A Navy researcher thinks he's found the "smoking gun" to explain why so many service members come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with health problems ranging from respiratory ailments to cancer to heart disease: It's all that dust they're breathing, reports USA Today. It's far from ordinary dust, however: The microscopic particles are jam-packed with metals, including aluminum and lead, bacteria, and fungi, says Capt. Mark Lyles of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College.
"From my research and that of others, I really think this may be the smoking gun," he says. "It fits everything—symptoms, timing, everything." The dust is so toxic partly as a result of pollution, and it's impossible to avoid because of drought and the throngs of military vehicles that stir it up. Lyles thinks it explains ailments going back to the first Iraqi war known collectively as Gulf War Syndrome. The Pentagon is skeptical and says the dust, which Lyles found to contain 147 kinds of bacteria and 37 metals, is no different than dust found in deserts elsewhere, but USA Today talks to other researchers who agree with Lyles. "I've done sampling since 1986, and I've never seen anything that bad—not even in China," says one. (Read more US military stories.)