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* Special Report on DU: The Trail of a Bullet (Christian Science Monitor) * The Pentagon's Radioactive Bullet: An Investigative Report (The Nation, 1996) * Toxic Bombs? (Newsweek) ******************** Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/1999/04/30/fp8s1-csm.shtml A SPECIAL REPORT - THE TRAIL OF A BULLET THURSDAY, APRIL 29, 1999 A rare visit to Iraq's radioactive battlefield Scott Peterson, KHARANJ, SOUTHERN IRAQ The men who guard the ruins of the remote Kharanj oil-pumping station near Iraq's border with Saudi Arabia don't wander around much. Destroyed by US air raids during the 1991 Gulf War, parts of this facility remain "hot" - radioactive. So the guards confine themselves to one small building to avoid wreckage contaminated by US bullets made with depleted uranium (DU). [PICTURE: STILL 'HOT': Mahmoud Hossein, an official of Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission, checks an Iraqi tank hit by DU bullets near Basra, southern Iraq, and finds it to be radioactive. Some experts say the DU radiation is only mildly dangerous. Others counter that ingestion or inhalation of even a particle of DU carries high risks.] The wind is a constant companion in this desert, but today it has eased. Driving into the former battlefield, as on a rare visit last year facilitated by Iraqi authorities at the request of The Christian Science Monitor, this reporter passes south through Iraq's rich Rumeila oil fields and along the area near Kuwait, which is pockmarked with rusting tanks and vehicles. These machines were targets of armor-piercing DU "penetrators," the bullet of choice for American tank gunners and pilots during the Gulf War. Pentagon figures show that at least 860,000 DU rounds were fired. Along a side road, a group of falconers are hunting, unaware of the potential risks, while elsewhere two men search for mushrooms. Radiation occurs almost everywhere in nature, at low levels known as "background." But DU is a concentrated form, nuclear scientists say. It is the "tailings" left over from the enrichment process that produces nuclear fuel and bombs. When a DU bullet burns on impact, it turns to particles that emit potentially dangerous radiation. Here, where the guards gingerly carry out their duty at the Kharanj pumping station, clues of radiation are plentiful. The bullets are now spent. The depleted uranium was either turned into dust or broke into fragments that now corrode in the sand. But among the clues is one DU round the size of a thick marker pen that was fired from the sky at a 45-degree angle and grazed a wall. It created an eight-inch-long skid mark of encrusted DU particles. Mahmoud Hossein from Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission handled a radiation detector in a visit to the site observed by the Monitor. Swept over the black specks of DU dust near a bullet-entry hole in a protected doorway, the instrument erupts with staccato chirping. Its meter surges to 35 times background levels, causing Mr. Hossein to appear startled. The fighting that took place on these battlefields seven years ago (see map, page 14) was so intense and released so many pulverized DU particles that the entire area was almost certainly drenched in radioactive and toxic grit. In the midst of the Rumeila north oil field, Iraqi officials examine a destroyed armored vehicle mired in wet sand. The turret had been blown off and sits 50 yards away. It is radioactive, along with the toe of a military boot. But, for some, the danger is easy to ignore or to miss altogether. An Iraqi officer jumps into the rusting hulk, radiation meter in hand, even as DU particles inside makes the instrument sing. A glance behind shows that this site often gets local visitors. On the moist sand, clearly defined, is the fresh imprint of a bare human foot. ***** DU's global spread spurs debate over effect on humans Scott Peterson, BAGHDAD, IRAQ At least 17 countries already have in their arsenals bullets made from depleted uranium (DU). Many - such as Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Taiwan - get them from the United States. England and France buy DU wholesale from the US. Russia now sells DU rounds on the open market. Such proliferation has raised unanswered questions about the long-term health effects of the hard-hitting and controversial ordnance. Is there a continuing health risk from DU fragments and particles for civilians in Iraq and Kuwait? And if the degree of danger to human health can't be nailed down, how should future use of DU be dealt with? Several official bodies already take serious precautions. The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), for example, requires a license to handle or test-fire DU munitions. The US Army has 14 separate NRC licenses related to the substance. The Navy and Air Force each have one NRC "master materials" license. Workers handling DU in the US must treat it as low-level radioactive waste. Disposal typically means the substance is locked into a 30-gallon canister, sealed with plastic, then sealed again inside a 55-gallon drum and, by law, buried in licensed underground dumps. Fine particles are mixed into concrete and locked into drums. Definitive statements about DU's health risks to humans are not easy to make, scientists say. "We don't know everything we'd like to know," says Ron Kathren, a physics professor and director of the US Transuranium and Uranium Registries in Richland, Wash. Attached to Washington State University, the registry has studied uranium and its effect on industry workers for 30 years. "The reason people get panicky is because DU is radioactive, but [the battlefield dose] is so small that it never approaches chemical hazard," says Mr. Kathren. Part of the problem with DU is public misperception, says John Russell, the associate director of the registries: "You say 'uranium,' and people think of the bomb. That's not the case here." At the heart of the health debate is this question: Do small DU particles trapped in the body emit enough radiation over time - in the form of alpha particles - to cause physical harm? Most of the concern is focused on dust particles left after a bullet is incinerated upon impact. Carried aloft by the wind, the small particles can work their way into the human body, where the emission of alpha particles can be extremely damaging to cells, says Douglas Collins, a health physicist for 20 years and an NRC division director of nuclear material safety in Atlanta. A 1990 study commissioned by the Army links DU with cancer and states that "no dose is so low that the probability of effect is zero." Dr. Asaf Durakovic, who was chief of nuclear medicine at the US Department of Veterans Affairs' medical center in Wilmington, Del., from 1989 until 1997, takes that a step further. Even the smallest internal alpha dose, he says, "is a high radioactive risk." One safety memo, written by the US Army in 1991, says a single charred DU bullet found by US forces was emitting 260 to 270 millirads of radiation per hour. (A rad is a measurement of ionizing radiation absorbed into material.) "The current [NRC] limit for non-radiation workers is 100 millirads per year," it noted. The limit for radiation workers would be some 30 times more. Du's critics cite incidents to bolster their case against its use. In 1992, for instance, a German scientist found a spent DU bullet in the Iraqi desert and was later arrested and fined by a Berlin court for "releasing ionizing radiation upon the public" when he brought it home. "You're not playing with anything innocuous," says Leonard Dietz, a nuclear scientist who worked for 28 years at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in New York. In 1979, DU particles escaped from the National Lead Industries factory near Albany, N.Y., which manufactured DU penetrators. The particles traveled 26 miles and were noticed in a laboratory filter by Mr. Dietz. The factory was shut down in 1980 for releasing more than 0.85 pounds of DU dust into the atmosphere every month - a fraction of the 320 tons fired during the Gulf War. "It's still hot forever," says Doug Rokke, a Pentagon DU expert until last year. "It doesn't go away, it only disperses and blows around in the wind." The British Atomic Energy Agency, at the behest of the Ministry of Defense in 1991, tried to quantify the risk. Based on an early estimate of just 40 tons of DU used during the Gulf War, it said that that amount could cause "500,000 potential deaths." Recently declassified, its report says this purely theoretical calculation is "obviously not realistic" because it would require every single person to inhale similar quantities. But the sheer volume does "indicate a significant problem." The Pentagon rejects that. "The problem is that all of that stuff has to be put into people. It physically can't happen," says Col. Eric Daxon, the radiological staff officer for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. The possibility of DU causing serious health problems in Iraq, he says, is "exceptionally small, to the point where it should be absolutely at the bottom of the list." Bernard Rostker, the Pentagon's special assistant for Gulf War illness, also sounds an all-clear. The Gulf War "is not an extraordinary nuclear event," he said. "This area [where DU was used], we would say, is free for any agricultural, industrial use, any personal use." But Dr. Durakovic says those areas are still dangerous. Widespread use of DU, he told Congress in 1997, means that "the battlefields of the future will be unlike any ... in history." The result is that "injury and death will remain lingering threats to 'survivors' of the battle for years and decades into the future," he testified. "The battlefield will remain a killing zone long after the cessation of hostilities." ***** DU's fallout in Iraq and Kuwait: a rise in illness? Scott Peterson , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor BASRA, IRAQ During the 1991 Gulf War, much of the battlefield was awash in a radioactive and toxic stew: radioactive particles from depleted-uranium (DU) bullets, nerve and other chemical agents, and fumes from hundreds of oil fires in Kuwait. [PICTURE: STILL IN THE GULF: A soldier of the US 3-69th Armored Division takes part in maneuvers last year in the Kuwaiti desert near Iraq. His tank - an M1A1 Abrahms - can fire depleted-uranium rounds.] An array of Iraqi physicians say they have lately seen a sharp rise in the types of severe health diagnoses - such as cancer - that they associate with DU and other war-related substances. Many Iraqi officials blame DU for the postwar health breakdown in Iraq, though their studies can provide only circumstantial and anecdotal evidence. Iraq does not have the laboratory capacity to confirm a direct link between DU and health problems. In May, it complained to the United Nations about the "appalling damage" caused by DU. In a bid to win international sympathy toward breaking United Nations economic sanctions, Iraq has tried to politicize the issue. It portrays the use of DU as an "illegitimate tactic" of "genocide," making an accurate assessment of its effects difficult. Hard to single out a cause Fingering DU as the sole cause of any illness is difficult. "The battlefield was dynamic and fluid, and exposures [to everything] were multiple and varied - you can't separate them," says James Tuite, a former Senate investigator who has focused on Gulf War chemical exposures. Still, Iraq's poor health situation has persuaded the World Health Organization that a survey of DU's impact on Iraq is warranted. The WHO is awaiting Iraqi approval for the study. "Ultimately, when the final chapter is written, DU will have a large portion of the blame [for health problems]," says Michio Kaku, a well-known author and professor of physics at City University of New York. Others make the point that DU may have had an adverse effect beyond Iraq. "[The use of DU] is a tragedy that not only befell the Iraqi solders and civilians," says Sami al-Aragi, a senior Iraqi health official. "It befell American and British troops as well." The Pentagon - which has yet to resolve a host of health issues raised by many Gulf War veterans - considers Iraqi claims about DU's effects "disinformation." Physicians working in a city near the former battlefields, however, do report a sharp increase in health problems. "People tell funny stories," says Thamer Hamdan, an Iraqi orthopedic surgeon in Basra who was trained in Scotland and the United States. He says he has seen an "astonishing increase" of malformations and cases of cancer among civilians in the area. Physicians back up government figures showing malformations citywide have tripled since the Gulf War. There has been a "very significant increase" in leukemia, says Dr. Muna Elhassani, a British-trained specialist who runs the national cancer registry in Baghdad. "It's too early now to make a direct link with DU," she says. "It takes time." Studies in Kuwait The search for answers continues elsewhere in the Gulf, as well. The issue of lingering DU contamination in Kuwait is a political hot potato. Roughly half of the 320 tons of DU fired in the Gulf War was shot in Kuwait, to oust Iraqi occupation troops. But because Kuwait was liberated by an American-led coalition, analysts say that Kuwait's official position is in "lock step" with the Pentagon. In other words: DU residue poses no long-term risk. "It is safe for the public," says Yousif Bakir, director of Kuwait's Radiation Protection Division (RPD). "There is no contamination higher than background levels." "That's a political answer," says one of Kuwait's senior scientists, upon hearing the official denial. ***** FRIDAY, APRIL 30, 1999 SPECIAL REPORT: PART 2 - THE TRAIL OF A BULLET Pentagon stance on DU a moving target Amid official attempts to nail down 'protection guidelines' for those confronting depleted uranium, Gulf War veterans press for clarity. And the prospect of DU's use in Kosovo raises the stakes. Scott Peterson Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor A soldier's boots are often treated with sacred regard, once they carry a warrior safely through combat. But for one US soldier, who volunteered for his Gulf War tour, Mark Panzera, his boots were the first sign that something was very wrong. He was an Army mechanic in the 144th Service and Supply Company of New Jersey, which in 1991 prepared US tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles that had been hit by "friendly fire" for shipment home. This front-line equipment had been inadvertently hit by American gunners shooting radioactive depleted-uranium (DU) bullets at what they thought were Iraqi tanks. For weeks after the mistake, the 144th worked at a salvage site in Saudi Arabia, getting into every corner of every vehicle to recycle equipment, wearing T-shirts and shorts, eating on and sleeping beside the vehicles. Suddenly one morning, Mr. Panzera recalls, before his team began work, two experts arrived looking like astronauts, wearing hooded masks and suits - and carrying radiation detectors. Before the two unexpected visitors approached the vehicles, they first ran their instruments over the awestruck mechanics. Their clothes were contaminated, but Panzera's boots especially set the detectors crackling. [PICTURE: REFUSE OF WAR: Destroyed Iraqi tanks, artillery, and armored vehicles rust at a collection point known as the 'boneyard' in the Kuwaiti desert. Many were struck by DU rounds and later brought here by unprotected workers.] The dust left over from the impact of DU bullets hitting the tanks had clung to the cleanup crew. "'You're hot,' they told us, and I asked: 'What do you mean?' " Panzera remembers. "I was angry. Nobody tells you nothing, and the next day you are contaminated." Later, Panzera received an official letter confirming his exposure to DU radiation. He has been seeking government compensation for what he says is DU-related illness. Mixed messages from the top By the Pentagon's own admission, its policy toward use of DU weapons has been inconsistent. Several military and independent reports describe the potential danger of DU particles trapped inside the body, though most deem the overall risk to be "acceptable." Strict federal and military rules govern every aspect of DU use and decontamination. But the Pentagon today calls its own regulations - based on US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) guidelines, which require masks and suits when dealing with DU contamination - "total overkill." In 1993, a report from the US General Accounting Office, the government's investigative arm, found that Army officials "believe that DU protective means can be ignored during battle." Then, in 1995, all four branches of the US military approved a multimedia DU training kit. In January 1998 it was endorsed as "impressive" by the deputy secretary of defense, John Hamre. The kit, obtained by the Monitor through the Freedom of Information Act, said "the greatest threat is during open-air, live-fire testing. We can call combat a great big open-air, live-fire test." An area hit by DU "remains contaminated, and will not decontaminate itself." The kit was never issued, and it is now under review. "They [the NRC] have their own standards. The military's [standards] are under review," says Bernard Rostker, the Pentagon's special assistant for Gulf War illnesses. He first raised doubts publicly only last August. He said the "extremely restrictive" NRC rules are "poorly suited" to war, and "need to be rewritten." Reasons for backing DU Critics say the Pentagon has reasons for its apparent downgrading of DU dangers: The bullet pierces enemy armor like no other, it's cheap, and any confirmed link with health problems could trigger a flood of compensation and reparations claims. And the cost of cleaning up DU residue in the Gulf would be prohibitive, as well. The price tag for removing 152,000 pounds of DU in the now-closed, 500-acre Jefferson Proving Ground in Indiana has been estimated to be $4 billion to $5 billion. More than four times that amount of DU was spread during the Gulf War, over a significantly larger area. "The government is institutionally incapable of telling the truth on this matter," says Bill Arkin, a former military intelligence analyst and columnist for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. His analysis: DU is too troublesome for the Pentagon to keep in its arsenal. In January 1998, Rostker reported that "failure" to alert troops to DU hazards "may have resulted in thousands of unnecessary exposures," but said those exposures "had not produced any medically detectable effects." Angry veterans say that DU could be a reason that an estimated 1 in 7 of them report a set of symptoms known as Gulf War Syndrome, and have pushed their case on Capitol Hill. They estimate that hundreds of thousands of troops were exposed to DU during the fighting or on post-battle tours of the front line. Climbing on destroyed Iraqi tanks was a favorite activity, along with collecting war souvenirs. Among other sources, the veterans point to a 1990 report commissioned by the US Army that links DU to cancer and also makes clear that "there is no dose so low that the probability of effect is zero." They also remember Pentagon reluctance to divulge health hazards in the Vietnam War. "This [DU] is the Agent Orange of the 1990s - absolutely," says Doug Rokke, a former Army health physicist who was part of the DU assessment team in the Gulf War, and DU project director for the training package. Underscoring the official inconsistencies, Sen. Russell Feingold (D) of Wisconsin said in September that the Pentagon's "assertion that no Gulf War veterans could be ill from exposure to DU ... contradicts numerous pre- and postwar reports, some from the US Army itself." As much politics as science In a sign of the Pentagon's own confusion, Rostker told a White House oversight panel last November that he was "misguided" to issue so strong a statement - that ruled out DU as a cause of Gulf War Syndrome - in an August report. "I stand corrected," he stated. The problem seems as political as it is scientific: "Misinformation disseminated by both the Iraqi government and the US Department of Defense has made analysis of DU impacts difficult," notes Dan Fahey, Gulf War veteran and author of an extensive DU report for veterans' groups published last year. [PICTURE: KICKING UP A STORM: An American M1A1 battle tank, on maneuvers in Kuwait last year, shows the ease with which dust and particles can be resuspended in the desert air.] Protection guidelines for handling DU are as difficult to establish as a single speed limit for every American road, says Ron Kathren, director of the US Transuranium and Uranium Registries in Richland, Wash. But NRC guidelines "are in fact adequate" for DU, he says, and "if they are 'overkill,' that's OK, too. I'd rather err on the side of safety." Col. Eric Daxon, a senior Pentagon radiation expert with the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, said in an interview that the military needs to come up with its own "acceptable risks" of DU, compared to the other threats of combat. Protecting soldiers from DU can also put them at risk during battle, he said. Gas masks and suits can overheat a soldier and impair vision. The goal today is to keep exposures "as low as reasonably achievable," he adds. "Reducing the total risk ... of getting shot, of getting wounded, of getting long-term cancers" is the new aim, he says. "We are really trying to balance all of those things." As the Pentagon now weighs the use of DU munitions in NATO's war against Yugoslavia, the debate about the risks of DU is certain to escalate. "I think we have been inconsistent," says the Pentagon's Rostker in the interview. "We published a standard ... that is inconsistent with the hazards of DU." Disillusioned As those arguments continue, Panzera has had several operations and health problems that he attributes to his DU exposure. Worried about taking contamination home before he left the Gulf, Panzera cut holes in his uniform and exchanged it for a new one. He left his soldier's boots "in the middle of the desert." "I guess they are waiting until half of us are dead before they give in," he says, echoing the view of many US veterans whose patriotism has long since given way to cynicism. "My volunteering days are over." ******************** The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/issue/961021/1021mesl.htm The Pentagon's Radioactive Bullet: An investigative report By Bill Mesler ------------------------------------------------------------------------ It is about two feet long, cylindrical and far denser than steel. When fired from a U.S. Army M1 Abrams tank, it is capable of drilling a hole through the strongest of tank armors. The makers of this tank-killing ammunition say it is the best in the world. But there is one problem with the Pentagon's super bullet: It is made of radioactive waste. The first time the Army used this "depleted uranium" (D.U.) ammunition on a battlefield was during the Gulf War, in 1991. Yet despite Pentagon assurances that only a small number of U.S. troops were exposed to dangerous levels of D.U., a two-month investigation by The Nation has discovered that hundreds and perhaps thousands of U.S. veterans were unknowingly exposed to potentially hazardous levels of depleted uranium, or uranium-238, in the Persian Gulf. Some soldiers inhaled it when they pulled wounded comrades from tanks hit by D.U. "friendly fire" or when they clambered into destroyed Iraqi vehicles. Others picked up expended rounds as war trophies. Thousands of other Americans were near accidental explosions of D.U. munitions. The Army never told combat engineer Dwayne Mowrer or his fellow soldiers in the First Infantry Division much about D.U. But the G.I.s learned how effective the radioactive rounds were as the "Big Red One" made its way up the carnage-ridden four-lane Kuwaiti road known as the "highway of death." Mowrer and his company saw the unique signature of a D.U. hit on nearly half the disabled Iraqi vehicles encountered. "It leaves a nice round hole, almost like someone had welded it out," Mowrer recalled. What Mowrer and others didn't know was that D.U. is highly toxic and, according to the Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety, can cause lung cancer, bone cancer and kidney disease. All they heard were rumors. "Once in a while you'd hear some guy say 'Hey, I heard those things were radioactive,'" Mowrer said. "Of course, everybody else says, 'Yeah, right!' We really thought we were in the new enlightened Army. We thought all that Agent Orange stuff and human radiation experiments were a thing of the past." So Mowrer and his comrades didn't worry when a forty-ton HEMTT transport vehicle packed with D.U. rounds accidentally exploded near their camp. "We heard this tremendous boom and saw this black cloud blowing our way," he said. "The cloud went right over us, blew right over our camp." Before they left the gulf, Mowrer and other soldiers in the 651st Combat Support Attachment began experiencing strange flulike symptoms. He figured the symptoms would fade once he was back in the United States. They didn't. Mowrer's personal doctor and physicians at the local Veterans Administration could find nothing wrong with him. Meanwhile, his health worsened: fatigue, memory loss, bloody noses and diarrhea. Then the single parent of two began experiencing problems with motor skills, bloody stools, bleeding gums, rashes and strange bumps on his eyelids, nose and tongue. Mowrer thinks his problems can be traced to his exposure to D.U. The Pentagon says problems like Mowrer's could not have been caused by D.U., a weapon that many Americans have heard mentioned, if at all, only in the movie Courage Under Fire, which was based on a real-life D.U. friendly-fire incident. The Defense Department insists that D.U. radiation is relatively harmless -- only about 60 percent as radioactive as regular uranium. When properly encased, D.U. gives off so little radiation, the Pentagon says, that a soldier would have to sit surrounded by it for twenty hours to get the equivalent radiation of one chest X-ray. (According to scientists, a D.U. antitank round outside its metal casing can emit as much radiation in one hour as fifty chest X-rays.) Plus, the military brass argues that D.U. rounds so effectively destroyed Iraqi tanks that the weapons saved many more U.S. lives than radiation from them could possibly endanger. But the Pentagon has a credibility gap. For years, it has denied that U.S. soldiers in the Persian Gulf were exposed to chemical weapons. In September Pentagon officials admitted that troops were exposed when they destroyed Iraqi stores of chemical weapons, as Congress held hearings on "Gulf War Syndrome." The Pentagon also argued, in its own defense, that exposure to chemical weapons could not fully explain the diverse range of illnesses that have plagued thousands of soldiers who served in the Persian Gulf. Exposure to D.U. -- our own weaponry, in other words -- could well be among the missing links. Scientists point out that D.U. becomes much more dangerous when it burns. When fired, it combusts on impact. As much as 70 percent of the material is released as a radioactive and highly toxic dust that can be inhaled or ingested and then trapped in the lungs or kidneys. "This is when it becomes most dangerous," says Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "It becomes a powder in the air that can irradiate you." Some scientists speculate that veterans' health problems stem from exposure to chemical agents combined with D.U., burning oil-field vapors and a new nerve-gas vaccine given to U.S. troops. "We know that depleted uranium is toxic and can cause diseases," said Dr. Howard Urnovitz, a microbiologist who has testified before the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses. "We also know these soldiers were exposed to large amounts of nerve-gas agents. What we don't know is how the combination of these toxic and radioactive materials affect the immune system." Exactly how many U.S. soldiers were exposed to dangerous levels of D.U. during the Gulf War remains in dispute. Friendly-fire incidents left at least twenty-two veterans with D.U. shrapnel embedded in their bodies. The Veterans Administration is also monitoring the health of eleven more soldiers who were in tanks hit by D.U. but who were not hit by shrapnel, and twenty-five soldiers who helped prepare D.U.-contaminated tanks for shipment back to the United States without being told of the risk. The tanks were later buried in a radioactive waste disposal site run by the Energy Department. No Protection The Nation investigation has also discovered that the average infantry soldier is still receiving no training on how to protect against exposure to D.U., although such training was called for by an Army report on depleted uranium completed in June 1995. On the training lapses, the Pentagon does acknowledge past mistakes. Today the Army is providing new training in D.U. safety procedures for more soldiers, particularly members of armor, ordnance or medical teams that handle D.U. on a routine basis. "I feel confident that if an individual soldier has a need to know, they will be provided that training from the basic level on," Army Col. H.E. Wolfe told The Nation. But Wolfe confirmed that even now, not all infantry will get D.U. training. Although the full hazards of these weapons are still not known, the law allows the President to waive restrictions on the sale of D.U. to foreign armies. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Pentagon has already sold the radioactive ammunition to Thailand, Taiwan, Bahrain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Korea, Turkey, Kuwait and other countries which the Pentagon will not disclose for national security reasons. The proliferation of D.U. ammunition around the world boosts the chances that U.S. soldiers will eventually be on the receiving end of the devastating weapon. A broad coalition of veterans organizations, environmental groups and scientists hope that won't happen. On September 12, they met in NewYork to kick off a campaign calling for an international ban on D.U. weapons. Even the conservative-minded Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion recently passed resolutions calling on the Defense Department to reconsider its use of the controversial weapon. "Clearly the Department of Defense hasn't thought through the use of D.U. on the battlefield and what kind of exposures they are subjecting our troops to," charged Matt Puglisi, the assistant director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion. "It is a very effective weapon, which is why the D.O.D. really doesn't want to see it re-examined. We only spent a couple of days [in winning the Gulf War]. But what if we had a fight that took years and years? We could have tens of thousands of vets with D.U. shrapnel in them." The Gulf War Test The U.S. Army began introducing D.U. ammo into its stockpiles in 1978, when the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in intense competition over which side would develop the most effective tank. Washington feared that the Soviets with their T-72 had jumped ahead in the development of armor that was nearly impenetrable by traditional weapons. It was thought that D.U. rounds could counter the improved Soviet armor. But not until Iraq's Soviet-supplied army invaded oil-rich Kuwait and President Bush sent an expeditionary force of 500,000 to dislodge it was there a chance to battle-test the D.U. rounds. American M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley armored personnel carriers fired D.U. rounds; the A-10 Warthog aircraft, which provided close support for combat troops, fired twin 30-millimeter guns with small-caliber D.U. bullets. All told, in the 100 hours of the February ground war, U.S. tanks fired at least 14,000 large-caliber D.U. rounds, and U.S. planes some 940,000 smaller-caliber rounds. D.U. rounds left about 1,400 Iraqi tanks smoldering in the desert. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf recalled one commander saying his unit "went through a whole field of burning Iraqi tanks." The D.U. weapons succeeded beyond the Pentagon's wildest dreams. But they received little public attention compared with the fanfare over other high-tech weapons: smart bombs, stealth fighters and Patriot missiles (which looked good, even if they didn't, as it turned out, work). D.U., perhaps the most effective new weapon of them all, was mentioned only in passing. "People have a fear of radioactivity and radioactive materials," explained Dan Fahey, a former Navy officer who served in the gulf. "The Army seems to think that if they are going to keep using D.U., the less they tell people about it the better." As the U.S.-led coalition forces swept to victory, many celebrating G.I.s scrambled onto -- or into -- disabled Iraqi vehicles. "When you get a lot of soldiers out on a battlefield, they are going to be curious," observed Chris Kornkven, a staff sergeant with the 304th Combat Support Company. "The Gulf War was the first time we saw Soviet tanks. Many of us started climbing around these destroyed vehicles." Indeed, a study by the Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm Association found that out of 10,051 Gulf War veterans who have reported mysterious illnesses, 82 percent had entered captured enemy vehicles. Other soldiers might have been exposed to harmful levels of D.U. as they rescued comrades from vehicles hit by friendly fire. A Gulf War photo book, Triumph in the Desert, contains one dramatic picture of soldiers pulling wounded Americans from the burning hull of an Abrams tank that had been hit by a D.U. round. Black smoke from the depleted-uranium explosion billows around the rescuers. Still other G.I.s picked up fragments of large-caliber D.U. rounds or unexploded small rounds and wore them as jewelry, hung around the soldiers' necks. "We didn't know any better," said Kornkven. "We didn't find out until long after we were home that there even was such a thing as D.U." But the Americans facing perhaps the greatest risk from D.U. were those who had been hit by D.U. shrapnel, especially those still carrying radioactive fragments in their bodies. Robert Sanders, who drove a tank, was one apparent casualty. On the third day of the ground war, his tank was hit by a D.U. round fired from another U.S. tank. "I had stinging pain in my shoulder and a stinging pain in my face from shrapnel," Sanders said. Military doctors removed the shrapnel. Several years later, however, Sanders heard that D.U. was radioactive and toxic, so he obtained his medical records. He found an interdepartmental fax saying doctors had removed bits of an "unknown metal" from his shoulder and that it was "probably D.U." Four years after he was wounded, Sanders took a urine test for depleted uranium, which revealed high levels of it in his system. The Pentagon had never made an effort to tell him of his likely exposure. Even the end of the ground war on February 28, 1991, did not end the threat of exposure to U.S. soldiers. Government documents reveal that in one accident alone, at a camp at Doha, about twelve miles from Kuwait City, as many as 660 rounds weighing 7,062 pounds burned, releasing dark clouds of D.U. particles. Many of the 3,000 U.S. troops stationed at the base participated in cleanup operations without protective gear and without knowledge of the potential dangers. The Aftermath At war's end, U.S. forces left behind about 300 tons of expended D.U. ammunition in Kuwait and Iraq, a veritable radioactive waste dump that could haunt inhabitants of the region for years. In August 1995, Iraq presented a study to the United Nations demonstrating sharp increases in leukemia and other cancers as well as other unexplained diseases around the Basra region in the country's south. Iraqi scientists attributed some of the cancers to depleted uranium. Some U.S. officials and scientists have questioned the Iraqi claims. But former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who has made two recent trips to Iraq, observes that "the health ministry and doctors particularly in Basra and the south are terribly concerned about a range of problems that were not experienced before: fetuses with tumors, high rates of leukemia." And a secret British Atomic Energy Authority report leaked to the London Independent in November 1991 warned that there was enough depleted uranium left behind in the Persian Gulf to account for "500,000 potential deaths" through increased cancer rates, although it noted that such a figure was an unlikely, worst-case scenario. That figure was based on an estimate that only forty tons of D.U. was left behind. Another study, by Siegwart Gunther, president of the Austrian chapter of Yellow Cross International, reported that D.U. projectiles "were gathered by children and used as toys." The study noted that a little girl who collected twelve of the projectiles died of leukemia. Gunther collected some D.U. rounds in southern Iraq and took them to Germany for analysis. However, when Gunther entered Germany, the D.U. rounds were seized. The authorities claimed that just one projectile emitted more radiation in five hours than is allowed per year under German regulations. Cleaning up the radioactive mess in the Persian Gulf would cost "billions," even if it were feasible, said Leonard Dietz, an atomic scientist who wrote a report on depleted uranium for the Energy Department. But the Pentagon maintained in a report that "no international law, treaty, regulation, or custom requires the U.S. to remediate Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm battlefields." Those who suggest otherwise have found that they must fight the military industry as well as the Pentagon. In January 1993 Eric Hoskins, a public health specialist who surveyed Iraq as a member of a Harvard team, wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times warning that D.U. may be causing health problems in Iraqi children. A few weeks later a harsh letter to the editor accused Hoskins of "making readers of limited scientific literacy the lawful prey of his hyperbole," which reaches the "bizarre conclusion that the environmental aftermath of the Persian Gulf war is not Iraq's fault, but ours!" The author, Russell Seitz, was identified as an associate with the "Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University." Though the letter appeared to be the work of a neutral scientist, the Olin Institute at Harvard was established by the John M. Olin Foundation, which grew out of the manufacturing fortune created by the Olin Corporation, currently the nation's only maker of D.U. antitank rounds. Seitz did not answer a request from The Nation seeking comment. Despite the Pentagon's love affair with D.U., there is an alternative -- tank ammunition made from tungsten. Matt Kagan, a former munitions analyst for Jane's Defence Weekly, said the latest developments in tungsten technology have made it "almost as effective as D.U." That assessment is shared by Bill Arkin, a columnist for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists who has consulted on D.U. for Greenpeace and Human Rights Watch. "It comes down to this," Arkin said. "Is there a logical alternative that provides the same military capability and doesn't leave us with this legacy? The answer is yes, tungsten." But tungsten is more expensive and must be imported, while the United States has more than 500,000 tons of depleted uranium, waste left behind by the production of nuclear weapons and by nuclear generators. Scientists have long looked for a way to re-use what otherwise must be stored at great expense in remote sites. "It's just a cost issue," argued Arkin. "But nobody ever thought through what would happen when we shoot a lot of this stuff around the battlefield. It's not a question of whether a thousand soldiers were exposed or fifty soldiers were exposed. We were probably lucky in the Gulf War. What happens when we're fighting a war that makes the Gulf War look like small potatoes?" Bill Mesler is a reporter working with the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute. Copyright (c) 1996, The Nation Company, L.P. All rights reserved. Electronic redistribution for nonprofit purposes is permitted, provided this notice is attached in its entirety. Unauthorized, for-profit redistribution is prohibited. For further information regarding reprinting and syndication, please call The Nation at (212) 242-8400, ext. 226 or send e-mail to Max Block. ******************** Newsweek, http://newsweek.com/nw-srv/tnw/today/ps/ps01we_1.htm THURSDAY, April 29, 1999 Toxic Bombs? Has the Yugoslav war triggered an ecological crisis, too? Behind the humanitarian disaster of desperate refugees and civilian victims of off-target bombs, scientists are increasingly concerned about the conflict's long-term impact on the environment. Their most immediate concern: the pollution from NATO's bombing of chemical and oil plants in Belgrade and Novi Sad. The April 18 attack on the Pancevo petrochemicals complex, for example, dispatched toxic gases like chlorine and hydrochloric acid into the sky above the Serbian capital. Serbian authorities said carcinogen levels in the air that afternoon were 7,200 times over the permitted limit and warned local residents not to eat home-grown vegetables. At the same time, Pancevo workers afraid of an explosion at the plant reportedly released carcinogenic ethylene dichloride into the Danube River, where it was expected to move downstream to Romania and Bulgaria. In neighboring Macedonia, an Environment Ministry inspector warned that the furans and dioxins released by bombings could deplete the ozone layer. "With these attacks, the alliance has consciously risked a global environmental catastrophe," the anti-Milosevic Group 17 said in a recent statement e-mailed from Yugoslavia. Environmentalists are even more concerned about the possible use of depleted uranium weapons. Although NATO has refused to confirm their use in the Balkans, the metal has been widely used as ballast in U.S. cruise missiles. The radioactive ammunition is also used by a range of tanks and aircraft and was deployed by A-10 Warthog jets to pierce Iraqi tanks during the 1991 Gulf war. "We've been asking [NATO] for several weeks whether they are using depleted uranium weapons, and the answer depends on who you talk to," said Dan Fahey, a case manager for the Swords to Plowshares veterans group. "My understanding is that there's a good chance they will be used _ if they haven't been already," he said. Depleted uranium, regarded by many scientists as a possible cause of Gulf war syndrome and raised cancer rates among Iraqi children, could affect the Balkans for years. "You don't want this stuff inside your body," said Rosalie Bertell, president of the Toronto-based International Institute of Concern for Public Health. "It has several thousand years of half-life and once it has been fired it becomes [like] an aerosol which can travel 50 to 60 kilometers," she told Newsweek.com "In many ways it's like landmines. It carries on hurting people long after the war is over." _ Arlene Getz ******************** -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html