What to Know About CARC Paint Exposure in Veterans

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 08, 2022
4 min read

CARC stands for Chemical Agent Resistant Coating. It is a kind of paint used on military vehicles. It prevents corrosion and makes metal surfaces resistant to the penetration of chemical agents. When painted on a vehicle, CARC paint has a very matte finish (very low shine). It helps to reduce glare or reflection from the sun and other light sources, which minimizes visual detection.

Unfortunately, Gulf War veterans who painted military equipment such as tanks and armored personnel carriers without adequate respiratory protection may have been exposed to CARC. Veterans come into contact with CARC through inhalation during the painting and drying of military vehicles. 

CARC paint is more hazardous when it is sprayed rather than applied with a roller or brush. In its dry form, CARC is harmful during sanding and welding. 

There are three components in CARC that make it particularly toxic. These are:

Toluene diisocyanate (TDI). This chemical is used in the production of coatings, paints, and varnishes. It is absorbed rapidly through the lungs, but absorption through the skin is limited. Toluene diisocyanate can cause kidney damage. 

Solvents. When inhaled, solvents can cause coughing, watery eyes, shortness of breath, and asthma.

When inhaled in high concentrations, solvent vapors cause irritation of the:

  • Eyes
  • Skin
  • Mucous membrane
  • Respiratory tract

Brief exposure that lasts for a few hours also causes irritation and nervous system disturbance, but the effects wear out quickly once the exposure stops. However, long-term exposure to solvents can cause severe effects like skin rashes that may develop into irritant dermatitis. Symptoms include dryness, scaling, and cracking of the skin. The most severe damage happens to your hands.

Other effects of long-term exposure to solvents include increased rates of chronic central nervous system symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Poor concentration
  • Forgetfulness

According to general consensus, these chronic effects are common among veterans who have been exposed heavily, sometimes up to a period of 10 years. 

In such cases, damage to the nerves in your arms and legs is possible. Although CARC doesn’t contain such solvent compounds, it’s important to avoid coming into direct contact with similar chemicals.

CARC is designed to eliminate some types of solvents such as benzene which are known to cause cancer in humans. It is possible for veterans who have worked with CARC paint to come into contact with other substances contaminated with harmful solvents. Long-term exposure or a massive single over-exposure to some of these chemicals can cause liver or kidney disease.

Isocyanates (HDI). Exposure to isocyanates without proper protection is harmful to your skin and respiratory system. If you are exposed, you should know that:

  • Almost everyone who is exposed to high concentrations of isocyanates will develop irritation to the skin and the respiratory tract.
  • Some people develop asthma.
  • Others develop hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

There are other non-specific ways in which isocyanates could affect your respiratory tract. Sometimes, even minute-long exposure is enough to cause short-term symptoms. Even low concentrations of isocyanates over time have been reported to cause asthma. 

Exposure to high concentrations of the compounds in CARC can cause:

  • Itching
  • Reddening of skin
  • Burning sensation in the throat
  • Burning sensation in the nose
  • Watering of the eyes
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain when breathing
  • Increased sputum production
  • Chest tightness

Besides exposure to CARC, there are other illnesses that are associated with the Gulf War. 

Such illnesses include:

Certain rare lung cancers. Some airborne contaminants, of which CARC is included, have been found to increase the risk of developing certain cancers of the respiratory tract.

Chronic fatigue syndrome. Some veterans report severe and long-term fatigue that doesn’t get better with rest. It is also not directly linked to other conditions.

Fibromyalgia. This condition causes widespread muscle pain. It also causes other symptoms such as memory problems, insomnia, morning stiffness, and headache.

Functional gastrointestinal disorders. Examples include functional abdominal pain syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and functional dyspepsia.

Many veterans also report symptoms such as:

  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Headache
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Neurological and psychological problems
  • Skin conditions
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Sleep disturbances

A visit to your doctor is the best way to know if your symptoms are linked to CARC paint exposure. They will use chest X-rays and other tests such as a pulmonary function to check for respiratory tract abnormalities. The doctor will also ask questions about your symptoms, which can occur as soon as three to eight hours after exposure. You may have experienced dry cough, repeated, chest tightness, shortness of breath, bouts of fever, muscle aches, and headaches. Sometimes, your condition persists, even when you’re no longer exposed, so your doctor may not need to ask about symptoms.

If you must work with CARC paint, ensure that you have proper respiratory protection. It is especially important during spray painting. It is recommended that you only use positive-pressure air-supplied respirators.

You must also wear eye protection and full skin covering with clothes that provide total protection from contact with CARC. Gloves and coveralls are a must-have.

Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about any health problems associated with fuel exposure during your military service. You may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems if it is established that your condition is related to fuel exposure during military service.