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Volume 2, Number 41 November 17 - 23, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
Cancers, Birth Eefects Blamed on U.S. Depleted Uranium
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Demilitarized Zone, Iraq -- On the "Highway of Death," 11 miles north
of the Kuwait border, a collection of tanks, armored personnel carriers and
other military vehicles are rusting in the desert.
also are radiating nuclear energy.
1991, the United States and its Persian Gulf War allies blasted the vehicles
with armor-piercing shells made of depleted uranium -- the first time such
weapons had been used in warfare -- as the Iraqis retreated from Kuwait. The
devastating results gave the highway its name.
nearly 12 years after the use of the super-tough weapons was credited with
bringing the war to a swift conclusion, the battlefield remains a radioactive
toxic wasteland -- and depleted uranium munitions remain a mystery.
the Pentagon has sent mixed signals about the effects of depleted uranium, Iraqi
doctors believe that it is responsible for a significant increase in cancer and
birth defects in the region. Many researchers outside Iraq, and several U.S.
veterans organizations, agree; they also suspect depleted uranium of playing a
role in Gulf War Syndrome, the still-unexplained malady that has plagued
hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans.
uranium is a problem in other former war zones as well. Yesterday, U.N. experts
said they found radioactive hot spots in Bosnia resulting from the use of
depleted uranium during NATO air strikes in 1995.
another war in Iraq perhaps imminent, scientists and others are concerned that
the side effects of depleted uranium munitions -- still a major part of the U.S.
arsenal -- will cause serious illnesses or deaths in a new generation of U.S.
soldiers as well as Iraqis.
uranium, known as DU, is a highly dense metal that is the byproduct of the
process during which fissionable uranium used to manufacture nuclear bombs and
reactor fuel is separated from natural uranium. DU remains radioactive for about
4.5 billion years.
a weakly radioactive element, occurs naturally in soil and water everywhere on
Earth, but mainly in trace quantities. Humans ingest it daily in minute
shell holes in the vehicles along the Highway of Death are 1,000 times more
radioactive than background radiation, according to Geiger counter readings done
for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Dr. Khajak Vartaanian, a nuclear medicine
expert from the Iraq Department of Radiation Protection in Basra, and Col. Amal
Kassim of the Iraqi navy.
desert around the vehicles was 100 times more radioactive than background
radiation; Basra, a city of 1 million people, some 125 miles away, registered
only slightly above background radiation level.
the radioactivity is only one concern about DU munitions.
second, potentially more serious hazard is created when a DU round hits its
target. As much as 70 percent of the projectile can burn up on impact, creating
a firestorm of ceramic DU oxide particles. The residue of this firestorm is an
extremely fine ceramic uranium dust that can be spread by the wind, inhaled and
absorbed into the human body and absorbed by plants and animals, becoming part
of the food chain.
lodged in the soil, the munitions can pollute the environment and create up to a
hundredfold increase in uranium levels in ground water, according to the U.N.
show it can remain in human organs for years.
U.S. Army acknowledges the hazards in a training manual, in which it requires
that anyone who comes within 25 meters of any DU-contaminated equipment or
terrain wear respiratory and skin protection, and states that
"contamination will make food and water unsafe for consumption."
six months before the Gulf War, the Army released a report on DU predicting that
large amounts of DU dust could be inhaled by soldiers and civilians during and
were identified as potentially receiving the highest exposures, and the expected
health outcomes included cancers and kidney problems.
report also warned that public knowledge of the health and environmental effects
of depleted uranium could lead to efforts to ban DU munitions.
today the Pentagon plays down the effects. Officials refer queries on DU
munitions to the latest government report on the subject, last updated on Dec.
13, 2000, which said DU is "40 percent less radioactive than natural
report also said, "Gulf War exposures to depleted uranium (DU) have not to
date produced any observable adverse health effects attributable to DU's
chemical toxicity or low-level radiation. . . ."
response to written queries, the Defense Department said, "The U.S.
Military Services use DU munitions because of DU's superior lethality against
armor and other hard targets."
said DU munitions are "war reserve munitions; that is, used for combat and
not fired for training purposes," with the exception that DU munitions may
be fired at sea for weapon calibration purposes.
addition to Iraq and Bosnia, DU munitions were used in Kosovo and Serbia in
in 1999, a United Nations subcommission considered DU hazardous enough to call
for an initiative banning its use worldwide. The initiative has remained in
committee, blocked primarily by the United States, according to Karen Parker, a
lawyer with the International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project,
which has consultative status at the United Nations.
who first raised the DU issue in the United Nations in 1996, contends that DU
"violates the existing law and customs of war."
said there are four rules derived from all of humanitarian law regarding
Weapons may only be used in the legal field of battle, defined as legal military targets of the enemy in war.
may not have an adverse effect off the legal field of battle.
can only be used for the duration of an armed conflict. A weapon that is used or
continues to act after the war is over violates this criterion.
may not be unduly inhumane.
may not have an unduly negative effect on the natural environment.
uranium fails all four of these rules," Parker said last week.
Oct. 17, 2001, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., introduced a bill calling for
"the suspension of the use, sale, development, production, testing, and
export of depleted uranium munitions pending the outcome of certain studies of
the health effects of such munitions. . . ."
than a year later, the bill -- co-sponsored by Reps. Anibal Acevedo-Vila, Puerto
Rico; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; Barbara Lee, D-Ca.; and
Jim McDermott, D-Wash. -- remains in committee awaiting comment from the Defense
War veterans faced a wide array of potentially toxic materials during the war:
smoke from oil and chemical fires, insecticides, pesticides, vaccinations and DU.
the 696,778 troops who served during the recognized conflict phase (1990-1991)
of the Gulf War, at least 20,6861 have applied for VA medical benefits. As of
May 2002, 159,238 veterans have been awarded service-connected disability by the
Department of Veterans Affairs for health effects collectively known as the Gulf
have been many studies on Gulf War Syndrome over the years, as well as on
possible long-term health hazards of DU munitions. Most have been inconclusive.
But some researchers said the previous studies on DU, conducted by groups and
agencies ranging from the World Health Organization to the Rand Corp. to the
investigative arm of Congress, weren't looking in the right place -- at the
effects of inhaled DU.
Asaf Durakovic, director of the private, non-profit Uranium Medical Research
Centre in Canada and the United States, and center research associates Patricia
Horan and Leonard Dietz, published a unique study in the August issue of
Military Medicine medical journal.
study is believed to be the first to look at inhaled DU among Gulf War veterans,
using the ultrasensitive technique of thermal ionization mass spectrometry,
which enabled them to easily distinguish between natural uranium and DU.
study, which examined British, Canadian and U.S. veterans, all suffering typical
Gulf War Syndrome ailments, found that, nine years after the war, 14 of 27
veterans studied had DU in their urine. DU also was found in the lung and bone
of a deceased Gulf War veteran.
no governmental study has been done on inhaled DU "amounts to a massive
malpractice," Dietz said in an interview last week.
Doug Rokke was an Army health physicist assigned in 1991 to the command staff of
the 12th Preventive Medicine Command and 3rd U.S. Army Medical Command
headquarters. Rokke was recalled to active duty 20 years after serving in
Vietnam, from his research job with the University of Illinois Physics
Department, and sent to the Gulf to take charge of the DU cleanup operation.
in poor health, he has become an outspoken opponent of the use of DU munitions.
is the stuff of nightmares," said Rokke, who said he has reactive airway
disease, neurological damage, cataracts and kidney problems, and receives a 40
percent disability payment from the government. He blames his health problems on
exposure to DU.
and his primary team of about 100 performed their cleanup task without any
specialized training or protective gear. Today, Rokke said, at least 30 members
of the team are dead, and most of the others -- including Rokke -- have serious
said: "Verified adverse health effects from personal experience, physicians
and from personal reports from individuals with known DU exposures include
reactive airway disease, neurological abnormalities, kidney stones and chronic
kidney pain, rashes, vision degradation and night vision losses, lymphoma,
various forms of skin and organ cancer, neuropsychological disorders, uranium in
semen, sexual dysfunction and birth defects in offspring.
whole thing is a crime against God and humanity."
from his home in Rantoul, Ill., where he works as a substitute high school
science teacher, Rokke said, "When we went to the Gulf, we were all really
healthy, and we got trashed."
an Army Reserve major who describes himself as "a patriot to the right of
Rush Limbaugh," said hearing the latest Pentagon statements on DU is
especially frustrating now that another war against Iraq appears likely.
1991, numerous U.S. Department of Defense reports have said that the
consequences of DU were unknown," Rokke said. "That is a lie. We
warned them in 1991 after the Gulf War, but because of liability issues, they
continue to ignore the problem." Rokke worked until 1996 for the military,
developing DU training and management procedures. The procedures were ignored,
arrogance is beyond comprehension," he said. "We have spread
radioactive waste all over the place and refused medical treatment to people . .
. it's all arrogance.
is a snapshot of technology gone crazy."
defects in Iraq
the Saddam Teaching Hospital in Basra, Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, a British-trained
oncologist, displays, in four gaily colored photo albums, what he says are
actual snapshots of the nightmares.
photos represent the surge in birth defects -- in 1989 there were 11 per 100,000
births; in 2001 there were 116 per 100,000 births -- that even before they heard
about DU, had doctors in southern Iraq making comparisons to the birth defects
that followed the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII.
were photos of infants born without brains, with their internal organs outside
their bodies, without sexual organs, without spines, and the list of deformities
went on and on. There also were photos of cancer patients.
has increased dramatically in southern Iraq. In 1988, 34 people died of cancer;
in 1998, 450 died of cancer; in 2001 there were 603 cancer deaths.
a tour of one ward of the hospital, doctors pointed out boys and girls who were
suffering from leukemia. Most of the children die, the doctors said, because
there are insufficient drugs available for their treatment.
was one notable exception, a young boy whose family was able to buy the
expensive drugs on the black market.
said it defies logic to absolve DU of blame when veterans of the Gulf War and of
the fighting in the Balkans share common illnesses with children in southern
cause of all of these cancers and deformities remains theoretical because we
can't confirm the presence of uranium in tissue or urine with the equipment we
have," said Al-Ali. "And because of the sanctions, we can't get the
equipment we need."
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12, 2002 Bulatlat.com
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