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Campaign against DU News, Autumn 1999
15 Sep 1999
CADU News Issue 2 - Autumn 1999
Since the last edition of CADU news, where we reported that the US admitted using DU in the Balkans, concern about depleted uranium weaponry has risen massively in the international community. Not only has our workload dramatically increased (responding to queries, and providing what limited information on the situation we could lay our hands on,) but awareness of the dangers of DU is finally growing.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), which was sent to the Balkans to monitor environmental pollution, were aware of DU but failed to specifically test for contamination (according to a Greenpeace scientist seconded to UNEP) in their first mission. Pekka Haavisto, chair of the Balkans Task Force of the UNEP said that during their second mission in August the team would look at sites where depleted uranium was used, and test for radioactivity and the presence of toxic heavy metals in the soil.
The UNEP's confidential preliminary report described depleted uranium ammunition as overly dangerous and harmful.
According to a recent report by journalist Felicity Arbuthnot, Ministry of Defence personnel in Kosov@ have been warned to stay clear of areas which have been affected by DU weapons unless wearing full radiological protective clothing. Yet refugees returning to the area have been kept in the dark about possible consequences of contamination. The National Radiological Protection Board has also issued a warning to people travelling to Kosov@ about the dangers of depleted uranium, urging press and relief workers to avoid disturbing contaminated areas. However, this contradicts the usual claim that DU is no more radioactive than natural uranium in drinking water. A report on the environmental impact of the war, was prepared for the European Commission by the Regional Centre for Central and Eastern Europe, in Budapest. It stated that radioactive air pollution has been detected in some areas of Yugoslavia, and says of depleted uranium that it is perhaps the most dangerous of the carcinogenic and toxic substances that were released during the bombing. This was scarcely reported in our press, appearing in the Financial Times (22/7/99) and nowhere else as far as we are aware.
Cat Euler, who is working with us here at CADU has produced a one-page summary of precautionary measures which can be taken when in an area where DU has possibly been used. Copies are available from the office.
An estimated 250,000 rounds of depleted uranium were fired from US A-10 Warthog Bombers, and at the international conference in London on 30th July (see inside for details) medical and scientific experts estimated that an additional 10,000 cancer deaths may result in the region. Cath Bann - CADU
Depleted Uranium at the Hague Appeal for Peace
CADU worked with the Military Toxics Project (USA), the LAKA Foundation (Holland) and IPPNW (Germany) to help arrange a very well attended workshop on depleted uranium at the International Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in the Hague in May. Rae Street, Coordinator of CADU chaired the meeting, and introduced a very varied platform of speakers: Dr Rosalie Bertell, renowned radiation and health scientist on health issues, Grace Potori of the Rural Alliance for Military Accountability, Joan Wingfield, representing indigenous people of Australia re. uranium mining, Lorraine Rekmann of Serpent River First Nation, Canada on the effects of uranium waste, Domacio Lopez on history of DU, Dan Fahey on Gulf War veterans, and Brice Friedman on the illegality of DU under international law.
From this meeting, it was decided to launch an international campaign to ban depleted uranium weapons. The agreed plan of action for the campaign was to work with international organisations, governments, and nongovernmental organisation to implement and enforce international laws with regard to the use of radioactive weaponry At the moment, the campaign largely exists on e-mail, with the various groups across the world networking and co-ordinating their efforts where necessary.
A good way to tap into this international network is to subscribe to the DU list serve (only for those with e-mail unfortunately). To subscribe send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org, saying your name and that you wish to subscribe to the list. For those without the necessary technology, the list of addresses at the back of the CADU briefing pack will give you a good idea of who is part of the international network against DU. For more information about the Hague Appeal for Peace workshop on DU, including a transcript of the session, contact the CADU office.
CADU Rep goes to UN
By Cat Euler
There was a flurry of activity on the issue of DU at the United Nations in Geneva this August, while the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights was in session. After the 1996 resolution condemning DU as a weapons of mass or indeterminate effect, the Sub-Commission appointed a Colombian Rapporteur, Snra. Ucros, to prepare a report. Unfortunately, it was announced that Snra. Ucros would not be submitting her report this year. (She did not submit it in 97 or 98 either.) A move to have a new Rapporteur appointed failed due to red tape. It is not expected that she will ever submit a report on DU and this is rumoured to be partly due to political complications between the US and Columbian governments at the moment.
Since the Sub-Commission will therefore be unable to do more until a new Rapporteur is (hopefully) appointed next August, it seems like the best UN strategy over the next few months is to work directly with the main Commission on Human Rights, which has a ‘'toxics'' Rapporteur, Madame. Santini. It might also prove useful to lobby national governments to put forth a resolution at the General Assembly level.
Activists were in Geneva prior to the agenda item on DU. Dr. Rosalie Bertell among others spoke at an NGO round table forum on DU and the Balkans. Several official experts, members of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights, also attended, as did the diplomatic representatives of the Iraqi and Yugoslav missions who are extremely concerned about the developing health situations in their countries. I started my mission in Geneva by circulating CADU literature to members of the UN Sub-Commission and the press. Dr. Bertell and Dr. Beatrice Boctor, from Desert Concerns, also spoke at another round table meeting on DU and Iraq, called ‘The Killing of a People.' Boctor showed the new video on DU, which makes the links between the damage to indigenous uranium miners, the damage done to workers in the DU mills and machine shops, through to the health effects among veterans and civilians exposed to the aerosol. Over 60 people attended, including representatives from the International Red Cross, some diplomatic missions, and several NGOs.
As the CADU representative, I felt it was important to meet those responsible for the immediate situation in the Balkans. I had a long meeting with Pekka Haavisto, head of the Balkan Task Force, who was very interested in the issue of DU. I gave him lots of scientific information, website addresses and other references & reports. Haavisto publicly announced recently that there was no increased levels of radioactivity in the Balkans. However, he said later that radioactivity was one of the hardest issues that the UN Environmental Protection team has to deal with.
Indeed, it turns out that the first team sent to the Balkans to investigate the effect of the war only had a Geiger Counter calibrated to detect beta and gamma emissions, whereas DU is primarily an alpha emitter. The current team is, unfortunately, working very closely with the International Atomic Energy Authority. I told Haavisto that the IAEA would almost inevitably always tell him how relatively harmless DU was, because they have been consistently on that side of the fence on the issue of low-level radiation since the end of WWII, despite the last 20 years of scientific research proving otherwise.
I spent time speaking to journalists and groups at the UN, and gave two interviews to Spanish news agencies. Rosalie Bertell also gave extensive interviews. I circulated more DU information to all the NGOs at the UN and to all the current delegates to the Conference on Disarmament. I & other DU campaigners had a productive with the Yugoslav mission and they seemed very interested in my suggestion for a public information campaign in Serbia to tell people how they might recognise where DU has been used and reduce their exposure.
The beginning of the next week in Geneva I met with the man in charge of the Kosovo desk at the UN High Commission for Refugees. The UNHCR is now discussing the issue and they may be able to provide information to returning refugees via a radio station. They seemed very worried when I pointed out that all UK soldiers have been told to wear full radiological protection gear when approaching DU-contaminated areas, and that the UK Radiological Protection Board (also a notoriously conservative body) have issued an advisory to press and aid agencies.
On Monday the Sub-Commission started on the agenda item under which DU was to be discussed. I gave a presentation which accused those who used DU weapons of grave breaches of humanitarian law, given the fact that DU weapons fail every one of the 4 tests which have been used this century to determine whether or not a weapon is illegal. These include
1) environmental impact does the harm continue after the war?
2) geographical range does it reach non-combatant countries
3) time range does the harm continue after the war?
And 4) inhumane does the physical damage and pain continue longer and with more force than the point used for military purposes?
It can therefore be argued that DU is already illegal under existing humanitarian law, even though there is no specific treaty on DU.
I suggested that these weapons could potentially cause damage to human DNA for as long as humanity exists. This presentation was made jointly in the name of the International Peace Bureau, who accredited me on behalf of CADU, and International Educational Development, the NGO that first got DU on the Sub-Commission agenda. It was immensely successful, and the 40 copies of my oral and written presentation were gone in minutes. The accusation was made in a world forum, with several hundred national representatives present.
Every avenue must be taken to move forward, at national, European, and international levels. The more fund-raising we can do, the better. We need to work with other NGOs to prepare a joint statement to the Commission on Human Rights when it meets in February-March 2000. Every member of parliament, member of congress, and member of the European parliament needs to be lobbied. Every national member of the UN General Assembly needs to be contacted. Public actions need to be initiated, and coalition work with human rights, environmental, labour, indigenous and women's groups needs to be continued. This is an urgent issue, demanding urgent action before these weapons are ever used again, anywhere, by anyone.
DU in the USA - the Oak Ridge Story
Oak Ridge, Tennessee is the source of much of the DU used in the Gulf War and home to many of the engineers that have the patents on the penetrator designs. Oak Ridge was the first plant to generate a waste product called depleted uranium as a result of the uranium enrichment process for atomic bombs and later for reactor fuels.
The plants in Oak Ridge have lost uranium dust to the atmosphere from leaks in the gaseous diffusion process and from test explosions on DU storage cylinders. Operations in the plants attempt to keep the workers isolated from the dangerous dusts. In plant maintenance, crews of contamination suit protected workers must clean up all dusts in order to bring in other workers to the uranium areas in the enrichment plant. Over the years, workers have accumulated chronic exposures to uranium dusts from the plant and many have become ill. The illnesses resemble CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) with presentation of fatigue, memory loss, joint pains, etc. One of the larger groups of exposed workers is the Coalition for a Healthy Environment and is credited with forcing the US Department of Energy to begin to admit it harmed workers at these plants with inadequate regulations and health protections. Just this past month, the US DoE Sec. Richardson and Asst. Sec. Michaels presented a press release admitting that this happened. The first admissions were for beryllium and asbestos work exposures, and they intend to follow up in uranium exposures and other carcinogenic toxic metals and chemicals.
In the early years of Oak Ridge, the lack of good contamination control affected worker families as they took home contaminated clothes and shoes to wives and children. Some uranium workers wives complained of the burning semen effects way back in the 50's. In the 50's, the Oak Ridge area lead the US with the highest rates of cancer. Today, it is not only the workers that are sick, but communities around the plants suffer too. One community closest to the nuclear weapons factory now has high levels of child asthma . The area around the plants are high in rates of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), much like the Gulf Vets. All the illnesses centre around the immune dysfunction diseases, which are linked to bone seeking* toxic metals exposures. The problem became this severe due to overbearing secrecy used to keep the plant running and keep the doctors from diagnosing occupational illnesses.
This suppression of the work related illnesses masked the magnitudes of the health problems that are now becoming apparent. The masking of the health problems at the plants was intentional on the part of the managers and the government. The problems from DU exposures were fully preventable and known to the management in Oak Ridge. They were so concerned over the dusts they developed special anodize treatments to keep corrosion dusts from resulting in the hot and humid Gulf environment.
Oak Ridge took a huge bite out of the poison apple of the Garden of Eden and swept half the planet into an intoxicated science with destination plagues of hell. Jim Phelps, former Sr. Staff Engineer. Oak Ridge National Laboratory
DU and Cancers in Iraq -
Report on Mariam Appeal Round Table Conference 30th July 1999
Around 150 people, from this country and around the globe, attended the Round Table Conference, organised by George Galloway MP. The conference was addressed by Mr. Galloway, who introduced the issues, and the four main speakers. The first speaker, Professor Mona Kammas, was only able to be there by dint of a successful appeal directly to Robin Cook to grant her a visa from Iraq. She gave a detailed report of the incidence of cancers and leukaemias in Iraq, and outlined the links with depleted uranium weapons. Her testimony was not only scientific and factual, but was all the more moving because she lives and works among the sufferers of DU. The slides of malformed babies shocked and distressed me, even when I thought I had seen the worst and couldn't be shocked any longer. A copy of her presentation is available from CADU. The second speaker was Professor Gunther, a German physician and scientist, who has been researching the use of DU weapons in Iraq since March 1991.
His efforts to take a DU spent projectile that he found in Iraq back to Germany for examination brought him into serious trouble with the German authorities. The projectile was confiscated by a large police detachment, with enormous safety precautions and stored in a specially shielded deposit. He had seen children playing with the same projectiles in Iraq. Professor Gunther's presentation is also available from the CADU office. Dr. Habib Rejeb of the World Health Organisation was the next speaker, having returned from Iraq after 5 years there, monitoring the effects of sanctions. He told the conference in no uncertain terms, the devastating consequences of the sanctions, giving facts and figures of the lack of medicines, the increase in curable diseases. The food for oil programme, even if it worked at its most effective, would not give the Iraqi administration anywhere near the amount of money they would need to reverse the effects of sanctions on the health of its citizens. The final speaker was Roger Coghill of Coghill Research Laboratories, who had put together an excellent video/Internet presentation on the issue of depleted uranium, looking in an interesting and visual way at the science of DU, its effects, and what we can do. This information is available on his Website at www.cogreslab.demon.co.uk. George Galloway then introduced the idea of the sanctions busting Big Red London bus, which will take medicines and supplies to the people of Iraq, travelling overland from London to Iraq. It aims to increase awareness of the effects of sanctions, and raise the profile of this issue in the British and foreign media, as well as deliver moral support and actual medicines to people in Iraq. (See inset) Finally, the debate was opened up to the floor and brought in contributions from the other round table participants.
These included Felicity Arbuthnot, a journalist with a particular interest in DU, Colin Purcell-Lee, a Gulf war veteran from Manchester, Margaret Ryle, a biological scientist, and Richard Bramhall of the Low-Level Radiation Campaign - all of whom have contacts with CADU. A number of interesting and informative points were raised, and a number of the Iraqis present also spoke with passion on the subject. Mr. Galloway specifically asked Richard Guthrie, from the University of Sussex, to comment on his position. Mr. Guthrie is the source of much of the negative publicity surrounding the DU campaign, as he believes that it is not DU which is causing the cancers and birth deformities in Iraq, and that DU is not a particularly dangerous substance. He told the conference that he worked on studying the effects of the Halabja massacre, and the effects there were very similar to those presented by anti-DU campaigners as being caused by DU. He claimed that there was a well documented series of chemical weapons attacks in southern Iraq in 1986 and 1987, and that the effects we are seeing now can be traced back to these incidents. Members of the round table and people from the floor commented that similar health effects could be seen in people not exposed to chemicals, and that the number of confounders in Iraq (i.e. the number of possible other causes) should not lead us to believe DU is safe.
Richard Bramhall commented that the model of radiation hazard that is used by the MOD.. and by the National Radiological Protection Board, is based on external radiation by gamma rays, taken from studies of Hiroshima. The model has nothing to say about internal radiation, and it is for this reason that we should doubt their figures on DU, as DU is only concerned with internal radiation. Mr. Galloway drew attention to CADU and our briefing pack during the course of the conference, and there was so much interest that I very quickly ran out of leaflets and briefing packs to give out. However, a number of useful contacts were made. One of the most useful aspects of the conference, was that it raised the profile of the DU issue. On the day of the conference, a large article on the conference, featuring Prof. Kammas appeared in the Guardian, and Prof. Kammas had several interviews, one of them alongside Richard Guthrie. Newsnight also took up the story, featuring Roger Coghill that evening. The organisers of the Mariam Appeal claim to have had a massive amount of interest arising from these media stories. Overall, the conference was very informative, introducing the scientific, the humanitarian, and the campaigning angles. All the round table participants spoke very well, and usefully on the subject, and it was great to see such a diverse and eminent panel. Awareness was certainly raised, and not only this, but we had something positive to look forward to and campaign around in terms of the Big Red Bus. Many thanks to George Galloway, and his brilliant team for organising the conference. Cath Bann - CADU
Big ben to Baghdad
Nothing could be more traditional than the traditional red, Routemaster London Bus. Which is why the Mariam Appeal, which campaigns for the relief of those suffering under the sanctions on Iraq, chose the bus as a symbol of the feelings of millions of British people who reject the endless punishment of the Iraqi people. The bus leaves Big Ben, Westminster on September 6th 1999 and aims to arrive in Baghdad on November 5th having crossed ten countries in excess of 10,000 km and having been the centrepiece of more than 20 public rallies. Throughout the journey they will be highlighting the collapsing health situation in Iraq. In particular, they will focus attention on the cancer epidemic there, which may well have been caused by Allied Depleted Uranium Weapons, and is certainly being buttressed by sanctions. There will be public rallies on 7th September in Glasgow, 8th September in Birmingham, and 9th September in London - come and listen and support us. Or write a letter of complaint to Tony Blair, 10 Downing St, London SW1, urging the government to abandon its sanctions policy. Or donate to help the Mariam Appeal, and/or add your name to the supporters list to receive regular updates - The Mariam Appeal, 1 Northumberland Ave, Trafalgar Sq, London WC2 5BW. For more information phone 0171 872 5451
VISIT TO JAPAN
When I was in Hiroshima, speaking in one of the workshops, I mentioned the use of depleted uranium weapons. The official Gensuikyo (group against A and H bombs) cam up to me afterwards and asked if I knew there was an exhibition of his photographs showing in Hiroshima. I didn't, but was determined to see them. We sped across the city in our lunch break in the intense heat (35 F+) and went to a community centre to see the photos. They were of the children sick with cancer and leukaemia around Basra, but also pictures new to me of DU ammunition, holes in the tanks and sadly, the Bedouin camped around the area where the fighting had been. Desperately short of money, the Bedouin were holding up pieces of metal found near the battle ground which they sell. We could also see children playing around the bombed out tanks. It emerged that Takashi, the photographer, is a good friend and supported of Masako Ito, our friend whom we met at the Hague. Moved by the plight of the people of southern Iraq, Masako raises money in Japan to take much needed medicines to the Iraqi doctors for the children. I was able to meet up with her when I returned to Tokyo and she gave me copies of her new video, in English, "Let Iraqi Children Live". On this video, Iraqi doctors are unequivocal about the connection between the use of DU weapons in Iraq and the steep increase in childhood cancers and birth deformities. The video can be borrowed from the CADU office. The US have also tested DU munitions on a Japanese island, Taroshima, and we are following up this story. Rae Street
Depleted Uranium discussion in Manchester
Dr Rosalie Bertell also visited Manchester, where she spoke to a group of interested campaigners on the issue of depleted uranium. Participants had the chance to ask her a number of technical questions about the effects of depleted uranium. For us, as non-scientists it was extremely useful to be able to clarify the science of the DU issue, so that we are more able to explain it to others. Attending the meeting was Gulf War veteran Colin Purcell-Lee, who lives in the Greater Manchester area, and who has tested DU positive. It was very useful for CADU to make this contact, and we hope to work more closely with Colin in the future. Following this meeting, Rosalie also spoke at a seminar on Ionising Radiation and its effects on women's health. The issue of DU came up once more, alongside other topics, such as the radiation emitted from smoke alarms in the house. This seminar was organised by Helen John & Cat Euler, the latter of whom has been working with CADU on raising the profile of DU.
Backlash emerges on DU issue
As many readers will be aware, the government, the Mod., some scientists, and even a number of campaigners, have denied claims of anti-DU campaigners that DU is a dangerous radioactive substance, which can cause serious health and environmental problems. We have received a number of letters to this effect, and have seen several media stories which seek to portray DU as a relatively harmless material, and ourselves and other activists as scare-mongers and bad scientists. We feel it would be useful to present here a considered response to their arguments, which can then be used by readers to respond to government letters, or to articles seen in the media.
The crux of the argument of our detractors appears to lie in the low radioactivity level of uranium 238. It is incontrovertible that DU is indeed a low-level radiation emitter, but we beg to differ on the effects of this low level radiation. As the Low-Level Radiation Campaign has frequently pointed out, the principal model on which the Mod. and the National Radiological Protection Board base their estimates is insufficient. Developed during the course of Hiroshima studies, it focuses on external radiation caused by gamma rays, and fails to explore the internal effects of the alpha and beta radiation emitted on inhaling oxidised particles - which is precisely what happens in the case of DU. The official Mod. position is that while they do accept that inhaling the ceramicised particles of DU that are produced on detonation may cause health problems, these are likely to be negligible as the particles can travel very far. In fact, according to Roger Coghill of Coghill Research Laboratories, the particles can travel at least 300 km carried by wind. On detonation these Uranium oxides are particularised with up to 80 percent conversion into tiny long lived glass beads of 1 micron to 5 microns, thereby passing easily via the bronchioles into the blood stream and the lymphatic system.
Our detractors claim that the amount of damage caused to cells does not exceed the minimum radiation dose allowed. But this is because they average out the small amount of cell damage caused by radiation over the entire body. Yet as the Low Level Radiation Campaign, and many other scientists have proved, one single particle of DU lodged in a lymph node can result in a small cluster of damaged cells and could devastate the entire immune system. There has been over twenty years of sound scientific research which demonstrates that long term exposure to low-level radiation can sometimes be even more dangerous than short exposure to higher levels.
Instead of simply killing a cell, lower radioactivity impairs its function or breaks apart the DNA strands, leading it in the case of those cells which make others to a reproduction of the defect over and over. We could go into greater detail about how DU particles can affect the body, but with shortage of space, we prefer to direct those interested to further reading/ information sources.
http://www.cogreslab.demon.co.uk - Coghill Research Laboratories web site
Catalinotto et al., (1997) 2nd edition updated 1999 ISBN 0-9656916-08 Metal of Dishonour, The detailed Pentagon cover-up over DU weapons, by a team of scientific experts.(details, and long review on http://www.amazon.com)
Bertell R. (1985) No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a radioactive Earth, Woman's Press, London. An old but good primer on the issue of low level radiation
Dr Chris Busby (1995) Wings of Death, Green Audit, Aberystwyth. Expounds the second strike hypothesis of weak irradiation damage at well below present PELs. (tel. for details: 00 44 1970 611226)
Goffman JW, Radiation Induced Cancer from Low-dose Exposure: an independent analysis. Committee for Nuclear Responsibility Inc. San Francisco, CA
Finally, we would like to say to those who claim DU is not dangerous - remember Agent Orange, and the victims of the initial nuclear tests. It took over twenty years for the truth to emerge, with the government and official bodies denying at every turn, that they could be responsible for massive environmental and human devastation. We should always question the official reports; we should always be more willing to believe those independent of the arms trade and the war mongering, who don't have anything to gain by the sale or use of DU. Scientists may argue for years to come on the effects of low level radiation, the health and environmental effects of DU. For us as campaigners, we can see enough evidence right now to say firmly that we believe DU is a dangerous substance, and that its production, testing and use must stop now. The burden of proof should lie with those using DU to prove it is safe, not for us as campaigners to prove that it is not. Why wait for thousands more people to suffer its after-effects before enough evidence is accumulated to ban it. Stop DU now.
Depleted Uranium a Brief History.
14th Low Level Radiation and Health Conference - July 99 Lancaster University Summary of Dr. Rosalie Bertell's talk
Depleted Uranium is natural uranium with a proportion of the U235 removed.
U235 is more fissile and therefore useful to the nuclear power industry. DU has a higher concentration of U238 which means that natural uranium, enriched uranium (the material with the extra U235) and depleted uranium are isotopically different.
DU makes up the largest percentage of high level radioactive waste from uranium enrichment facilities. Originally these facilities wanted DU to be included in consumer products, mixed in with other metals, but, this was unpopular. It has now been given free of charge to arms manufacturers who find some of its properties useful. DU is heavy, dense and hard making it popular for making armour for tanks and also armour piercing bullets and bombs. It comes free, whereas they have to pay for lead and import and pay for the tungsten used previously.
Originally DU was produced at a Kerr McGee plant in Oklahoma. Local residents experienced undiagnosable diseases and an increase in congenital abnormalities in their children and their animals which lived on the hill where the waste from the facility was dumped.. For a while the DU was used on that hill as an experimental fertiliser. National Lead near New York had a fire involving depleted uranium. The DU aerosol was found 26 miles away in air conditioning filters at the Knolls Atomic Laboratory, the naval training station for nuclear operators. Estimates of how much DU was used in Iraq vary between 320-800 tonnes. However the largest proportion of DU contamination may not have been caused by the direct use of DU in armour and weapons. There was a major fire at the Doha weapons storage facility in Northern Kuwait. This fire consisted of about six explosions and burnt for 9-10 days. The distribution of DU aerosol from this was extensive.
The RAND report issued in the US about DU claimed that the substance is not harmful. This assertion is based on comparisons between the experience of Gulf War veterans and Uranium miners. Uranium miners were exposed to a more soluble form of uranium which passes through the body in approximately 12 hours to 12 days. Even the yellow cake produced at the uranium mills, although it has the same chemical formula as the DU, has a biological half-life only about half as long. The uranium breathed in by soldiers and locals in the Gulf has very different physical properties. When a depleted uranium bullet or bomb enters a tank or hits a building it reaches a very high temperature and the uranium burns. This has a similar effect to firing clay to make pottery or sand to make glass. A very water insoluble ceramic is produced. In addition to this the fire creates an aerosol of uranium which is easily wind borne. The technical term for this therefore is a ceramic aerosol Dr Bertell was only able to find one paper on the medical effects of ceramic aerosols of uranium in her literature search. This was not included in the bibliography of the RAND report. The paper detailed an experiment done on rats which found that DU stayed in their lungs twice as long as yellow cake which is the same chemical composition of the DU, but has not been fired in a high temperature. Yellowcake is produced in a mill from the uranium ore, and is the material sent to the enrichment plant for processing into either weapons or reactor grade fuel.
In addition to being physically different to the sort of DU dust found in uranium mines or mills DU has a different effect in the human body. Once breathed in it can stay in the lungs for up to 5 or 10 years. It has a very long half life in the body. The RAND report is therefore erroneous. Once inhaled DU can spend 5-10 years in the body before finally being excreted in the urine. Urine can be collected and tested for the presence of uranium when trying to ascertain contamination. The urine should also be tested also for different isotopes of uranium to judge whether it is natural, enriched or depleted. American and British soldiers who served in the Gulf have never been offered this testing by their veterans hospitals.
Like other heavy metals, DU is chemically toxic: it causes chemical poisoning of the body. It is also an alpha particle emitter. Of all the types of radiation alpha particles when released internally are the most dangerous to living cells. They are the biggest and most heavy of the three types of radiation. Because they can be stopped by a piece of paper they are sometimes considered less dangerous than beta (which need a centimetre of aluminium to stop it.) or gamma (which need several feet of lead to stop it), but that is only when they are outside of the body. An alpha source next to living tissue can severely damage the DNA in the nucleus of the cell, cause mutations and later cancers. On its way from the lungs to the bladder the DU spends time in the blood and could get lodged in a capillary or tissue anywhere in the body and cause cancer there. This is why DU is so dangerous if it is in the body: particularly if it stays there for 10 years.
Men, women and children are affected very differently by DU; children incorporate it into their bones and are therefore most susceptible to blood cancers, women's breast and uterine tissues are where uranium accumulates in their bodies. They are likely to get breast and uterine cancers. The World Health Organisation has acknowledged the health risk that DU poses to people in Iraq and is currently studying its effects.
By Clare Frisby - CADU
Feel free to use articles from this newsletter. Please acknowledge the source of information though. Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, One World Centre, Manchester, England.
For further information on DU weapons, please see PMA's other alerts on this topic.