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[casi] Helen Caldicott: "Medical consequences of attacking Iraq"

Lest we forget...
Medical consequences of attacking Iraq

[4]Helen Caldicott

Thursday, October 10, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle

As the Bush administration prepares to make war on the Iraqi people
-- and make no mistake, it is the civilian population of that
country and not Saddam Hussein who will bear the brunt of the
hostilities -- it is important that we recall the medical
consequences of the last Gulf War. That conflict was, in effect, a
nuclear war.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the United States deployed hundreds of
tons of weapons, many of them anti-tank shells made of depleted
uranium 238. This material is 1.7 times more dense than lead, and
hence when incorporated into an anti-tank shell and fired, it
achieves great momentum, cutting through tank armor like a hot
knife through butter.

What other properties does uranium 238 possess? First, it is
pyrophoric: When it hits a tank at high speed it bursts into
flames, producing tiny aerosolized particles less than 5 microns in
diameter that are easily inhalable into the terminal air passages
of the lung. Second, it is a potent radioactive carcinogen,
emitting a relatively heavy alpha particle composed of 2 protons
and 2 neutrons. Once inside the body -- either in the lung if it
has been inhaled, or in a wound if it penetrates flesh, or ingested
since it concentrates in the food chain and contaminates water --
it can produce cancer in the lungs, bones, blood, or kidneys.
Third, it has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, meaning the areas
in which this ammunition was used in Iraq and Kuwait during Gulf
War will remain effectively radioactive for the rest of time.

Children are 10 to 20 times more sensitive to the effects of
radiation than adults. My fellow pediatricians in the Iraqi town of
Basra, for example, are reporting an increase of 6 to 12 times in
the incidence of childhood leukemia and cancer. Yet because of the
sanctions imposed upon Iraq by the United States and United
Nations, they have no access to drugs or effective radiation
machines to treat their patients.

The incidence of congenital malformations has doubled in the
exposed populations in Iraq where these weapons were used. Among
them are babies born with only one eye or missing all or part of
their brain.

The medical consequences of the use of uranium 238 almost certainly
did not affect only Iraqis. Some U.S. veterans exposed to it are
reported, by at least one medical researcher, to be excreting
uranium in their urine a decade later. Other reports indicate it is
being excreted in their semen. (The fact that almost one-third of
the American tanks used in Desert Storm were themselves made of
uranium 238 is another story, for their crews were thereby exposed
to whole-body gamma radiation.)

Would these effects have surprised the U.S. authorities? No, for
incredible as it may seem, the American military's own studies
prior to Desert Storm warned that aerosol uranium exposure under
battlefield conditions could lead to cancers of the lung and bone,
kidney damage, non-malignant lung disease, neurocognitive
disorders, chromosomal damage and birth defects.

Do George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice,
and Donald Rumsfeld understand the medical consequences of the 1991
war and the likely health effects of the next one they are now
planning? If they do not, their ignorance is breathtaking; even
more incredible though -- and alas, much more likely -- is that
they do understand, but do not care.

Helen Caldicott has devoted the last 25 years to an international
campaign to educate the public about the medical hazards of the
nuclear age. She spoke in San Francisco recently in a benefit for
the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, which she founded an

82003 San Francisco Chronicle

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