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Depleted uranium shells leave lethal legacy - panel

By John O'Callaghan - 31 Jul 1999

LONDON (Reuters) - Depleted uranium shells leave a legacy of birth defects and death, scientists told a conference in London Friday, warning that the radioactive ammunition will cause the same health problems in Kosovo as it has in Iraq.

``One single particle of depleted uranium lodged in the lymph node can devastate the entire immune system,'' Dr. Roger Coghill, an experimental biologist, told the conference on links between depleted uranium (DU) and cancers in Iraq.

``We know that some one million DU bullets were fired (during the Gulf War) and many still lie in the Gulf desert, causing clearly serious cancers and birth defects. The connection between the two is biologically extremely plausible,'' he said.

Part of the problem with the debate over the effects of depleted uranium is a lack of hard, scientific data. What little does exist is seized upon by one side to disprove the other.

Some critics say chemical weapons used by Iraqi forces in the 1980-88 war with Iran are the real reason for the health problems in southern Iraq.

Declassified U.S. documents show that U.S. forces fired about 944,000 rounds of the cigar-sized DU ammunition in Iraq and Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.

Depleted uranium is favored as a tank- and bunker-buster because its extreme density allows it to punch through armor and concrete.

Professor Mona Kammas, a member of Iraq's Committee of Pollution Impact by Aggressive Bombing, displayed photographs of deformed babies and said an increase in birth defects in parts of Iraq was caused by depleted uranium.

``When we studied the nearest to the depleted uranium sources, the more abnormalities we got,'' she later told Reuters. ``This material is radioactive and hazardous to man, animals and plants.'' Thousands of Iraqi military personnel and civilians were affected by the after-effects of the shells, Kammas said.

Coghill, who runs his own research center in Gwent, Wales, said smoke and dust from the impact of the rounds can carry radioactive particles hundreds of yards into the air and several hundred miles downwind.

The use of DU shells in Kosovo, fired mostly from U.S. A-10 ``tank-busting'' planes, was endangering the health of returning refugees, peacekeepers, aid workers and the people of neighboring countries, he said.

``We think that in the Kosovo conflict, as a result of (immune-related disorders), there will be some 10,000 deaths from cancer,'' he added.

Kammas said Western governments had not discussed the problem because they do want their soldiers to know of the hazards, adding it was up to the United States to clean up Iraq.

Some of the other scientists and doctors, while not drawing a parallel between the cancers and DU ammunition, blamed years of international sanctions against Iraq as a major contributor to health problems.

To draw attention to the health situation in Iraq, British Labor MP George Galloway said he and members of the charity Mariam Appeal would drive from London to Baghdad in a converted double-decker bus this autumn.

Link to PMA's 'NATO Bombing - has it brought peace to the Balkans?' Alert.

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