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[casi] Uranium Levels in Afghans, post US-invasion

Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK

Afghans' uranium levels spark alert
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

A small sample of Afghan civilians have shown "astonishing" levels of uranium
in their urine, an independent scientist says.

He said they had the same symptoms as some veterans of the 1991 Gulf war.

But he found no trace of the depleted uranium (DU) some scientists believe is
implicated in Gulf War syndrome.

Other researchers suggest new types of radioactive weapons may have been used
in Afghanistan.

The scientist is Dr Asaf Durakovic, of the Uranium Medical Research Center
(UMRC) based in Canada.

Dr Durakovic, a former US army adviser who is now a professor of medicine,
said in 2000 he had found "significant" DU levels in two-thirds of the 17 Gulf
veterans he had tested.

In May 2002 he sent a team to Afghanistan to interview and examine civilians

The UMRC says: "Independent monitoring of the weapon types and delivery
systems indicate that radioactive, toxic uranium alloys and har, or backing from
other scientists.

Shock results

It says Nangarhar province was a strategic target zone during the Afghan
conflict for the deployment of a new generation of deep-penetrating "cave-busting"
and seismic shock warheads.

The UMRC says its team identified several hundred people suffering from
illnesses and conditions similar to those of Gulf veterans, probably because they
had inhaled uranium dust.

To test its hypothesis that some form of uranium weapon had been used, the
UMRC sent urine specimens from 17 Afghans for analysis at an independent UK

It says: "Without exception, every person donating urine specimens tested
positive for uranium internal contamination.

"The results were astounding: the donors presented concentrations of toxic
and radioactive uranium isotopes between 100 and 400 times greater than in the
Gulf veterans tested in 1999.

"If UMRC's Nangarhar findings are corroborated in other communities across
Afghanistan, the country faces a severe public health disaster... Every
subsequent generation is at risk."

It says troops who fought in Afghanistan and the staff of aid agencies based
in Afghanistan are also at risk.

Scientific acceptance

Dr Durakovic's team used as a control group three Afghans who showed no signs
of contamination. They averaged 9.4 nanograms of uranium per litre of urine.

The average for his 17 "randomly-selected" patients was 315.5 nanograms, he
said. Some were from Jalalabad, and others from Kabul, Tora Bora, and
Mazar-e-Sharif. A 12-year-old boy living near Kabul had 2,031 nanograms.

The maximum permissible level for members of the public in the US is 12
nanograms per litre, Dr Durakovic said.

A second UMRC visit to Afghanistan in September 2002 found "a potentially
much broader area and larger population of contamination". It collected 25 more
urine samples, which bore out the findings from the earlier group.

Dr Durakovic said he was "stunned" by the results he had found, which are to
be published shortly in several scientific journals.

Identical outcome

He told BBC News Online: "In Afghanistan there were no oil fires, no
pesticides, nobody had been vaccinated - all explanations suggested for the Gulf
veterans' condition.

"But people had exactly the same symptoms. I'm certainly not saying
Afghanistan was a vast experiment with new uranium weapons. But use your common sense."

The UK Defence Ministry says it used no DU weapons in Afghanistan, nor any
others containing uranium in any form.

A spokesman for the US Department of Defense told BBC News Online the US had
not used DU weapons there.

He could not comment on Dr Durakovic's findings of elevated uranium levels in
Afghan civilians.

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