The group of 11 soldiers who fell ill at Fort Bliss on Thursday were sickened by drinking ethylene glycol, the primary chemical in antifreeze, the Army said Friday. Army officials said it appears the Texas soldiers, who all showed "significant improvement" in their health overnight, believed they were drinking alcohol.
"On January 28, 11 Fort Bliss soldiers were injured after ingesting an unknown substance during a field training exercise. Initial reports indicate the soldiers consumed the substance thinking they were drinking an alcoholic beverage," said Lieutenant Colonel Allie Payne. Payne noted that soldiers are not permitted to drink alcohol on duty or during training exercises.
"Initial laboratory assessments indicate the soldiers are experiencing ethylene glycol poisoning," Payne said. She later added that "the laboratory results have the indication of the toxic substance that is commonly referred to [as] antifreeze."
Payne said the soldiers, who are assigned to the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, ingested the substance on the final day of a 10-day field training exercise, after they had completed the exercise.
The soldiers sought treatment at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center that morning, Payne said. All of them remain at the center, though up to four are expected to be released later Friday. Two soldiers who were in critical condition on Thursday remain "seriously ill" and are in the ICU, she said.
But Colonel Shawna Scully, the deputy commander of the medical center, said all 11 showed signs of "significant improvement" overnight. One soldier was extubated on Friday, and all are doing "incredibly well," Scully said.
The Army is investigating the incident. When asked if those involved were disciplined, Payne said the Army's priority is treating the injured soldiers. Those 11 soldiers are the only ones who are believed to have ingested the liquid, she said.
Ingesting ethylene glycol can lead to immediate kidney damage, and ingesting high enough quantities can lead to organ failure, Scully said. It's not clear how much of the substance each soldier ingested.