An Example Of Military Toxic Exposure

Generally, the military is slow to recognize other-than-weapon hazards and slower yet to acknowledge them, for example agent orange, Iraqi burn pits, and Gulf War Syndrome, yet military toxic exposure has ruined environments and killed soldiers or left them with lifelong health issues. ~ Don Chapin

Hearing and balance problems in older age

With the exception of the Wichita, KS, training facility, each of the nuclear weapons maintenance facilities I worked had at least one 50-gallon drum of each of the below solvents behind the building. We used Trichloroethylene for metal decreasing and Toluene for organic seal cleaning on USAF Mks 6, 15, 39 and 28 nuclear weapons. These solvents were liberally used daily, typically without gloves or respirators. By the time I was long out of the field and became an engineering test lab supervisor, I couldn’t even find an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) on them because they were so strongly banned. I understand that the pathologies described below were obtained from third-world tests of children being experimentally exposed.

Unlike the Vietnam defoliants and Iraqi burn pit exposures, there were so few of us in the nuclear (special weapons) career fields that claims would have proven useless. (i.e., we were de facto Guinea pigs) Also, in Puerto Rico, having received some MK 28s from the Navy, I knew that branch invested very little in nuclear weapons maintenance activity and there were very few USAF special weapons participants. Since I had been heavily involved in bomb placements in Puerto Rico during the Cuban crises, I was around a lot of plane engines at the time. I relied on aircraft engine noise in justifying my VA hearing loss claim (I was awarded a very common 50%). Even though at that time I knew it was from ototoxicity, the truth was virtually impossible to support. Even a Medford, OR, hospital neurologist hadn’t heard of it when I queried about links of peripheral neuropathy vs. ototoxicity.

Organic Solvents (ref.: Organic Solvent Neurotoxicity)

In the early stages, oto-neurologic disturbances may include vertigo and nausea. Histopathologic studies have shown damage in the sensory cells of the inner ear. The syndrome develops slowly with no pathological findings present in the first years. Later, psychometric, auditory, oto-neurologic testing will show disturbances. In later stages, chronic toxic encephalopathy (a general term that means brain disease, damage, or malfunction) occurs. The site of the lesion is within the cerebellum and brain stem regions. Auditory processing and balance response (ABR) testing may show disturbances. Even though effects are time and dose dependent, not everyone affected. Important initial complaints are headaches, nausea, problems such as dizziness, memory loss,  fatigue, and hearing difficulties.


This solvent is used as a degreaser, dry cleaning agent, spot remover and rug cleaner. It is used in the production of paints, waxes, pesticides, adhesives and lubricants. Researchers suspect it causes destruction of sensory cells of the inner ear. Tricholorethylene exposure results in a bilateral symmetrical high frequency dip in hearing beginning at 2K or 3K Hz and is associated with balance problems.


2.6 million metric tons are produced annually via air pollution and auto emissions.

Toluene is the most studied organic solvent. It is used in the manufacturing of chemicals, paints, lacquers, adhesives, rubber, rotogravure printing, leather tanning, spray painting, glue, etc. Toluene produces cochlear damage.

The synergistic effects of these two chemicals can result in a 27.5 times increased risk. Balance problems and abnormal acoustic reflexes are significant symptoms. The audiogram configuration can be flat, bilateral or unilateral; however the most common configuration is a dip at 3K to 6K Hz (as noise) even in the absence of noise.

Don Chapin, Ph.D., Capt. USAF, Ret’d



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