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British Chemical Warfare Experiments Had Limited Impact

Mortality and cancer morbidity not increased in British soldiers exposed to toxic agents at Porton Down

WEDNESDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- Among British military veterans who were exposed to chemical warfare agents during 1941-1989 experiments at the Porton Down research facility, mortality and cancer morbidity rates are not significantly different from those of other veterans, according to two studies published online March 24 in BMJ.

In one study, Kate M. Venables, M.D., of the University of Oxford in Oxford, U.K., and colleagues compared mortality rates between 18,276 Porton Down veterans and 17,600 non-Porton Down veterans. They found that all-cause mortality was only slightly higher in Porton Down veterans (rate ratio, 1.06). The mortality rates in both groups of veterans were lower than that of the general population.

In a second study, Lucy M. Carpenter, Ph.D., of the University of Oxford, and colleagues compared cancer morbidity rates between 17,013 Porton Down veterans and 16,520 non-Porton Down veterans. Although overall cancer morbidity was identical in both groups, they found that Porton Down veterans had higher rates of ill-defined malignant neoplasms, in situ neoplasms and neoplasms of uncertain or unknown behavior (rate ratios, 1.12, 1.45 and 1.32, respectively).

"Although these findings are reassuring for cancer and mortality outcomes, we need to take a more global view of the health of Porton Down subjects," states the author of an accompanying editorial. "This research group has previously published results for some other outcomes, which -- although they have some methodological limitations -- showed excess reporting of symptoms and poorer quality of life in a subgroup of Porton Down veterans…Although the nature of the threat to Porton Down veterans was different from that experienced by other veterans, non-fatal and non-cancer health outcomes in Porton Down veterans remain an important area of future research and public interest."

Abstract - Venables
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Abstract - Carpenter
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