Chemical martyrs

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Science  05 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6371, pp. 20-25
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6371.20

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During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Iraq on scores of occasions shelled Iranian soldiers and villagers with sulfur mustard. And for the first time ever on a battlefield, nerve agents including sarin and tabun were unleashed by Iraqi forces. All told, the chemical onslaught killed nearly 5000 Iranians and sickened more than 100,000. Three decades later, about 56,000 Iranians are coping with lingering health effects from mustard, ranging from skin lesions and failing corneas to chronic obstructive lung disease and possibly cancer. The scale of the atrocities means that Iran has a unique opportunity to study the long-term effects of chemical weapons. A dozen research centers across the nation are seeking to uncover how wartime mustard exposures wreaked molecular mayhem that, decades later, triggers illnesses and death. They also may soon begin probing for long-term health effects of nerve agents.

  • * Reporting for these stories was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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