Military small arms fire in association with acute decrements in lung function

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Abstract

Objective

After introduction of unleaded ammunition, Norwegian Armed Forces received reports of acute respiratory symptoms in soldiers after exposure to fumes from firing the standard weapon, HK416. The aim of the present study was to examine lung function before and after exposure to fumes from HK416 in a double-blinded standardised study design using three different types of ammunition.

Methods

Fifty-four healthy, non-smoking male volunteers (19–62 years) fired the weapons for 60 min with either leaded, unleaded or ‘modified’ unleaded ammunition. Gaseous and particulate emissions were monitored. Spirometry and exhaled nitric oxide (eNO) were performed within 14 days before (T0), shortly after (T1) and 24 hours after (T2) shooting. Methacholine provocation and diffusing capacity of carbon monoxide (DLCO) were carried out at T0 and T2.

Results

The mean forced expiratory volume in 1 s on a group level was significantly reduced both at T1 and T2 compared with T0, with means and 95% CI of 226 mL (158 to 294 mL) and 285 mL (218 to 351 mL), respectively. The same significant pattern was seen for DLCO, forced vital capacity and eNO. The methacholine test indicated a slight increase in bronchial hyper-reactivity. However, there were no significant differences between types of ammunition used.

Conclusion

Exposure to fumes from military weapons might be a respiratory hazard for soldiers who do live-fire training regularly or are in a closed combat environment.

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