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Water Use: Feb. 24, 2000

Environmental Exposure Close-Out Reports present findings and conclusions reached to-date on investigations involving potential exposures of U.S. military and civilian personnel to environmental contaminants that may cause adverse health effects. The Office of the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses began this investigation of water use during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in response to congressional inquiries and reports by veterans of adverse health effects from contact with water. The investigation included extensive research into water sources, treatment, storage, and distribution, as well as water use plans and policies.

The Presidential Special Oversight Board requested that we provide a summary of this investigation, which we did at a public hearing on Sept. 16, 1999. Based on its review of this material, the Board concluded that the information obtained to date did not support a cause-and-effect relationship. The emerging results and anticipated outcomes from continued investigation are not likely to improve our understanding of any of the unexplained illnesses. Consequently, the Presidential Special Oversight Board recommended terminating further investigation. In addition, to bring the investigation to closure, the Board requested that we complete a close-out report to present the data, documentary evidence, and findings compiled during the course of the investigation. The close-out report that follows complies with the Board’s direction, but if you believe you have additional information related to water use, please contact my office by calling: 1-800-497-6261


I. Background

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II. Overview

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III. Investigation

III. Investigation


IV. Significant Findings

U.S. forces in the Kuwait theater developed a complex infrastructure and logistical operation to provide water support to land- and sea-based units. U.S. Central Command considered an adequate water supply crucial to the success of the operation. A safe and plentiful supply of water was essential for meeting the basic requirements of hydration and hygiene, particularly in the hot climate of the Arabian peninsula. Naturally occurring sources of water to U.S. forces included seawater and ground water from deep wells located in the host nations. The virtual absence of fresh surface water placed special demands on water treatment equipment to remove salt and other dissolved solids from untreated water and necessitated long supply lines. Production of potable water depended in large part on reverse osmosis technology and distillation from Saudi sources. Significant quantities of processed water were provided in the form of bottled water obtained from a number of sources, including U.S.-produced reverse osmosis purification unit water, and Saudi reverse osmosis, commercially produced water. Water also was transported from production points to ground troops through military and leased tanker trucks, military water trailers, semi-trailer mounted fabric tanks, and existing water pipelines.

A. Water-Borne Diseases and Contaminants


B. Water Quality Monitoring


C. Water Use Plans Were Successful


D. Water Supplies


E. Chlorinated Water


V. Water Equipment, Distribution, and Use Policy Concerns

A. Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units


B. Petroleum, Oils, and Lubricants Tankers Transporting Water


C. Inability to Perform Timely Field Tests


D. Many Field Sanitation Teams Not Trained in Water Purification


V. Lessons Learned

A. Logistics


B. Tri-Service Field Water Quality Standards


C. Sources


D. Ice


E. Equipment Improvements


F. Water Testing and Treatment


VII. Discussion

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Tab A. Abbreviations, Acronyms and Glossary

Abbreviations and Acronyms




Tab B. Bibliography

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End Notes

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Last Updated: July 11, 2023
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