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Toxic bombs: articles on DU

*       Special Report on DU: The Trail of a Bullet (Christian Science
*       The Pentagon's Radioactive Bullet: An Investigative Report (The
Nation, 1996)
*       Toxic Bombs? (Newsweek)


Christian Science Monitor,
A rare visit to Iraq's radioactive battlefield

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

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

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

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

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

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 
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

[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

"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

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

"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."


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:
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

"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

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

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

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

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
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ext. 226 or send e-mail to Max Block.


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

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 "In many ways it's like
landmines. It carries on hurting people long 
after the war is over." _ Arlene Getz


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