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80,000 Exposed To Chemicals In Iraq, Newspaper Reports

Up to 80,000 troops and civilians may have been exposed to low levels of toxic chemicals after U.S. forces demolished an Iraqi chemical weapons depot shortly after the Persian Gulf War, Army Times reported Friday.

The estimate, far higher than an earlier Pentagon estimate of 20,000 troops, was based on computer-generated models of how the demolition may have released toxic chemicals, the independent weekly newspaper said, quoting unidentified Pentagon sources.

It cited a memo being prepared for Defense Secretary William Cohen warning him about a pending announcement of the 80,000 figure.

The memo says “there is little evidence that low-level chemical exposure causes serious health problems,” according to the report.

Asked about the report, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said no such number is contained in the memo being prepared for Cohen.

“There are no estimates at this time of who may have been exposed to any chemical agents” at the Khamisiyah weapons depot, Whitman said.

“The Pentagon has not yet completed its analysis,” he said. “To speculate is irresponsible.”