MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — A West Virginia University researcher is working to learn more about how inhaling emissions from burn pits led to serious health problems for veterans.

Burn pits can contain hazardous materials like batteries, bullets, jet fuel, surgical waste and human waste. They have been linked to chronic multisymptom illness (CMI), or “Gulf War Syndrome”. The issue has become a matter of growing national attention, with President Joe Biden signing a bill last month expanding health care access for veterans exposed to them, called the PACT Act.

Under the act, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs added more than 20 conditions to its list of burn pit and other toxic exposure presumptive conditions, including more than a dozen types of cancer, asthma diagnosed after service, chronic bronchitis, COPD, emphysema and more.

A WVU press release details how West Virginia University School of Medicine researcher Timothy Nurkiewicz and his team are using a special stove in WVU’s Inhalation Facility to safely re-create the conditions of burn pit exposure and study their health effects.

Nurkiewicz’s said his team uses pellets made based on samples from sand and ash collected from some of the busiest bases in Iraq as well as the most common materials that go into burn pits, then ignite them with jet fuel, which is used as the main accelerant in burn pits.

To recreate military burn pit conditions, researchers are using pellets developed in the WVU School of Forestry to mimic the composition of burn pit materials at U.S. bases in Iraq. (WVU Photo)

As the pellets burn, researchers capture the emissions they release and analyze the toxicants they contain in real-time and pump some of the emissions into an exposure chamber with experimental animals inside.

Researchers observe how the animals’ physiology and behavior change, and sample the animals’ blood to identify potential biomarkers that could serve as early signs of disease, WVU said, and later, Nurkiewicz’s team will work with Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System to run similar blood tests in a large cohort of veterans diagnosed with chronic multisymptom illness.

Nurkiewicz said the goal of his research is to “provide a more exact diagnosis that is irrefutable from a clinical perspective” in the hopes of making it more likely that resources be allocated toward veterans suffering from CMI from burn pits.

Researchers are interested in working with veterans for this study. Those who are interested can email tnurkiewicz@hsc.wvu.edu or call 304-293-7328.

WVU noted that the use of animals in the project was evaluated by WVU’s institutional animal care and use ethics committee, and that WVU is voluntarily accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.

Click here to learn more about how the PACT Act affects your VA benefits.