Horror of USA's Depleted Uranium in Iraq Threatens World
By James Denver
Vive le Canada
Friday 29 April 2005
American use of DU is "A crime against humanity which may, in the eyes of historians, rank with the worst atrocities of all time." US Iraq Military Vets "are on DU death row, waiting to die."
"I'm horrified. The people out there - the Iraqis, the media and the troops - risk the most appalling ill health. And the radiation from depleted uranium can travel literally anywhere. It's going to destroy the lives of thousands of children, all over the world. We all know how far radiation can travel. Radiation from Chernobyl reached Wales and in Britain you sometimes get red dust from the Sahara on your car."
The speaker is not some alarmist doomsayer. He is Dr. Chris Busby, the British radiation expert, Fellow of the University of Liverpool in the Faculty of Medicine and UK representative on the European Committee on Radiation Risk, talking about the best-kept secret of this war: the fact that by illegally using hundreds of tons of depleted uranium (DU) against Iraq, Britain and America have gravely endangered not only the Iraqis but the whole world.
For these weapons have released deadly, carcinogenic and mutagenic, radioactive particles in such abundance that-whipped up by sandstorms and carried on trade winds - there is no corner of the globe they cannot penetrate-including Britain. For the wind has no boundaries and time is on their side: the radioactivity persists for over 4,500,000,000 years and can cause cancer, leukemia, brain damage, kidney failure, and extreme birth defects - killing millions of every age for centuries to come. A crime against humanity which may, in the eyes of historians, rank with the worst atrocities of all time.
These weapons have released deadly, carcinogenic and mutagenic, radioactive particles in such abundance that there is no corner of the globe they cannot penetrate - including Britain. Yet, officially, no crime has been committed. For this story is a dirty story in which the facts have been concealed from those who needed them most. It is also a story we need to know if the people of Iraq are to get the medical care they desperately need, and if our troops, returning from Iraq, are not to suffer as terribly as the veterans of other conflicts in which depleted uranium was used.
A Dirty Tyson
'Depleted' uranium is in many ways a misnomer. 'Depleted' sounds weak. The only weak thing about depleted uranium is its price. It is dirt cheap, toxic, waste from nuclear power plants and bomb production. However, uranium is one of earth's heaviest elements and DU packs a Tyson's punch, smashing through tanks, buildings and bunkers with equal ease, spontaneously catching fire as it does so, and burning people alive. 'Crispy critters' is what US servicemen call those unfortunate enough to be close. And, when John Pilger encountered children killed at a greater distance he wrote: "The children's skin had folded back, like parchment, revealing veins and burnt flesh that seeped blood, while the eyes, intact, stared straight ahead. I vomited." (Daily Mirror)
The millions of radioactive uranium oxide particles released when it burns can kill just as surely, but far more terribly. They can even be so tiny they pass through a gas mask, making protection against them impossible. Yet, small is not beautiful. For these invisible killers indiscriminately attack men, women, children and even babies in the womb-and do the gravest harm of all to children and unborn babies.
A Terrible Legacy
Doctors in Iraq have estimated that birth defects have increased by 2-6 times, and 3-12 times as many children have developed cancer and leukemia since 1991. Moreover, a report published in The Lancet in 1998 said that as many as 500 children a day are dying from these sequels to war and sanctions and that the death rate for Iraqi children under 5 years of age increased from 23 per 1000 in 1989 to 166 per thousand in 1993. Overall, cases of lymphoblastic leukemia more than quadrupled with other cancers also increasing 'at an alarming rate.' In men, lung, bladder, bronchus, skin, and stomach cancers showed the highest increase. In women, the highest increases were in breast and bladder cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
On hearing that DU had been used in the Gulf in 1991, the UK Atomic Energy Authority sent the Ministry of Defense a special report on the potential damage to health and the environment. It said that it could cause half a million additional cancer deaths in Iraq over 10 years. In that war the authorities only admitted to using 320 tons of DU-although the Dutch charity LAKA estimates the true figure is closer to 800 tons. Many times that may have been spread across Iraq by this year's war. The devastating damage all this DU will do to the health and fertility of the people of Iraq now, and for generations to come, is beyond imagining.
The radioactivity persists for over 4,500,000,000 years killing millions of every age for centuries to come. This is a crime against humanity which may rank with the worst atrocities of all time.
We must also count the numberless thousands of miscarried babies. Nobody knows how many Iraqis have died in the womb since DU contaminated their world. But it is suggested that troops who were only exposed to DU for the brief period of the war were still excreting uranium in their semen 8 years later and some had 100 times the so-called 'safe limit' of uranium in their urine. The lack of government interest in the plight of veterans of the 1991 war is reflected in a lack of academic research on the impact of DU but informal research has found a high incidence of birth defects in their children and that the wives of men who served in Iraq have three times more miscarriages than the wives of servicemen who did not go there.
Since DU darkened the land Iraq has seen birth defects which would break a heart of stone: babies with terribly foreshortened limbs, with their intestines outside their bodies, with huge bulging tumors where their eyes should be, or with a single eye-like Cyclops, or without eyes, or without limbs, and even without heads. Significantly, some of the defects are almost unknown outside textbooks showing the babies born near A-bomb test sites in the Pacific.
Doctors report that many women no longer say 'Is it a girl or a boy?' but simply, 'Is it normal, doctor?' Moreover this terrible legacy will not end. The genes of their parents may have been damaged for ever, and the damaging DU dust is ever-present.
Blue on Blue
What the governments of America and Britain have done to the people of Iraq they have also done to their own soldiers, in both wars. And they have done it knowingly. For the battlefields have been thick with DU and soldiers have had to enter areas heavily contaminated by bombing. Moreover, their bodies have not only been assaulted by DU but also by a vaccination regime which violated normal protocols, experimental vaccines, nerve agent pills, and organophosphate pesticides in their tents. And yet, though the hazards of DU were known, British and American troops were not warned of its dangers. Nor were they given thorough medical checks on their return-even though identifying it quickly might have made it possible to remove some of it from their body. Then, when a growing number became seriously ill, and should have been sent to top experts in radiation damage and neurotoxins, many were sent to a psychiatrist.
Over 200,000 US troops who returned from the 1991 war are now invalided out with ailments officially attributed to service in Iraq-that's 1 in 3. In contrast, the British government's failure to fully assess the health of returning troops, or to monitor their health, means no one even knows how many have died or become gravely ill since their return. However, Gulf veterans' associations say that, of 40,000 or so fighting fit men and women who saw active service, at least 572 have died prematurely since coming home and 5000 may be ill. An alarming number are thought to have taken their own lives, unable to bear the torment of the innumerable ailments which have combined to take away their career, their sexuality, their ability to have normal children, and even their ability to breathe or walk normally. As one veteran puts it, they are 'on DU death row, waiting to die.'
Whatever other factors there may be, some of their illnesses are strikingly similar to those of Iraqis exposed to DU dust. For example, soldiers have also fathered children without eyes. And, in a group of eight servicemen whose babies lack eyes seven are known to have been directly exposed to DU dust.
They too have fathered children with stunted arms, and rare abnormalities classically associated with radiation damage. They too seem prone to cancer and leukemia. Tellingly, so are EU soldiers who served as peacekeepers in the Balkans, where DU was also used. Indeed their leukemia rate has been so high that several EU governments have protested at the use of DU.
The Vital Evidence
Despite all that evidence of the harm done by DU, governments on both sides of the Atlantic have repeatedly claimed that as it emits only 'low level' radiation DU is harmless. Award-winning scientist, Dr. Rosalie Bertell who has led UN medical commissions, has studied 'low-level' radiation for 30 years. 2 She has found that uranium oxide particles have more than enough power to harm cells, and describes their pulses of radiation as hitting surrounding cells 'like flashes of lightning' again and again in a single second. Like many scientists worldwide who have studied this type of radiation, she has found that such 'lightning strikes' can damage DNA and cause cell mutations which lead to cancer.
Moreover, these particles can be taken up by body fluids and travel through the body, damaging more than one organ. To compound all that, Dr. Bertell has found that this particular type of radiation can cause the body's communication systems to break down, leading to malfunctions in many vital organs of the body and to many medical problems. A striking fact, since many veterans of the first Gulf war suffer from innumerable, seemingly unrelated, ailments.
In addition, recent research by Eric Wright, Professor of Experimental Haematology at Dundee University, and others, have shown two ways in which such radiation can do far more damage than has been thought. The first is that a cell which seems unharmed by radiation can produce cells with diverse mutations several cell generations later. (And mutations are at the root of cancer and birth defects.) This 'radiation-induced genomic instability' is compounded by 'the bystander effect' by which cells mutate in unison with others which have been damaged by radiation-rather as birds swoop and turn in unison. Put together, these two mechanisms can greatly increase the damage done by a single source of radiation, such as a DU particle. Moreover, it is now clear that there are marked genetic differences in the way individuals respond to radiation-with some being far more likely to develop cancer than others. So the fact that some veterans of the first Gulf war seem relatively unharmed by their exposure to DU in no way proves that DU did not damage others.
The Price of Truth
That the evidence from Iraq and from our troops, and the research findings of such experts, have been ignored may be no accident. A US report, leaked in late 1995, allegedly says, 'The potential for health effects from DU exposure is real; however it must be viewed in perspective... the financial implications of long-term disability payments and healthcare costs would be excessive.'
Clearly, with hundreds of thousands gravely ill in Iraq and at least a quarter of a million UK and US troops seriously ill, huge disability claims might be made not only against the governments of Britain and America if the harm done by DU were acknowledged. There might also be huge claims against companies making DU weapons and some of their directors are said to be extremely close to the White House. How close they are to Downing Street is a matter for speculation, but arms sales makes a considerable contribution to British trade. So the massive whitewashing of DU over the past 12 years, and the way that governments have failed to test returning troops, seemed to disbelieve them, and washed their hands of them, may be purely to save money.
The possibility that financial considerations have led the governments of Britain and America to cynically avoid taking responsibility for the harm they have done not only to the people of Iraq but to their own troops may seem outlandish. Yet DU weapons weren't used by the other side and no other explanation fits the evidence. For, in the days before Britain and America first used DU in war its hazards were no secret. One American study in 1990 said DU was 'linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and to] chemical toxicity-causing kidney damage'. While another openly warned that exposure to these particles under battlefield conditions could lead to cancers of the lung and bone, kidney damage, non-malignant lung disease, neuro-cognitive disorders, chromosomal damage and birth defects.
A Culture of Denial
In 1996 and 1997 UN Human Rights Tribunals condemned DU weapons for illegally breaking the Geneva Convention and classed them as 'weapons of mass destruction' 'incompatible with international humanitarian and human rights law.' Since then, following leukemia in European peacekeeping troops in the Balkans and Afghanistan (where DU was also used), the EU has twice called for DU weapons to be banned.
Yet, far from banning DU, America and Britain stepped up their denials of the harm from this radioactive dust as more and more troops from the first Gulf war and from action and peacekeeping in the Balkans and Afghanistan have become seriously ill. This is no coincidence. In 1997, while citing experiments, by others, in which 84 percent of dogs exposed to inhaled uranium died of cancer of the lungs, Dr. Asaf Durakovic, then Professor of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at Georgetown University in Washington was quoted as saying, 'The [US government's] Veterans Administration asked me to lie about the risks of incorporating depleted uranium in the human body.' He concluded, 'uranium does cause cancer, uranium does cause mutation, and uranium does kill. If we continue with the irresponsible contamination of the biosphere, and denial of the fact that human life is endangered by the deadly isotope uranium, then we are doing disservice to ourselves, disservice to the truth, disservice to God and to all generations who follow.' Not what the authorities wanted to hear and his research was suddenly blocked.
During 12 years of ever-growing British whitewash the authorities have abolished military hospitals, where there could have been specialized research on the effects of DU and where expertise in treating DU victims could have built up. And, not content with the insult of suggesting the gravely disabling symptoms of Gulf veterans are imaginary they have refused full pensions to many. For, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the current House of Commons briefing paper on DU hazards says 'it is judged that any radiation effects from possible exposures are extremely unlikely to be a contributory factor to the illnesses currently being experienced by some Gulf war veterans.' Note how over a quarter of a million sick and dying US and UK vets are called 'some.'
The Way Ahead
Britain and America not only used DU in this year's Iraq war, they dramatically increased its use-from a minimum of 320 tons in the previous war to at minimum of 1500 tons in this one. And this time the use of DU wasn't limited to anti-tank weapons-as it had largely been in the previous Gulf war-but was extended to the guided missiles, large bunker busters and big 2000-pound bombs used in Iraq's cities. This means that Iraq's cities have been blanketed in lethal particles-any one of which can cause cancer or deform a child. In addition, the use of DU in huge bombs which throw the deadly particles higher and wider in huge plumes of smoke means that billions of deadly particles have been carried high into the air-again and again and again as the bombs rained down-ready to be swept worldwide by the winds.
The Royal Society has suggested the solution is massive decontamination in Iraq. That could only scratch the surface. For decontamination is hugely expensive and, though it may reduce the risks in some of the worst areas, it cannot fully remove them. For DU is too widespread on land and water. How do you clean up every nook and cranny of a city the size of Baghdad? How can they decontaminate a whole country in which microscopic particles, which cannot be detected with a normal geiger counter, are spread from border to border? And how can they clean up all the countries downwind of Iraq-and, indeed, the world?
So there are only two things we can do to mitigate this crime against humanity. The first is to provide the best possible medical care for the people of Iraq, for our returning troops and for those who served in the last Gulf war and, through that, minimize their suffering. The second is to relegate war, and the production and sale of weapons, to the scrap heap of history-along with slavery and genocide. Then, and only then, will this crime against humanity be expunged, and the tragic deaths from this war truly bring freedom to the people of Iraq, and of the world.
 The Lancet volume 351, issue 9103, 28 February 1998.
 Rosalie Bertell's book Planet Earth the Latest Weapon of War was reviewed in Caduceus issue 51, page 28.
The Low Level Radiation Campaign hopes to be able to arrange a limited number of private urine tests for those returning from the latest Gulf war. It can be contacted at: The Knoll, Montpelier Park, Llandrindod Wells, LD1 5LW. 01597 824771. Web: LLRC.org.
James Denver writes and broadcasts internationally on science and technology.
Weapons of Self-Destruction
By David Rose
November 2004 Issue
Is Gulf War syndrome - possibly caused by Pentagon ammunition - taking its toll on GI's in Iraq?
When he started to get sick, Staff Sergeant Raymond Ramos's first instinct was to fight. "I had joint pains, muscle aches, chronic fatigue, but I tried to exercise it out," he says. "I was going for runs, working out. But I never got any better. The headaches were getting more frequent and sometimes lasted all day. I was losing a lot of weight. My overall physical demeanor was bad."
A 20-year veteran of the New York National Guard, Ramos had been mobilized for active duty in Iraq in the spring of 2003. His unit, the 442nd Military Police company, arrived there on Easter, 10 days before President Bush's mission accomplished appearance on the USS. Abraham Lincoln. A tall, soft-spoken 40-year-old with four children, the youngest still an infant, Ramos was proud of his physique. In civilian life, he was a New York City cop. "I worked on a street narcotics team. It was very busy, with lots of overtime-very demanding." Now, rising unsteadily from his armchair in his thickly carpeted living room in Queens, New York, Ramos grimaces. "The shape I came back in, I cannot perform at that level. I've lost 40 pounds. I'm frail."
At first, as his unit patrolled the cities of Najaf and al-Diwaniyya, Ramos stayed healthy. But in June 2003, as temperatures climbed above 110 degrees, his unit was moved to a makeshift base in an abandoned railroad depot in Samawah, where some fierce tank battles had taken place. "When we first got there, I was a heat casualty, feeling very weak," Ramos says. He expected to recover quickly. Instead, he went rapidly downhill.
By the middle of August, when the 442nd was transferred to Babylon, Ramos says, the right side of his face and both of his hands were numb, and he had lost most of the strength in his grip. His fatigue was worse and his headaches had become migraines, frequently so severe "that I just couldn't function." His urine often contained blood, and even when it didn't he would feel a painful burning sensation, which "wouldn't subside when I finished." His upper body was covered by a rash that would open and weep when he scratched it. As he tells me this, he lifts his shirt to reveal a mass of pale, circular scars. He was also having respiratory difficulties. Later, he would develop sleep apnea, a dangerous condition in which he would stop breathing during sleep.
Eventually, Ramos was medevaced to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. Doctors there were baffled and sent him on to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. There, Ramos says, one neurologist suggested that his condition could have been caused by some long-forgotten head injury or might just be "signs of aging." At the end of September 2003, the staff at Walter Reed ordered him to report to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where, he says, a captain went through his record and told him, "I was clear to go back to Iraq. I got the impression they thought I was faking it." He was ordered to participate in a long-distance run. Halfway through, he collapsed. Finally, on July 31, 2004, after months of further examinations, Ramos was discharged with a medical disability and sent home.
Symptoms such as Ramos's had been seen before. In veterans of Operation Desert Storm, they came to be called Gulf War syndrome; among those posted to Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, Balkans syndrome. He was not the only member of the 442nd to suffer them. Others had similar urinary problems, joint pains, fatigue, headaches, rashes, and sleep apnea. Today, some scientists believe that all these problems, together with others found in war-zone civilians, can be traced to the widespread use of a uniquely deadly form of ammunition.
In the ongoing Iraq conflict, just as in the Gulf War of 1991 and in the Balkans, American and British forces have fired tens of thousands of shells and cannon rounds made of a toxic and radioactive material called depleted uranium, or DU Because DU is dense-approximately 1.7 times as dense as lead-and ignites upon impact, at a temperature of about 5,400 degrees, it can penetrate armor more effectively than any other material.
It's also remarkably cheap. The arms industry gets its DU for free from nuclear-fuel processors, which generate large quantities of it as a by-product of enriching uranium for reactor fuel. Such processors would otherwise have to dispose of it in protected, regulated sites. DU is "depleted" only in the sense that most of its fissile U-235 isotope has been removed. What's left-mainly U-238-is still radioactive.
Three of the main weapons systems still being used in Iraq-the M-1 Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and the A-10 Warthog attack jet-use DU ammunition. A 120-mm. tank round contains about nine pounds of solid DU When a DU "penetrator" strikes its target, up to 70 percent of the shell's mass is flung into the air in a shower of uranium-oxide fragments and dust, some in the form of aerosolized particles less than a millionth of a meter in diameter. When inhaled, such particles lodge in the lungs and bathe the surrounding tissue with alpha radiation, known to be highly dangerous internally, and smaller amounts of beta and gamma radiation.
Even before Desert Storm, the Pentagon knew that DU was potentially hazardous. Before last year's Iraq invasion, it issued strict regulations designed to protect civilians, troops, and the environment after the use of DU But the Pentagon insists that there is little chance that these veterans' illnesses are caused by DU
The US suffered only 167 fatal combat casualties in the first Gulf War. Since then, veterans have claimed pensions and health-care benefits at a record rate. The Veterans Administration reported this year that it was paying service-related disability pensions to 181,996 Gulf War veterans-almost a third of the total still living. Of these, 3,248 were being compensated for "undiagnosed illnesses." The Pentagon's spokesman, Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of its Deployment Health section, says that Gulf War veterans are no less healthy than soldiers who were stationed elsewhere.
Those returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom are also beginning to report illnesses in significant numbers. In July 2004, the V.A. disclosed that 27,571 of them-16.4 percent of the total-had sought health care. Of that group, 8,134 suffered muscular and skeletal ailments; 3,505 had respiratory problems; and 5,674 had "symptoms, signs and ill-defined conditions." An additional 153 had developed cancers. The V.A. claims that such figures are "typical of young, active, healthcare-seeking populations," but does not offer figures for comparison.
There is also evidence of a large rise in birth defects and unprecedented cancer rates among civilians following the first Gulf War in the Basra region of southern Iraq, where the heaviest fighting took place. Dr. Kilpatrick says, "I think it's very important to try to understand what are the causes of that high rate of cancer and birth defects. There has to be a good look at that, but if you go to the M. D. Anderson hospital, in Houston, Texas, you're going to find a very high rate of cancer. That's because people from all over the country with cancer go there, because it's one of the premier care centers. Basra was the only major hospital in southern Iraq. Are the people there with these different problems people who lived their entire lives in Basra, or are they people who've come to Basra for care?" It is possible, he says, that some other environmental factor is responsible for the illnesses, such as Saddam's chemical weapons or poor nutrition. "I don't think anything should be taken off the table."
In October 2004, an early draft of a study by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, a scientific panel run by the V.A., was leaked to The New York Times. According to the Times, the panel had concluded that there was a "probable link" between veterans' illnesses and exposure to neurotoxins, including a drug given to troops in 1991 to protect them from nerve gas, and nerve gas itself, which was released when US-led forces destroyed an Iraqi arms depot. Asked why there was no mention of DU in the report, Dr. Lea Steele, the panel's scientific director, says that her group plans to address it in a later report: "We've only just begun work on this topic. We are certainly not ruling it out."
DU's critics, meanwhile, say it's entirely possible that both neurotoxins and DU are responsible for the widespread sickness among veterans.
Members of the 442nd have vivid memories of being exposed to DU Sergeant Hector Vega, a youthful-looking 48-year-old who in civilian life works in a building opposite Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum, says he now struggles with chest pains, heart palpitations, headaches, urinary problems, body tremors, and breathlessness-none of which he'd ever experienced before going to Iraq. He recalls the unit's base there: "There were burnt-out Iraqi tanks on flatbed trucks 100 yards from where we slept. It looked like our barracks had also been hit, with black soot on the walls. It was open to the elements, and dust was coming in all the time. When the wind blew, we were eating it, breathing it. It was everywhere." (The Department of Defense, or D.O.D., says that a team of specialists is conducting an occupational and environmental health survey in the area.)
Dr. Asaf Durakovic, 64, is a retired US Army colonel and the former head of nuclear medicine at a veterans' hospital in Wilmington, Delaware. Dr. Durakovic reports finding DU in the urine of 18 out of 30 Desert Storm veterans, sometimes up to a decade after they were exposed, and in his view DU fragments are both a significant cause of Gulf War syndrome and a hazard to civilians for an indefinite period of time. He says that when he began to voice these fears inside the military he was first warned, then fired: he now operates from Toronto, Canada, at the independent Uranium Medical Research Centre.
In December 2003, Dr. Durakovic analyzed the urine of nine members of the 442nd. With funds supplied by the New York Daily News, which first published the results, Durakovic sent the samples to a laboratory in Germany that has some of the world's most advanced mass-spectrometry equipment. He concluded that Ramos, Vega, Sergeant Agustin Matos, and Corporal Anthony Yonnone were "internally contaminated by depleted uranium (DU) as a result of exposure through [the] respiratory pathway."
The Pentagon contests these findings. Dr. Kilpatrick says that, when the D.O.D. conducted its own tests, "our results [did] not mirror the results of Dr. Durakovic." "Background" sources, such as water, soil, and therefore food, frequently contain some uranium. The Pentagon insists that the 442nd soldiers' urinary uranium is "within normal dietary ranges," and that "it was not possible to distinguish DU from the background levels of natural uranium." The Pentagon says it has tested about 1,000 vets from the current conflict and found DU contamination in only five. Its critics insist this is because its equipment is too insensitive and its testing methods are hopelessly flawed.
At a briefing before the Iraq invasion in March 2003, Dr. Kilpatrick tried to reassure reporters about DU by citing the cases of about 20 Desert Storm vets who had DU shrapnel in their bodies. "We have not seen any untoward medical consequences in these individuals," he said. "There has been no cancer of bone or lungs, where you would expect them." It appears that he misspoke on that occasion: one of these veterans had already had an arm amputated for an osteosarcoma, or bone tumor, at the site where the shrapnel entered. Dr. Kilpatrick confirms that the veteran was treated by the V.A. in Baltimore, but says his condition may not have been linked with the shrapnel: "Osteosarcomas are fairly common." Studies have shown that DU can begin to move through the body and concentrate in the lymph nodes, and another of the vets with shrapnel has a form of lymphatic cancer. But this, Dr. Kilpatrick says, has "no known cause." He concedes that research has not proved the negative, that DU doesn't cause cancer. But, he says, "science doesn't in 2004 show that DU causes any cancer."
It does, however, show that it may. Pentagon-sponsored studies at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, in Bethesda, Maryland, have found that, when DU was embedded in animals, several genes associated with human tumors underwent "aberrant activation," and oncoproteins of the type found in cancer patients turned up in their blood. The animals' urine was "mutagenic," meaning that it could cause cells to mutate. Another institute project found that DU could damage the immune system by hastening the death of white blood cells and impairing their ability to attack bacteria.
In June 2004 the US General Accounting Office (G.A.O.) issued a report to Congress that was highly critical of government research into Gulf War syndrome and veterans' cancer rates. The report said that the studies on which federal agencies were basing their claim that Gulf War veterans were no sicker than the veterans of other wars "may not be reliable" and had "inherent limitations," with big data gaps and methodological flaws. Because cancers can take years to develop, the G.A.O. stated, "it may be too early" to draw any conclusions. Dr. Kilpatrick dismisses this report, saying it was "just the opinion of a group of individuals."
Yet another Pentagon-funded study suggested that DU might have effects on unborn children. After finding that pregnant rats transmitted DU to their offspring through the placenta, the study concluded: "Fetal exposure to uranium during critical prenatal development may adversely impact the future behavioral and neurological development of offspring." In September 2004, the New York Daily News reported that Gerard Darren Matthew, who had served in Iraq with the 719th Transportation Company, which is based in Harlem, had tested positive for DU after suffering migraines, fatigue, and a burning sensation when urinating. Following his return, his wife became pregnant, and their daughter, Victoria Claudette, was born missing three fingers.
Ultimately, critics say, the Pentagon underestimates the dangers of DU because it measures them in the wrong way: by calculating the average amount of DU radiation produced throughout the body. When we meet, Dr. Kilpatrick gives me a report the Department of Defense issued in 2000. It concludes that even vets with the highest exposures from embedded shrapnel could expect over 50 years to receive a dose of just five rem, "which is the annual limit for [nuclear industry] workers." The dose for those who inhaled dust from burned-out tanks would be "far below the annual guideline (0.1 rem) for members of the public."
But to measure the effect of DU as a whole-body radiation dose is meaningless, Asaf Durakovic says, because the dose from DU is intensely concentrated in the cells around a mote of dust. The alpha particles DU emits-high-energy clumps of protons and neutrons-are harmless outside the body, because they cannot pass through skin. Inside tissue, however, they wreak a havoc analogous to that of a penetrating shell against an enemy tank, bombarding cell nuclei, breaking chains of DNA, damaging fragile genes. Marcelo Valdes, a physicist and computer scientist who is president of Dr. Durakovic's research institute, says the cells around a DU particle 2.5 microns in diameter will receive a maximum annual radiation dose of 16 rads. If every pocket of tissue in the body were to absorb that amount of radiation, the total level would reach seven trillion rads-millions of times the lethal dosage.
In the potentially thousands of hot spots inside the lungs of a person exposed to DU dust, the same cells will be irradiated again and again, until their ability to repair themselves is lost. In 1991, Durakovic found DU in the urine of 14 veterans who had returned from the Gulf with headaches, muscle and skeletal pain, fatigue, trembling, and kidney problems. "Immediately I understood from their symptoms and their histories that they could have been exposed to radiation," he says. Within three years, two were dead from lung cancer: "One was 33, the other 42. Both were nonsmokers, in previously excellent health."
DU, he says, steadily migrates to the bones. There it irradiates the marrow, where stem cells, the progenitors of all the other cells the body manufactures in order to renew itself, are produced. "Stem cells are very vulnerable," Durakovic says. "Bombarded with alpha particles, their DNA will fall apart, potentially affecting every organ. If malfunctioning stem cells become new liver cells, then the liver will malfunction. If stem cells are damaged, they may form defective tissue."
If DU is as dangerous as its critics allege, it can kill even without causing cancer. At her home in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Susan Riordon recalls the return of her husband, Terry, from the Gulf in 1991. Terry, a security captain, served in intelligence during the war: his service record refers to his setting up a "safe haven" in the Iraqi "theatre." Possibly, Susan speculates, this led him behind enemy lines and exposed him to DU during the long aerial bombing campaign that preceded the 1991 invasion. In any event, "when he came home, he didn't really come home," she says.
At first, Terry merely had the usual headaches, body pain, oozing rash, and other symptoms. But later he began to suffer from another symptom which afflicts some of those exposed to DU: burning semen. "If he leaked a little lubrication from his penis, it would feel like sunburn on your skin. If you got to the point where you did have intercourse, you were up and out of that bed so fast-it actually causes vaginal blisters that burst and bleed." Terry's medical records support her description. In England, Malcolm Hooper, professor emeritus of medicinal chemistry at the University of Sunderland, is aware of 4,000 such cases. He hypothesizes that the presence of DU may be associated with the transformation of semen into a caustic alkali.
"It hurt [Terry] too. He said it was like forcing it through barbed wire," Riordon says. "It seemed to burn through condoms; if he got any on his thighs or his testicles, he was in hell." In a last, desperate attempt to save their sex life, says Riordon, "I used to fill condoms with frozen peas and insert them [after sex] with a lubricant." That, she says, made her pain just about bearable. Perhaps inevitably, he became impotent. "And that was like our last little intimacy gone."
By late 1995, Terry was seriously deteriorating. Susan shows me her journal-she titled it "The Twilight Zone"-and his medical record. It makes harrowing reading. He lost his fine motor control to the point where he could not button his shirt or zip his fly. While walking, he would fall without warning. At night, he shook so violently that the bed would move across the floor. He became unpredictably violent: one terrible day in 1997 he attacked their 16-year-old son and started choking him. By the time armed police arrived to pull him off, the boy's bottom lip had turned blue. After such rages, he would fall into a deep sleep for as long as 24 hours, and awake with no memory of what had happened. That year, Terry and Susan stopped sleeping in the same bedroom. Then "he began to barricade himself in his room for days, surviving on granola bars and cartons of juice."
As he went downhill, Terry was assessed as completely disabled, but there was no diagnosis as to why. His records contain references to "somatization disorder," post-traumatic stress, and depression. In 1995 the army doctors even suggested that he had become ill only after reading of Gulf War syndrome. Through 1998 and 1999, he began to lose all cognitive functions and was sometimes lucid for just a few hours each week.
Even after he died, on April 29, 1999, Terry's Canadian doctors remained unable to explain his illness. "This patient has a history [of] 'Gulf War Syndrome' with multiple motor, sensory and emotional problems," the autopsy report by pathologist Dr. B. Jollymore, of Yarmouth, begins. "During extensive investigation, no definitive diagnosis has been determined.... Essentially it appears that this gentleman remains an enigma in death as he was in life."
Not long before Terry's death, Susan Riordon had learned of Asaf Durakovic, and of the possibility that her husband absorbed DU His urine-test results-showing a high DU concentration eight years after he was presumably exposed-came through on Monday, April 26: "Tuesday he was reasonably cognitive, and was able to tell me that he wanted his body and organs to go to Dr. Durakovic," she remembers. "He knew it was too late to help him, but he made me promise that his body could help the international community. On the Wednesday, I completed the purchase of this house. On Thursday, he was dead.
"It was a very strange death. He was very peaceful. I've always felt that Asaf allowed Terry to go: knowing he was DU-positive meant he wasn't crazy anymore. Those last days he was calm. He wasn't putting the phone in the microwave; he had no more mood swings."
After Riordon's death, Dr. Durakovic and his colleagues found accumulations of DU in his bones and lungs.
Dr. Durakovic suspects the military of minimizing the health and environmental consequences of DU weapons, and suggests two reasons it may have for doing so: "to keep them off the list of war criminals, and to avoid paying compensation which could run into billions of dollars." To this might be added a third: depleted uranium, because of its unique armor-penetrating capabilities, has become a defining feature of American warfare, one whose loss would be intolerable to military planners.
In 1991, the US used DU weapons to kill thousands of Iraqis in tanks and armored vehicles on the "highway of death" from Kuwait to Basra. The one-sided victory ushered in a new era of "lethality overmatch"-the ability to strike an enemy with virtual impunity. A Pentagon pamphlet from 2003 states that a central objective of the American military is to "generate dominant lethality overmatch across the full spectrum of operations," and no weapon is better suited to achieving that goal than DU
The value of depleted uranium was spelled out more simply in a Pentagon briefing by Colonel James Naughton of the army's Materiel Command in March 2003, just before the Iraq invasion: "What we want to be able to do is strike the target from farther away than we can be hit back.... We don't want to fight even. Nobody goes into a war and wants to be even with the enemy. We want to be ahead, and DU gives us that advantage."
If the Pentagon is right about the risks of DU, such statements should not be controversial. If it is wrong, says retired army colonel Dr. Andras Korenyi-Both, who headed one of the main field hospitals during Desert Storm and later conducted some of the first research into Gulf War syndrome, the position is less clear-cut. "You'd have to deal with the question of whether it's better not to use DU and have more of your soldiers die in battle or to use DU and lose very few in the field-but have them get sick and die when they get home."
One desert morning in the early spring of 1991, while sitting in his office at the Eskan Village military compound near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Lieutenant Doug Rokke was shown a memorandum. Rokke, a health physicist and training specialist, was a reservist and had recently been ordered to join the Third US Army's depleted-uranium-assessment team, assigned to clean up and move American vehicles hit by friendly fire during Operation Desert Storm. The memo, dated March 1, came from a senior military officer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico.
During the Gulf War, it said, "DU penetrators were very effective against Iraqi armor." However, "there has been and continues to be a concern regarding the impact of DU on the environment. Therefore, if no one makes a case for the effectiveness of DU on the battlefield, DU rounds may become politically unacceptable and thus, be deleted from the arsenal.... I believe we should keep this sensitive issue at mind when after-action reports are written."
Rokke says: "I interpreted the memo to mean: we want this stuff-don't write anything that might make it difficult for us to use it again."
Rokke's assignment was dangerous and unpleasant. The vehicles were coated with uranium-oxide soot, and dust lay in the sand outside. He wore a mask, but it didn't help. "We could taste it and smell it," he says of the DU "It tasted very strong-and unmistakable." Years later, he says, he was found to be excreting uranium at 5,000 times the normal level. Now 55, he pants during ordinary conversation and says he still gets a rash like the one Raymond Ramos of the 442nd suffers from. In addition, Rokke has joint pains, muscle aches, and cataracts.
In 1994, Rokke became director of a Pentagon project designed to learn more about DU contamination and to develop training that would minimize its risks. "I'm a warrior, and warriors want to fulfill their mission," Rokke says. "I went into this wanting to make it work, to work out how to use DU safely, and to show other soldiers how to do so and how to clean it up. This was not science out of a book, but science done by blowing the shit out of tanks and seeing what happens. And as we did this work, slowly it dawned on me that we were screwed. You can't do this safely in combat conditions. You can't decontaminate the environment or your own troops."
Rokke and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments at the US Department of Energy's Nevada nuclear-test site. They set fire to a Bradley loaded with DU rounds and fired DU shells at old Soviet tanks. At his remote, ramshackle farmhouse amid the rural flatlands of central Illinois, Rokke shows me videos of his tests. Most spectacular are those shot at night, which depict the fiery streak of the DU round, already burning before impact, followed by the red cascade of the debris cloud. "Everything we hit we destroyed," he says. "I tell you, these things are just ... fantastic."
The papers Rokke wrote describing his findings are more sobering. He recorded levels of contamination that were 15 times the army's permissible levels in tanks hit by DU, and up to 4.5 times such levels in clothing exposed to DU
The good news was that it was possible, using a special Department of Energy vacuum cleaner designed for sucking up radioactive waste, to reduce contamination from vehicles and equipment to near official limits, and to "mask" the intense radiation around holes left by DU projectiles by sealing them with layers of foam caulking, paint, or cardboard. (Such work, Rokke wrote, would naturally have to be carried out by teams in full radiological-protection suits and respirators.)
When it came to clothes, however, DU particles "became imbedded in the clothing and could not be removed with brushing or other abrasive methods." Rokke found that even after he tried to decontaminate them the clothes were still registering between two and three times the limit. "This may pose a significant logistics impact," Rokke wrote, with some understatement.
The elaborate procedures required to decontaminate equipment, meanwhile, would be almost impossible to implement in combat. "On a real battlefield, it's not like there's any control," Rokke says. "It's chaos. Maybe it's night. Who's going to come along and isolate contaminated enemy tanks? You've got a pile of rubble and mess and you're still coming under fire. The idea that you're going to come out in radiological suits and vacuum up a building or a smashed T-72 [tank]-it's ridiculous."
Large amounts of black DU-oxide dust were readily visible within 50 meters of a tank hit by penetrators and within 100 meters of the DU-packed Bradley that was set on fire. But less obvious amounts were easily detected at much greater distances. Worse, such dust could be "re-suspended" in the atmosphere "upon contact, if wind blew, or during movement." For American troops, that meant that "respiratory and skin protection is warranted during all phases of recovery." For civilians, even ones at considerable distances, it meant they might be exposed to windblown DU far into the future.
After Rokke completed the project, he was appointed head of the lab at Fort McClellan where it had been based. He resigned the staff physicist post he'd held for 19 years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and moved south with his family. Early in 1996, after he began to voice the conclusions he was drawing about the future viability of DU weapons, he was fired. "Then I remembered the Los Alamos memo," he says. "They'd wanted 'proponency' for DU weapons, and I was giving them the opposite." I ask Dr. Kilpatrick, the D.O.D. spokesman on DU, about Rokke's test firings. His reply: "One, he never did that. He was in Nevada as an observer. He was not part of that program at all. At that time he was working in education at an army school, and his assignment was to develop educational materials for troops." Rokke, he says, may have spent a few days observing the tests but did not organize them.
Documents from Rokke's service record tell a different story. His appraisal from December 1, 1995, written by Dr. Ed Battle, then chief of the radiation laboratories at Fort McClellan, describes Rokke's mission as follows: to "plan, coordinate, supervise and implement the US Army ... depleted uranium training development project." He continued: "Captain Rokke has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to function well above his current rank and is as effective as any I have known." He had directly participated in "extremely crucial tests at the Nevada Atomic Test Site," and his achievements had been "absolutely phenomenal."
Rokke was awarded two medals for his work. The citation for one commended him for "meritorious service while assigned as the depleted uranium project leader. Your outstanding achievements have prepared our soldiers for hazards and will have a vast payoff in the health, safety, and protection of all soldiers."
Rokke's work in Nevada helped persuade the military that DU weapons had to be dealt with carefully. On September 16, 2002, General Eric Shinseki, the US Army chief of staff, signed Army Regulation 700-48, which sets forth strict rules for handling items, including destroyed or disabled enemy targets, that have been hit and contaminated by DU "During peacetime or as soon as operational risk permits," it states, local commanders must "identify, segregate, isolate, secure, and label all RCE [radiologically contaminated equipment]. Procedures to minimize the spread of radioactivity will be implemented as soon as possible." Under pre-existing regulations, damaged vehicles should be moved to a collection point or maintenance facility, and "covered and wrapped with canvas or plastic tarp to prevent spread of contaminants," with loose items placed in double plastic bags. Soldiers who carry out such tasks should wear protective equipment.
The burned-out tanks behind the 442nd's barracks in Samawah may not have been the only DU-contaminated pieces of equipment to be left where they lay. In the fall of 2003, Tedd Weyman, a colleague of Dr. Durakovic's, spent 16 days in Iraq, taking samples and observing the response of coalition forces to General Shinseki's directive. "When tanks shot up by DU munitions were removed, I saw no precautions being taken at all," he says. "Ordinary soldiers with no protection just came along and used chains to load them onto flatbeds, towing them away just as they might your car if it broke down on the highway. They took them to bases with British and American troops and left them in the open." Time after time, Weyman recorded high levels of contamination-so high that on his return to Canada he was found to have 4.5 times the normal level of uranium in his own urine.
A Pentagon memo, signed on May 30, 2003, by Dr. William Winkenwerder, an assistant defense secretary, says that any American personnel "who were in, on, or near combat vehicles at the time they were struck by DU rounds," or who entered such vehicles or fought fires involving DU munitions, should be assessed for possible exposure and receive appropriate health care. This category could be said to include any soldier who fought in, or cleaned up after, battles with Iraqi armor.
Still, the Pentagon insists that the risks remain acceptably small. "There isn't any recognized disease from exposure to natural or depleted uranium," Dr. Kilpatrick says. He tells me that America will mount a thorough cleanup in Iraq, disposing of any DU fragments and burying damaged vehicles in unpopulated locations, but that, for the time being, such an operation is impossible. "We really can't begin any environmental assessment or cleanup while there's ongoing combat." Nevertheless, he says, there's no cause for concern. "I think we can be very confident that what is in the environment does not create a hazard for those living in the environment and working in it."
As this article was going to press, the Pentagon published the findings of a new study that, according to Dr. Kilpatrick, shows DU to be a "lethal but safe weapons system."
In his Pentagon briefing in March 2003, Dr. Kilpatrick said that even if DU weapons did generate toxic dust, it would not spread. "It falls to the ground very quickly-usually within about a 50-meter range," he said. "It's heavy. It's 1.7 times as heavy as lead. So even if it's a small dust particle ... it stays on the ground." Evidence that this is not the case comes from somewhere much closer than Iraq-an abandoned DU-weapons factory in Colonie, New York, a few miles from Albany, the state capital.
In 1958, a corporation called National Lead began making depleted-uranium products at a plant on Central Avenue, surrounded by houses and an Amtrak line. In 1979, just as the plant was increasing its production of DU ammunition to meet a new Pentagon contract, a whistle-blower from inside the plant told the county health department that N.L. was releasing large amounts of DU oxide into the environment.
Over the next two years, he and other workers testified before both the New York State Assembly and a local residents' campaign group. They painted a picture of reckless neglect. DU chips and shavings were simply incinerated, and the resulting oxide dust passed into the atmosphere through the chimneys. "I used to do a lot of burning," William Luther told the governor's task force in 1982. "They told me to do it at night so the black smoke wouldn't be seen." Later, many of the workers were found to have inhaled huge doses into their lungs, and some developed cancers and other illnesses at relatively young ages.
In January 1980 the state forced N.L. to agree to limit its radioactive emissions to 500 microcuries per year. The following month, the state shut the plant down. In January alone, the DU-chip burner had released 2,000 microcuries. An official environmental survey produced horrifying results. Soil in the gardens of homes near the plant was emitting radiation at up to 300 times the normal background level for upstate New York. Inside the 11-acre factory site, readings were up to five times higher.
The federal government has been spending tax dollars to clean up the Colonie site for the past 19 years, under a program called fusrap-the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program. Today, all that is left of the Colonie plant are enormous piles of earth, constantly moistened with hoses and secured by giant tarpaulins to prevent dispersal, and a few deep pits. In its autumn 2004 bulletin to residents, the fusrap team disclosed that it had so far removed 125,242 tons of contaminated soil from the area, all of which have been buried at radioactive-waste sites in Utah and Idaho. In some places, the excavations are more than 10 feet deep. fusrap had also discovered contamination in the neighboring Patroon Creek, where children used to play, and in the reservoir it feeds, and had treated 23.5 million gallons of contaminated water. The cost so far has been about $155 million, and the earliest forecast for the work's completion is 2008.
Years before fusrap began to dig, there were data to suggest that DU particles-and those emitted at Colonie are approximately the same size as those produced by weapons-can travel much farther than 50 meters. In 1979, nuclear physicist Len Dietz was working at a lab operated by General Electric in Schenectady, 10 miles west of Colonie. "We had air filters all around our perimeter fence," he recalls. "One day our radiological manager told me we had a problem: one of the filters was showing abnormally high alpha radiation. Much to our surprise, we found DU in it. There could only be one source: the N.L. plant." Dietz had other filters checked both in Schenectady and at other G.E. sites. The three that were farthest away were in West Milton, 26 miles northwest, and upwind, of Colonie. All the filters contained pure Colonie DU "Effectively," says Dietz, "the particles' range is unlimited."
In August 2003, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry published a short report on Colonie. On the one hand, it declared that the pollution produced when the plant was operating could have increased the risks of kidney disease and lung cancer. Because the source of the danger had shut down, however, there was now "no apparent public health hazard." Thus there was no need to conduct a full epidemiological study of those who had lived near and worked at the factory-the one way to produce hard scientific data on what the health consequences of measurable DU contamination actually are.
The people of Colonie have been trying to collect health data of their own. Sharon Herr, 45, lived near the plant for nine years. She used to work 60 hours a week at two jobs-as a clerk in the state government and as a real-estate agent. Now she too is sick, and suffers symptoms which sound like a textbook case of Gulf War syndrome: "Fourteen years ago, I lost my grip to the point where I can't turn keys. I'm stiff, with bad joint and muscle pain, which has got progressively worse. I can't go upstairs without getting out of breath. I get fatigue so intense there are days I just can't do much. And I fall down-I'll be out walking and suddenly I fall." Together with her friend Anne Rabe, 49, a campaigner against N.L. since the 1980s, she has sent questionnaires to as many of the people who lived on the streets close to the plant as possible. So far, they have almost 400 replies.
Among those who responded were people with rare cancers or cancers that appeared at an unusually young age, and families whose children had birth defects. There were 17 cases of kidney problems, 15 of lung cancer, and 11 of leukemia. There were also five thyroid cancers and 16 examples of other thyroid problems-all conditions associated with radiation. Other people described symptoms similar to Herr's. Altogether, 174 of those in the sample had been diagnosed with one kind of cancer or another. American women have about a 33 percent chance of getting cancer in their lifetimes, mostly after the age of 60. (For men, it's nearly 50 percent.) Some of the Colonie cancer victims are two decades younger. "We have what look like possible suspicious clusters," says Rabe. "A health study here is a perfect opportunity to see how harmful this stuff really is."
On June 14, 2004, the army's Physical Evaluation Board, the body that decides whether a soldier should get sickness pay, convened to evaluate the case of Raymond Ramos of the 442nd Military Police company. It followed the Pentagon's approach, not Dr. Durakovic's. The board examined his Walter Reed medical-file summary, which describes his symptoms in detail, suggests that they may have been caused by serving in Iraq, and accepts that "achieving a cure is not a realistic treatment objective." But the summary mentions no physical reason for them at all, let alone depleted uranium.
Like many veterans of the first Gulf War, Ramos was told by the board that his disability had been caused primarily by post-traumatic stress. It did not derive "from injury or disease received in the line of duty as a direct result of armed conflict." Instead, his record says, he got "scared in the midst of a riot" and was "emotionally upset by reports of battle casualties." Although he was too sick to go back to work as a narcotics cop, he would get a disability benefit fixed at $1,197 a month, just 30 percent of his basic military pay.
On the day we meet, in September 2004, his symptoms are hardly alleviated. "I'm in lots of pain in my joints. I'm constantly fatigued-I can fall asleep at the drop of a dime. My wife tells me things and I just forget. It's not fair to my family."
For the time being, the case against DU appears to remain unproved. But if Asaf Durakovic, Doug Rokke, and their many allies around the world are right, and the Pentagon wrong, the costs-human, legal, and financial-will be incalculable. They may also be widespread. In October, the regional health authority of Sardinia, Italy, began hearings to investigate illnesses suffered by people who live near a US firing range there that tests DU weapons.
In 2002 the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights declared that depleted uranium was a weapon of mass destruction, and its use a breach of international law. But the difference between DU and the W.M.D. that formed the rationale for the Iraqi invasion is that depleted uranium may have a boomerang effect, afflicting the soldiers of the army that fires it as well as the enemy victims of "lethality overmatch."
The four members of the 442nd who tested positive all say they have met soldiers from other units during their medical treatment who complain of similar ailments, and fear that they too may have been exposed. "It's bad enough being sent out there knowing you could be killed in combat," Raymond Ramos says. "But people are at risk of bringing something back that might kill them slowly. That's not right."
David Rose is a Vanity Fair contributing editor. His book Guant a1namo: The War on Human Rights is an in-depth investigation of the atrocities taking place at the Cuban prison.
Editor's Note: The following interviews were published this week by The Lone Star Iconoclast. This is the little paper in Crawford, Texas, that has been shunned by town boosters for criticizing President Bush. The interviews address a terribly alarming issue that is little known or studied: the widespread use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons by the US and Britain in Iraq and elsewhere.
Because DU has not been well studied, it is hard to verify every claim made in these interviews. However it is very clear that the federal government and US military do not want to know more about DU and its effects and are suppressing information. You will find details about this suppression in the second article below by David Rose, published in the November 2004 issue of Vanity Fair.
At the very minimum, US soldiers returning from Iraq should be routinely tested for DU exposure and health effects. Several bills mandating such testing are now moving through various State Houses. -kw
What Is Depleted Uranium?
The Lone Star Iconoclast
Monday 09 May 2005
Crawford - The Lone Star Iconoclast last week conducted a test by asking 20 Texans, representing all walks of life and from different territories of the state, "What are your views on depleted uranium?"
Nineteen had no clue what the interviewer was talking about.
One offered, "Isn't that the stuff that's hauled away from nuclear power plants?"
None knew that depleted uranium (DU) is radioactive material being used in military ammunition and none knew that the US military is utilizing weapons to launch these nuclear DU projectiles in Iraq.
Likewise, not one of the queried Texans was aware that DU poses significant health threats not only to Iraqis, but to Americans as well, for the radioactivity spreads from continent to continent through the atmosphere and is brought home through soldiers to their families and associates.
Uranium is one of the heaviest elements found in nature and increases in radioactivity as it decays. After enriched uranium which is to be used for nuclear fuel is extracted from natural uranium, the leftover nuclear waste, commonly known as depleted uranium, is stored in steel cylinders for public protection.
Depleted uranium is heavy, cheap, abundant, and is provided free of charge to arms manufacturers as a way of disposing of the material.
DU rounds are used in a variety of high intensity weapons and is used in a variety of forms. Since the projectiles are so powerful, the DU gets hot and oxides into aerosol-like particles that can be less than 10 microns or smaller than a white blood cell and are, therefore, easily inhalable.
According to a study conducted by Iliya Pesic in a paper entitled "Depleted Uranium - Ethics of the Silver Bullet", there are serious long-term effects of DU in Iraq.
"In regions heavily hit by DU, studies have shown that numerous civilians have extensive problems with their immune systems, malignant cancers (such as ludicrously high leukemia rates), heart problems, and bizarre abnormal birth defects (such as children born without eyes, ears, tongue, etc.). In some regions, leukemia has become one of the main forms of cancer-related death."
Pesic continues, "Contaminated agriculture and water supplies help spread the DU dust which continues to hurt people in diferent regions where DU ammo was not used."
Pesic notes that veterans and civilians exposed to DU have experienced extensive irreversible damage to kidney and partial kidney failure. "Cancers related to one's blood, bone, and immune system become common. There are also various other biological effects claimed from DU, such as chronic fatigue, respiratory problems, heart problems, digestive organ damage (e.g. liver failure and severe rectal bleeding), etc."
For this edition, The Iconoclast contacted some of the top experts in the field of depleted uranium, who agreed to be interviewed:
[ Leuren Moret, a Berkeley-based geo-scientist with expertise in atmospheric dust.
[ Dr. Doug Rokke, Ph.D., Major (retired) United States Army Reserve, former Director of the US Army Depleted Uranium Project.
[ Melissa Sterry, a Gulf War veteran who is surviving the effects of depleted uranium.
The interviews are presented in these formats: A Military Perspective, A Scientific Perspective, and A Survivor's Perspective.
On the same subject, The Iconoclast is publishing an editorial encouraging the Texas Legislature to provide DU testing for soldiers who are returning from overseas, so that if problems exist, they can be addressed.
A Scientific Perspective
Interview with Leuren Moret, Geo-Scientist
A Military Perspective
Interview with Dr. Doug Rokke, Ph.D, former Director of the US Army Depleted Uranium Project
A Survivor's Perpsective
Interview with Melissa Sterry, Gulf War Veteran who is surviving the effects of depleted uranium