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Sand, Dust and Particulates

Dust surrounding a group of paratroopers

Veterans who were deployed to the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and other dusty environments were often exposed to sand, dust, pollution and other airborne particles.

Larger particles such as sand may become trapped in the nose and throat but can be expelled by coughing or sneezing.

Very small, fine particles (particulates) may cause more serious health problems because they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and airways. These extremely small particles and liquid droplets can include acids, chemicals, metals, soil or dust.

Join the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry to create a snapshot of your health and help us learn more about potential health effects. Check your eligibility and sign up through an online questionnaire.

Health concerns?

If you are concerned about your exposure to sand, dust, or particulates, talk to your health care provider or contact your local VA Environmental Health Coordinator to help you get more information from a health care provider.

VA offers a variety of health care benefits to eligible Veterans. Not enrolled in the VA health care system? Find out if you qualify for VA health care.  

Particulate matter pollution in Iraq and Afghanistan

Although particulate matter (PM) emissions from natural and man-made sources are found worldwide, PM levels in Southwest Asia are naturally higher. Primary sources of PM in Southwest Asia include dust storms, vehicle exhaust, construction sites, farming, and emissions from local industries.

The use of burn pits for waste management increased the naturally high concentrations of PM in Iraq and Afghanistan. Learn more in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report Long-Term Health Consequences of Exposure to Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Naval Air Facility in Atsugi, Japan

From 1985 to 2001, personnel at Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi in Atsugi, Japan were exposed to environmental contaminants from an off-base waste incinerator. Learn more about the Atsugi waste incinerator chemical emissions and the investigation of health effects. Atsugi, Japan is not included in the list of eligible locations for the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.   

Health effects of sand, dust and PM exposure

Most studies relate particulate matter (PM) exposure data to respiratory and cardiopulmonary health effects in specific, susceptible groups such as young children, the elderly, and people with existing asthma or cardiopulmonary disease.

Many variables influence the nature and probability of health problems:

  • Size of the PM (Smaller particles are considered more harmful because of easier passage through the nose and throat to enter the lungs.)
  • Chemical make-up of the PM
  • Concentration levels
  • Duration of exposure
  • Human factors including age, health status, existing medical conditions, and genetics

Symptoms of sand, dust and particulate exposure include irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Other symptoms include cold or flu-like symptoms such as cough, runny nose, and shortness of breath. 

VA continues to study the health of deployed Veterans.

Compensation benefits for health problems

Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to sand, dust and particulate exposure during military service. File a claim online.

Read about presumptive conditions for sand, dust, and particulate exposure.

Learn more about VA benefits.

Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
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