We’ve learned thus far that JP-4 jet fuel exposure was more common than Coca-Cola exposure for the majority of Vietnam-era veterans. Vietnam veterans already have enough to worry about with regards to their cardiovascular system. PTSD is shown to increase risk for heart disease, and Agent Orange and the TCDD that contaminated it have also been shown to greatly increase the rates of heart disease in Vietnam-era Veterans. The constituent components of JP-4 can increase those odds even further.
There are over 100 hydrocarbons in JP-4, from the basic aromatic hydrocarbons and alkanes to more complicated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, isoalkanes, and cycloparaffins (a full list can be found on page 72 here).
While the medical community is much more focused on the carcinogenic nature of most of these chemicals, several studies have shown them to be quite damaging to the cardiovascular system as well. Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons has been associated with an, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, contributes to arteriosclerosis, and an elevated risk of ischemic heart disease and mortality from cardiovascular disease.
As if exposure to JP-4 vapors wasn’t harmful enough, when JP-4 is burned, it also releases carbon monoxide and dioxide, airborne particulate matter, and sulfur and sulfur-based compounds. Carbon monoxide and dioxide exposure can deprive the heart of oxygen, causing long-lasting damage. Sulfur compounds have been shown to cause myocardial ischemia, hypertension, and weakening of the cardiac muscles.
No single organ or system in the body stands alone, however. As these chemicals are also heavily damaging to other systems and organs, when these organs fail the heart can be affected. Benzene can make diabetes and other metabolic problems worse, cause neurological damage, as well as damage the lungs severely. Even if the heart itself was not affected by chronic exposure, it is often a secondary victim due to failures in the systems that support it. As many of these chemicals are severe carcinogens, it is likely that cancers caused by JP-4 such as lung cancer can cause a cascading effect that ultimately weakens the entire body, including the heart.
The “triple threat” of PTSD, Agent Orange/dioxin exposure, and JP-4 exposure can be devastating to the heart. Veterans who were stationed in CONUS, Thailand, or other areas during the Vietnam era often attempt to fight the VA for a presumption of Agent Orange exposure, and often lose. I have researched many of these cases, and seen many arguments where veterans who were very likely exposed to Agent Orange have been denied claims by the VA over technicalities. However, the 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD) in Agent Orange is actually very similar to benzene and some of the other chemicals in JP-4. In fact, both benzene and TCDD are both active at the very same aryl hydrocarbon receptors in the body, which means that many illnesses caused by TCDD could be caused by benzene and other hydrocarbons. This, of course, includes heart disease.