scientific, medical, and health safety literature, examination of water storage and distribution policies and practices, personal interviews with Gulf War veterans, and inspection of unit accounts, the preponderance of available evidence suggests no definitive link between water use during the Gulf War and subsequent reports of illnesses. Some short-duration illnesses—diarrhea and similar gastrointestinal disorders, for example—were reported contemporaneously by personnel in theater. These individual episodes may have been triggered by contaminated, over-chlorinated, improperly stored water, or contaminated water used for irrigating produce taken from the local market,[2] but barring a more definitive link to post-War illnesses, there is no compelling reason to continue the investigation beyond this point.


The water use investigation considered numerous aspects of water policy, including:

This investigation was based on discussions with subject matter experts, and a number of interviews of veterans with water supply-related duties. The investigation also included an extensive literature review, including military field manuals, scientific and medical journals, intelligence, after-action reports, and newspaper articles. Tab B contains a complete list of sources.

Water use was a significant part of every aspect of the Gulf War deployment. Service personnel serving at sea as well as those forces operating in the desert were equally dependent on adequate supplies of potable (fit for human consumption) and non-potable (unfit for consumption) water. Ship-based water use was examined, but the primary focus of the investigation was on the more acute problem of access to water by land-based forces, and the plans and policies developed to assure a continuous supply of drinking and general use water for these forces.

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