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Depleted Uranium in recent news

Depleted Uranium in the news:

* Poisened? Report reveals US troops may be victims

* Dutch troops avoiding Iraqi site where US troops heavily exposed

* Hear a Nuclear Research Policy Institute conference on Depleted Uranium

Shocking report reveals local troops may be victims of America's high-tech weapons

New York Daily News, April 3, 2004



Army Sgt. Hector Vega at his Bronx home. Augustin Matos with his daughter Samantha Four soldiers from a New York Army National Guard company serving in Iraq are contaminated with radiation likely caused by dust from depleted uranium shells fired by U.S. troops, a Daily News investigation has found.

They are among several members of the same company, the 442nd Military Police, who say they have been battling persistent physical ailments that began last summer in the Iraqi town of Samawah.

"I got sick instantly in June," said Staff Sgt. Ray Ramos, a Brooklyn housing cop. "My health kept going downhill with daily headaches, constant numbness in my hands and rashes on my stomach."

A nuclear medicine expert who examined and tested nine soldiers from the company says that four "almost certainly" inhaled radioactive dust from exploded American shells manufactured with depleted uranium.

Laboratory tests conducted at the request of The News revealed traces of two manmade forms of uranium in urine samples from four of the soldiers.

If so, the men - Sgt. Hector Vega, Sgt. Ray Ramos, Sgt. Agustin Matos and Cpl. Anthony Yonnone - are the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict.

The 442nd, made up for the most part of New York cops, firefighters and correction officers, is based in Orangeburg, Rockland County. Dispatched to Iraq last Easter, the unit's members have been providing guard duty for convoys, running jails and training Iraqi police. The entire company is due to return home later this month.

"These are amazing results, especially since these soldiers were military police not exposed to the heat of battle," said Dr. Asaf Duracovic, who examined the G.I.s and performed the testing that was funded by The News.

"Other American soldiers who were in combat must have more depleted uranium exposure," said Duracovic, a colonel in the Army Reserves who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

While working at a military hospital in Delaware, he was one of the first doctors to discover unusual radiation levels in Gulf War veterans. He has since become a leading critic of the use of depleted uranium in warfare.

Depleted uranium, a waste product of the uranium enrichment process, has been used by the U.S. and British military for more than 15 years in some artillery shells and as armor plating for tanks. It is twice as heavy as lead.

Because of its density, "It is the superior heavy metal for armor to protect tanks and to penetrate armor," Pentagon spokesman Michael Kilpatrick said.

The Army and Air Force fired at least 127 tons of depleted uranium shells in Iraq last year, Kilpatrick said. No figures have yet been released for how much the Marines fired.

Kilpatrick said about 1,000 G.I.s back from the war have been tested by the Pentagon for depleted uranium and only three have come up positive - all as a result of shrapnel from DU shells.

But the test results for the New York guardsmen - four of nine positives for DU - suggest the potential for more extensive radiation exposure among coalition troops and Iraqi civilians.

Several Army studies in recent years have concluded that the low-level radiation emitted when shells containing DU explode poses no significant dangers. But some independent scientists and a few of the ­Army's own reports indicate otherwise.

As a result, depleted uranium weapons have sparked increasing controversy around the world. In January 2003, the ­European Parliament called for a moratorium on their use after reports of an unusual number of leukemia deaths among Italian soldiers who served in Kosovo, where DU weapons were used.

I keep getting weaker. What is happening to me?

The Army says that only soldiers wounded by depleted uranium shrapnel or who are inside tanks during an explosion face measurable radiation exposure.

But as far back as 1979, Leonard Dietz, a physicist at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory upstate, discovered that DU-contaminated dust could travel for long distances.

Dietz, who pioneered the technology to isolate uranium isotopes, accidentally discovered that air filters with which he was experimenting had collected radioactive dust from a National Lead Industries Plant that was producing DU 26 miles away. His discovery led to a shutdown of the plant.

"The contamination was so heavy that they had to remove the topsoil from 52 properties around the plant," Dietz said.

All humans have at least tiny amounts of natural uranium in their bodies because it is found in water and in the food supply, Dietz said. But natural uranium is quickly and harmlessly excreted by the body.

Uranium oxide dust, which lodges in the lungs once inhaled and is not very soluble, can emit radiation to the body for years.

"Anybody, civilian or soldier, who breathes these particles has a permanent dose, and it's not going to decrease very much over time," said Dietz, who retired in 1983 after 33 years as nuclear physicist. "In the long run ... veterans exposed to ceramic uranium oxide have a major problem."

Critics of DU have noted that the Army's view of its dangers has changed over time.

Before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, a 1990 Army report noted that depleted uranium is "linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and] chemical toxicity causing kidney damage."

It was during the Gulf War that U.S. A-10 Warthog "tank buster" planes and Abrams tanks first used DU artillery on a mass scale. The Pentagon says it fired about 320 tons of DU in that war and that smaller amounts were also used in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

In the Gulf War, Army brass did not warn soldiers about any risks from exploding DU shells. An unknown number of G.I.s were exposed by shrapnel, inhalation or handling battlefield debris.

Some veterans groups blame DU contamination as a factor in Gulf War syndrome, the term for a host of ailments that afflicted thousands of vets from that war.

Under pressure from veterans groups, the Pentagon commissioned several new studies. One of those, published in 2000, concluded that DU, as a heavy metal, "could pose a chemical hazard" but that Gulf War veterans "did not experience intakes high enough to affect their health."

Pentagon spokesman Michael Kilpatrick said Army followup studies of 70 DU-contaminated Gulf War veterans have not shown serious health effects.

"For any heavy metal, there is no such thing as safe," Kilpatrick said. "There is an issue of chemical toxicity, and for DU it is raised as radiological toxicity as well."

But he said "the overwhelming conclusion" from studies of those who work with uranium "show it has not produced any increase in cancers."

Several European studies, however, have linked DU to chromosome damage and birth defects in mice. Many scientists say we still don't know enough about the long-range effects of low-level radiation on the body to say any amount is safe.

Britain's national science academy, the Royal Society, has called for identifying where DU was used and is urging a cleanup of all contaminated areas.

"A large number of American soldiers [in Iraq] may have had significant exposure to uranium oxide dust," said Dr. Thomas Fasey, a pathologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center and an expert on depleted uranium. "And the health impact is worrisome for the future."

As for the soldiers of the 442nd, they're sick, frustrated and confused. They say when they arrived in Iraq no one warned them about depleted uranium and no one gave them dust masks.

Experts behind News probe

As part of the investigation by the Daily News, Dr. Asaf Duracovic, a nuclear medicine expert who has conducted extensive research on depleted uranium, examined the nine soldiers from the 442nd Military Police in late December and collected urine specimens from each.

Another member of his team, Prof. Axel Gerdes, a geologist at Goethe University in Frankfurt who specializes in analyzing uranium isotopes, performed repeated tests on the samples over a week-long ­period. He used a state-of-the art procedure called multiple collector inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry.

Only about 100 laboratories worldwide have the same capability to identify and measure various uranium isotopes in minute quantities, Gerdes said.

Gerdes concluded that four of the men had depleted uranium in their bodies. Depleted uranium, which does not occur in nature, is created as a waste product of uranium enrichment when some of the highly radioactive isotopes in natural uranium, U-235 and U-234, are extracted.

Several of the men, according to Duracovic, also had minute traces of another uranium isotope, U-236, that is produced only in a nuclear reaction process.

"These men were almost certainly exposed to radioactive weapons on the battlefield," Duracovic said.

He and Gerdes plan to issue a scientific paper on their study of the soldiers at the annual meeting of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine in Finland this year.

When DU shells explode, they permanently contaminate their target and the area immediately around it with low-level radioactivity.

Originally published on April 3, 2004


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Review of International Social Questions
( The Netherlands RISQ is an independent foreign policy think tank.)

Dutch military in Iraq delays troop transfer from suspected DU contaminated area

When Dutch marines arrived in a base camp near the town of As Samawah, Iraq, to replace American troops last summer, they measured unacceptably high levels of radioactivity. Yet troop transfer from the area was delayed by three weeks, putting both Dutch and American troops at risk of exposure to depleted uranium (DU).

On July 24th last year, Dutch troops arrived in 'Camp Smitty', a base set up by the Americans in an abandoned train depot near the town of As Samawah. Located along the railway track from Basra to Baghdad, and consisting of several concrete buildings big enough to lodge both troops and their vehicles, the location seemed a perfect outpost.

Set to replace the 442nd US Military Police Brigade stationed in the depot since early June, the Dutch troops put up their field beds inside, granting them at least some shelter from the ever-present desert heat and sand storms in the area, even though the buildings were dirty, dusty, vermin-infested and most windows were broken. Meals and other collective gatherings were held outside on the yard along the railway tracks amidst abandoned train engines and carriages, wrecked Iraqi tanks, unexploded ordnance, and other remnants of war.

Settled all right thus by military standards, the Dutch troops could have made Camp Smitty their 'home', just as the Americans had done for months. Yet shortly after their arrival, they made an alarming discovery, which according to Sgt. Juan Vega, senior medic with the US 442nd, led the Dutch "to pitch camp in the desert instead". As Mr Vega told the New York-based Daily News "the Dutch swept the area around the train depot with Geiger counters and their medics confided to [me] they had found high radiation levels".

According to Mr Vega and other soldiers interviewed by the paper, the radiation may have come from the remains of DU shells scattering the compound or one of the wrecked Iraqi tanks, which had been hauled onto railroad cars just outside the depot. Yet, since DU can take the form of a very fine, toxic and radiocative dust that easily spreads, a much greater part of the compound may have been contaminated.

As quite a few of the American troops who were based in Camp Smitty, are still suffering from chronic nausea, skin rashes and migraines, they suspect they may have inhaled a toxic dosis of DU dust during their stay. Already, four out of nine veterans who volunteered for a test, were found to have higher than normal levels of uranium in their urine.

While the US Department of Defence has recently announced it will investigate the case of the veterans from Camp Smitty, military personnel representatives in the Netherlands have raised concerns about the health of Dutch troops that have stayed there. Yesterday, a spokesperson of the Dutch Military of Defence merely conceded that "upon arrival, the marines declared part of the compound off-limits", assuring that "all necessary precautionary measures were taken". A source in one of the military personnel unions confirmed that they were informed by the Ministry about "certain measurements, which led the troops to close off a building on the compound". However, the source said, "no reference was made to the possibility of DU contamination there".

As the new camp out in the desert was still under construction, the Dutch troops stayed in the train depot at least until mid August. Pictures archived on the website of the Ministry of Defence show marines resting on field beds set up inside one of the buildings and sharing meals on the yard outside as late as 6 August 2003. By that time, they had been on the compound for over two weeks, even as 90 of them fell ill - some so much so that they had to be IV-fed. According to the Ministry they had contracted a virus, "due to the high temperatures, the change in food and lifestyle, and the higher concentration of viruses in the air of hot countries such as Iraq".

Note: All over Iraq, the remains of spent DU shells and DU-contaminated debris have been found littering the streets in urban areas. Some wrecked vehicles have been towed away, and the most obvious contaminated sites are marked. However, most locations have not even been identified let alone cleaned, even though there is a widely shared consensus that DU contamination can be a potential health hazard.

To minimize the risk of exposure, foreign troops have been instructed to stay away from potentially contaminated areas as much as possible or to wear, at least, respiratory protection and gloves when it is inevitable to enter such sites.

As for Iraqi civilians, there is no indication that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has properly informed the population about DU contamination. The British Ministry of Defence merely affirms that Iraqi locals have been warned "that they should not go near or touch any debris they find on the battlefield" Perhaps this would have sufficed, were it not for the fact that quite a few battles have been fought in densely populated areas, where it is virtually impossible for residents to avoid all remnants of war.

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Using Real Player or other media software, you can hear a June 2003 "Democracy Now" program on DU featuring a Nuclear Policy Research Institute conference on Depleted Uranium with

* Helen Caldicott, President of Nuclear Policy Research Institute and former President of Physicians for Social Responsibility. She is a pediatrician and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on nuclear disarmament.

* Thomas Fasy, Associate Professor of Pathology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

* Geoffrey Sea, health physicist. He is the former executive director of the International Foundation on Radiation, Ecology and Health. From 1981-1986 he served as health and safety consultant for the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union where he worked with employees at three of the nation's depleted uranium manufacturing plants.