Dem lawmaker asks Pentagon to study blast exposure effects

Dem lawmaker asks Pentagon to study blast exposure effects
© The Hill

A Democratic congresswoman is pushing the Pentagon to do more to study to the effects of exposure to blasts, particularly how it relates to traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

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“This wait-and-see approach is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s approach to cancer research and the National Football League’s slow response to the brain disease CTE,” Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter released Thursday. “Should the department continue its current policy of denying the relationship between brain injury and primary blast exposure, the consequences could be equally as tragic for our brave men and women in uniform.”

Slaughter previously wrote the Pentagon in April about the issue, pressing the department to send monitoring technology out with deploying units in order to collect data.

In May, she received a response from the Army surgeon general outlining the steps the department has taken to prevent, monitor and treat any effects from blasts, including TBI.

But in her most recent letter, Slaughter said the May response was inadequate.

“I appreciate your efforts and the work of those in the armed services to protect our men and women in uniform,” she wrote to Carter. “However, more needs be done.”

Specifically, she wants the Pentagon to use the technology already available to it to monitor and record blast overpressure.

“This is an important first step that the Department should take immediately to better inform our efforts to understand the long-term effect of this exposure,” she wrote.

One reason for the immediacy, she wrote, is that the 84mm, anti-armor Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle will now be a part of the standard equipment for every Army infantry platoon. The weapon has a pressure of 5 to 12 pounds per square inch (psi), she wrote, but the established safe threshold based hearing and pulmonary issues is 4 psi.

“With this weapon becoming more prevalent among soldiers in both training and theater environments, it is imperative that the department begins collecting data surrounding exposure to overpressure,” she wrote.

Further, she said, neurological disorders from blast exposure takes time to develop, so it will take time to collect the necessary data. 

“The scientific evidence will continue to mount in the face of the department’s inaction, proving the chillingly reality that trauma from blast overpressure harms the brain with long-lasting and devastating effects,” she wrote. “In order to live up to the commitment our nation has made to all who serve, the department must finally use the tools available today and begin to scratch the surface of how blast exposure can contribute to these conditions.”