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Pulmonary toxicity in hamsters of smoke particles from Kuwaiti oil fires.

By J D Brain, N C Long, S F Wolfthal, T Dumyahn and D W Dockery


The Kuwaiti oil wells set on fire by retreating Iraqi troops at the end of the Persian Gulf War released complex particles, inorganic and organic gases, and hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, damaging the environment where many people live and work. In this study, we assessed the health effects of particles from the Kuwaiti oil fires by instilling hamsters intratracheally with particles (<3.5 microM in size) collected in Ahmadi, a residential area in Kuwait located downwind of hundreds of oil fires. Twenty-four hours after instillation, we performed bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) to assess various indicators of pulmonary inflammation, including neutrophil and macrophage numbers; albumin, an index of air-blood barrier permeability; and activities of three enzymes: lactate dehydrogenase (LDH; an indicator of cell injury), myeloperoxidase (MPO; which indicates activation of neutrophils), and ss-N-acetylglucosaminidase (GLN; which is indicative of damage to macrophages or neutrophils). We compared the response of hamsters instilled with particles from Ahmadi to animals instilled with urban particles collected in St. Louis, Missouri. We also compared the Ahmadi particles against a highly fibrogenic positive control ([alpha]-quartz) and a relatively nontoxic negative control (iron oxide). When compared to hamsters instilled with particles from St. Louis, the animals treated with the Ahmadi particles had between 1.4- and 2.2-fold more neutrophils in their BAL fluids. The Ahmadi hamsters had more macrophages and lower MPO and LDH activities, but comparable albumin levels and GLN activities. Thus, the acute toxicity of the Ahmadi particles was roughly similar to that of urban particles collected in the United States, when identical masses were compared. However, the relatively higher concentrations of particles measured in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during the oil fires (at times more than 16 times higher than the EPA standard) is of particular concern. In addition, since the long-term effects of exposure to these particles remains unknown, further studies are needed to fully assess the health effects of the Kuwaiti oil fires

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