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Depleted Uranium information in the Lancet

The Lancet
Volume 351(9103)
February 28, 1998             
p 657
Does Iraq's depleted uranium pose a
health risk?

                                                         Birchard, Karen

The office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights has
received a report hypothesising that the current health and environmental
problems in Iraq may be linked to US and British weapons left behind after
the Gulf War in 1991.

The literature review, compiled by Bill Griffin, an Irish petrochemical
engineer, with access to material in both the West and Iraq, points out
that the mortality rates among children have increased sharply: as many as
500 children a day are dying in Iraq along with cancer rates. He proposes
that radioactive waste caused by projectiles containing depleted uranium
(DU) may have played a part. DU weapons were developed by the Pentagon in
the late 1970s as anti-tank armour-piercing shells but were not used in
combat until the Gulf War. DU is a radioactive by-product of the
enrichment process used to make nuclear fuel rods and nuclear bombs.

The report notes that the death rate per 1000 Iraqi children under 5 years
of age increased from 2.3 in 1989 to 16.6 in 1993. Cases of lymphoblastic
leukaemia have more than quadrupled with other cancers also increasing "at
an alarming rate". In men, lung, bladder, bronchus, skin, and stomach
cancers show the highest increase. In women, the highest increases are in
breast and bladder cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Diseases such as
osteosarcoma, teratoma, nephroblastoma, and rhabdomyosarcoma are also
increasing with, according to the review, the most affected being children
and young men. Congenital malformations have also increased, as have
diseases of the immune system.

The review says that a confidential report by the British Atomic Energy
Authority in 1991 estimated that at least 40 tonnes of DU were dispersed
in Kuwait and Iraq; but according to Greenpeace-based on US government
information released under the Freedom of Information Act-"over 300 tonnes
of DU mostly in fragmented form (dust) were left on the battlefields in
Iraq and Kuwait".

The review also quotes a letter from UK's former Defence Secretary,
Malcolm Rifkind, to Sir David Steel, former Liberal leader, in December,
1994, saying that British troops used 88 DU rounds and that the USA had
used much more. The letter also said that the weapons would emit
radioactive and toxic substances that "present a health hazard".

Karen Birchard

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