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Refugees kept in dark over Kosovo radiation threat
www.sundayherald.com - 2 August 1999
Depleted uranium warning only issued to MoD staff, writes Felicity Arbuthnot
Publication Date: Aug 1 1999
MINISTRY of Defence personnel in Kosovo have been warned to stay clear of areas which have been affected by depleted uranium weapons unless they are wearing full radiological protective clothing.
However, returning refugees have been kept in the dark about the perils of moving back to the highly contaminated areas, with the MoD claiming that responsibility for alerting them lies with United Nations relief workers.
When asked if there was a co-ordinated Nato response relating to the returning refugees, and the locals, rebuilding, and to the advice to avoid disturbing areas of depleted uranium (DU) contamination, an MOD spokesperson replied: "There's no specially reviewed policy re DU. It would have to be co-ordinated by Nato.
"We would follow and adhere to any of their directions."
Now some UNHCR personnel are threatening to pull out of the affected areas, expressing "extreme concern" over the risk to their staff and locals. The Sunday Herald can reveal that the National Radiological Protection Board has issued a warning of the potential hazards of radioactive depleted uraniumto the health of personnel working inKosovo. It has urged press and relief agency workers to avoid disturbing contaminated areas.
An estimated 250,000 rounds of depleted uranium were fired, primarily from American A-10 aircraft.
At an international Conference in London on Friday medical and scientific experts estimated that an additional 10,000 cancer deaths in theregion will result.
DU, first used in the 1991 Gulf war, has been linked to so-called 'Gulf war sickness' among veterans and to the epidemic of cancers and birth defects in Iraq.
The NRPB - the government's radiation watchdog - has warned: "There are two types of potential hazard posed by the use of DU: a chemical toxicity hazard and a radiation hazard.
"DU could be absorbed into the body following inhalation or ingestion.
"In this case the kidney is the organ most likely to be affected by the chemical toxicity of DU."
A further 'hazard' would arise from disturbing the contamination and inhaling the dust.
"DU deposited in the lungs could be contributory cause of lung cancer."
The warning concludes: "People visiting or working in Kosovo, for example press and relief agencies, should seekadvice from appropriateauthorities on the disposition of damaged vehicles or areas of DU contamination to avoid disturbing these areas.
"If access to these areas is deemed essential then advice should be sought from the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office.'
The Ministry of Defence admits that it has advised all of its personnel on no account to approach any area which may have been affected by DU and that they should wear full radiological protective clothing and breathing apparatus if it is unavoidable.
However it has washed its hands of all responsibility for others in the region. "Responsibility for those living in the area and for returning refugees lies with the United Nations Commission for Refugees.' There has been no official communication between the Ministry of Defence and UNHCR officials in Kosovo, who only learned of the danger from a concerned scientist. It has now amassed a volume of material which has been sent to its head office in Geneva, after staff expressed 'extreme concern' over the risk to personnel and locals - some demanding that all UNHCR personnel be withdrawn forthwith.
The significance of the NRPB's warnings and UNHCR's concerns were enlarged by scientist Dr Roger Coghill at the International Conference on Depleted Uranium, whose audience included Ambassadors and dignatories from the Middle East concerned about the health and environment of their populations since the Gulf war.
"Inhaling DU directly into the lungs has a bio-effectiveness one hundred times more than Chernobyl," said Coghill.
"One single particle lodged in a lymph node can devastate the immune system from within. Damage is non-repairable."
Pointing out the distance DU can travel he commented: "The Technical Institute at Kazani in Budapest, reported that during the Balkans war (DU associated) radiation levels rose 25%.
"Alarming rises were also reported in all neighbouring countries."
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