Depleted uranium (DU) (and sometimes plutonium) is used in armour-piercing shells by the US and UK armed forces. These munitions were extensively used in the Gulf War and in Kosovo.
The uranium in these weapons can vaporize on impact / catching fire and the vapour and dust is dangerous if inhaled or ingested.
All uranium and plutonium is toxic as well as radio-active, so even when radiation isn't high enough to be harmful, the material is still poisonous.
The APC has asked the Australian government if Australian forces have DU weapons or have used them, and if health effects have been investigated and monitored.
The government replied that DU munitions have been used, when arms bought from the US came supplied with DU ammunition. This has now been used up.
The government has done no tests on the health effects on personnel, or on environmental effects.
There are alternatives to using DU in armor-piercing munitions. Germany, for example, uses tungsten which is more expensive but as effective.
Extract from "Science for Democratic Action" July 1999 -- Ecological and Health Implications of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia:
"NATO used armor-piercing depleted uranium (DU) munitions in Yugoslavia. DU munitions were also used in Iraq. Depleted uranium is a radioactive and toxic heavy metal. DU munitions can catch fire and be converted to an aerosolized oxide. The oxide powder could be breathed in by people in the vicinity resulting in radiation doses to their lungs. In both Yugoslavia and Iraq, DU munitions were used in the context of chemical pollution. About one-seventh of the US armed forces personnel who served in the 1991 Gulf War have been afflicted with one or more of the complex of symptoms, collectively called Gulf War Syndrome. While all these symptoms could not have been caused by depleted uranium alone, DU may have played a role. The combination of contaminants, including potential synergistic effects between chemicals and between combinations of chemicals and depleted uranium, is worrisome."
Memo to Gen. L.R. Groves 1943 - a blueprint for DU
"If you can't clean it up, don't use it." Doug Rokke
February 21, 2003
The Honorable Jim McDermott, Congressman
RE: Declassified 1943 memo to General L.R. Groves - a blueprint for depleted
Dear Congressman McDermott,
Mr. Joe Pemberton, a lawyer in Bellingham, Washington, has asked me to provide you with scientific information on the critical and overlooked issues of particle size, penetration of gas masks, and mobility of depleted uranium formed under battleground conditions. It is also powerful scientific information to counter false statements recently made by the White House1 and the DOD2.
I am writing this letter out of concern for the military personnel who may now be serving on or near the Gulf War battlefields in Iraq and may be quartered in areas already contaminated by depleted uranium munitions. But they are not my only concern. The Gulf War Veterans who are now suffering severe health consequences have also been exposed to depleted uranium, chemicals and biological materials including vaccines while serving in Iraq and Kuwait.
The children and people of Iraq have been the greatest victims from exposure to depleted uranium15 used in the Gulf War and will continue to be. Over time, they cannot escape the chronic, low level exposure to internal radiation from depleted uranium and its decay products (see Attach. 7) as it cycles and recycles through their environment3 in water, air and food products.
Depleted uranium dust will continue to be an extreme hazard to soldiers, civilians, populations in countries downwind6,8, and the environment as a radiological contaminant to all living systems for ten half-lives or 45 BILLION years.
I am a former Lawrence Berkeley Lab and Lawrence Livermore Lab scientist, and now work with a group of independent scientists called the Radiation and Public Health Project4. Together this group has written ten books on the health effects of low level radiation. Presently I am writing a science report on depleted uranium for the United Nations Human Rights Subcommission, now investigating the illegality and use of depleted uranium munitions. I have written the Foreword (Attach.1) to Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium by Akira Tashiro5.
Attached (Attach. 2) is a declassified memo to General L. R. Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, dated October 30, 1943. Major Doug Rokke provided me with this memo. It summarizes a report written by Manhattan Project physicists Drs. James B. Conant, A. H. Compton and H.C. Urey on the dissemination of very fine radioactive material as a method of warfare. It is a "blueprint" for depleted uranium as it has been used in Iraq, Kuwait, Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan during the past decade. The memo details the use of very fine and superfine particles of radioactive materials as a military weapon. Depleted uranium, produces very fine and superfine particles in large amounts as it burns. The 1943 memo outlines what was known in 1943 and below are my comments:
- A gas warfare instrument: the memo indirectly referred to fission products from Fermi's nuclear pile or radioactive waste like depleted uranium. The pyrophoric effect of depleted uranium, which spontaneously burns when heated to 170 C (once it is fired) and on impact, effectively forms very large numbers of extremely fine (0.1 micron) and submicroscopic particles as small as 0.001 micron or 10 Ångstroms (see Attach. 3 - Chart "Characteristics of Particles and Particle Dispersoids") as described in the memo. Particles in this size range behave like a gas when inhaled, disperse in the lungs to the blood lung barrier where the white blood cells (greater than 7microns in diameter) engulf the tiny particles of depleted uranium and carry them throughout the body. Once these particles have been engulfed by blood cells or lodged in tissues, they may not be detectable in the urine. Contaminated personnel will take the depleted uranium home, deposited in tissues throughout their bodies.
There is no known treatment for exposure.
- It will permeate a gas mask filter: particles in the 0.1 micron range will penetrate even a HEPA filter (High Efficiency Particulate Airfilter - see Attach. 4 - HEPA chart) in large numbers. The filters in gas masks issued to military personnel are much less efficient than HEPA filters. There are 1 billion particles of 0.1 micron diameter in a cubic meter of normal air. It is clear that a man (without a gas mask) breathing at a normal rate (about 28 cubic meters per day6) and retaining 75% of the very fine particulate matter in the respiratory system6 will inhale very large numbers of very fine particles in a short time period.
In a day an average man would normally inhale 28 million particles in the 0.1 micron range through a gas mask with HEPA filters. It would take one billion fine particles to fill the period at the end of this sentence. On the battlefield during live fire, the high concentrations of fine and very fine depleted uranium particles could increase the numbers inhaled in the small particle range by magnitudes.
The gas masks issued to military personnel now deployed to the Gulf Region are defective and do not provide even a minimum of protection to personnel. Recently I went on a speaking tour in 3 northeastern states with Major Doug Rokke, January 25-February 1, 2003. In nearly every talk we gave, a National Guardsman or other military person would tell us that their masks fell off when they tilted their heads.
Air filters in gas masks also fail as they are wetted by moisture from breathing or are used in the rain.
There is no possible protection from exposure to very fine particles of depleted uranium through filtering of air.
- As a terrain contaminant: the dispersal of very fine particles of depleted uranium will contaminate the terrain and deny access to either side except at the risk of exposure. That includes civilians and animals who may live there after the battle. The half-life of depleted uranium - 4.5 billion years - leaves the contaminated terrain radioactive forever.
Small particles less than 1 micron in diameter do not settle from the air (see Attach. 3 - Chart "Characteristics of Particles and Particle Dispersoids") but become incorporated into atmospheric dust (see Attach. 5 - Chart "Natural Aerosols") and are transported around the earth until they are removed ("rainout") by rain, pollution or snow3. Seasonal climate change, agricultural activities, fires and other natural and man-made disturbances will continue to remobilize particles in the upper dust level contaminating terrains off the battlefield.
Weathering of larger particles of depleted uranium deposited on the battlefield7 will contribute to concentrations of depleted uranium fine and superfine particles in the air and upper dust level.
Air monitors in Hungary8 and Greece during bombing in Kosovo and Bosnia measured Uranium 238 carried by the wind from the battlefields. Seasonal fluctuations of depleted uranium particles in the air have been reported in Kuwait6.
- Water and food contamination: the depleted uranium dust will cycle through the environment both on and off the battlefield contaminating water supplies and food. Food grown in contaminated areas will be transported to markets and contaminate populations and areas far from the battlefields. Wind, water, birds9 and animals who transport the depleted uranium in their droppings, slowly contaminate wider and wider areas.
- Internal contamination: inhalation of very fine depleted uranium dust particles is extremely damaging to the respiratory tract and will get into the blood stream where it is carried by blood cells and contaminates tissues throughout the body. These "hot particles"10 will continue to emit alpha and gamma radiation (see Attach. 6 - photo "Hot particle in lung tissue") as they travel throughout the body or where they rest in tissue. After the Uranium 238 nucleus decays, the radioactive daughter product which forms (see Attach. 7) will continue to decay to other isotopes as many as four times. This will increase the level of radioactive exposure by magnitudes. Depleted uranium particles lodged in tissue will decay and continue emitting higher levels of radioactivity from daughter isotopes into the surrounding tissues.
SYNERGISTIC EFFECTS: The health effects from exposure to a combination of radiation, chemicals, and biological agents was not addressed in this WW II memo. This is a critical issue on the battlefield and should be considered in studies of Gulf War Illness. The combination of radiation with heavy metals, chemicals and biological toxins accelerate and increase the adverse health effects of exposure. The effects are unknown since very little research exists in this field11.
THIS IS AN ISSUE WHICH SHOULD BE CONSIDERED IN FUTURE CONFLICTS SUCH AS THE PLANNED BOMBING OF IRAQ.
MEASUREMENTS OF DU IN TISSUES FROM 71 DEAD RESIDENTS OF BASRA:
WORLD TRADE CENTER AIR STUDIES:
The EPA has verified that depleted uranium was in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11 18,19 and that the crash site was contaminated. Residents of New York City detected radiation on hand held geiger counters at the WTC site. The EPA not only failed to protect emergency response personnel at both sites, but did not report or measure13 concentrations of very fine particles at any of the 9/11 plane crash locations. These are the most hazardous to health, and many personnel who worked at the crash sites are now very ill.
Dr. Cahill also studied the Kuwaiti oil field fires following the Gulf War.
ECRR: RELEASED JANUARY 30, 2003
The report concludes that the International Committee on Radiation Protection (ICRP) determined international standards for risk and dose effects from studies on A-bomb survivors which were based on high dose, external, acute exposures. The ICRP model only considered cancer as a health risk associated with radiation exposure. The ICRP model, using "bathtub" chemistry, "steam engine" physics, and deceptive reporting, produced faulty and fraudulent estimates of risk and dose effects. Additionally, because the ICRP model is based on acute, high dose, external exposure it cannot accurately determine risks or dose response for internal, chronic, isotopic exposures. For this reason, the ICRP and ECRR models are mutually exclusive.
This new ECRR report based on epidemiological studies, concludes that the health effects of low level radiation exposure have been underestimated by the ICRP model by 100-1000 times. It also includes other health effects due to radiation exposure from global weapons fallout. In addition to cancer it estimates the number of foetal deaths, infant mortality, and predicts "a 10% loss of life quality integrated over all diseases and conditions in those who were exposed over the period of global weapons fallout".
The committee concluded that underestimates of risk and dose effects for depleted uranium exposure could be very great since the effect at the cell level may be very different than other types of radiation exposures. For this reason the health effects of depleted uranium exposure in Gulf Veterans will be investigated in depth by this committee and will be presented in a new report.
Internal exposure to depleted uranium is a "novel" exposure to an altered form of natural isotopes. The size, shape, surface texture, density, chemical composition and other physical and chemical factors of the particles greatly affect the health impact and damage to the cells of any biological system from depleted uranium exposure. Particle size may be the most overlooked and one of the most important characteristics of depleted uranium dust formed on the battlefield. After burning, depleted uranium is altered both physically and chemically and estimates of risk to health and dose effects cannot be based on previous studies of naturally occurring uranium. In the Research Report Summaries7 of depleted uranium studies done for the military between 1974 and 1999, they clearly provide information and concerns in these studies about the hazards of depleted uranium both to health, exposure on the battlefield and damage to the environment. This summary is well worth reading as it provides a timeline of the military politicizing decisions on the use of depleted uranium over 25 years. For example, in a 1980 Army report17:
This report provides an excellent history of the logic behind the Army's decision to use DU as a kinetic energy, armored-piercing munition. DU's final selection over tungsten was based on several reasons, including the lower initial cost of the penetrator itself and its better overall performance. DU and tungsten were rated even for "producibility". Tungsten had the advantage for safety, environmental concerns, and deployment.
RADIATION RESPECTS NO BORDERS
In November of 1991, Richard Berta, the Western Regional Inspector for the Department of Energy who was based at the Lawrence Livermore Lab where I worked, told me: "The Pentagon exists for the oil companies."
The use of depleted uranium by the Department of Defense has created a slow Chernobyl in the Middle East.
With my best wishes and hopes that this radiation nightmare will finally come to an end, and with thanks for your efforts to move the issue into the light,
White House statement on "depleted uranium scare".
DOD Colonel Bob Cherry - Letter to Editor, February 2003, Olean Times
Letter from Dr. Ernest Sternglass August 23, 2001, RE: "Radiation and
Radiation and Public Health Project
Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium by Akira Tashiro,
"Estimating the Concentration of Uranium in Some Environmental Samples
Research Report Summaries on Depleted Uranium from 1974-1999, conducted at
"Did NATO Attacks in Yugoslavia Cause a Detectable Environmental Effect
"Birds Bring Radioactivity Ashore" by Andy Coghlan, New Scientist,
2003 Recommendations of the European Committee on Radiation Risk: Health
The Petkau Effect - The Devastating Effect of Nuclear Radiation on Human
Personal communication: email March 28, 2002.
"N.Y. air hazards found: EPA assurances contradicted by UCD
Detection and Evaluation of Long-Range Transport of Aerosols (DELTA) Group
A Different Nuclear War: Children of the Gulf War by Takashi Morizumi
Children of Iraq: The Dream of the Future UNICEF, printed by Express
Richard P. Davitt "A Comparison of the Advantages and Disadvantages of
"Depleted uranium: devastation at home and abroad" by Leuren Moret,
"Tödliches Uran-Recycling" by Geseko von Lüpke, NATUR January
Attachment 1: "Forword" by Leuren Moret to Discounted Casualties:
Attachment 2: Declassified memo to General L.R. Groves, Director of the
Attachment 3: TABLE: "Characteristics of Particles and Particle
Attachment 4: CHART: "Penetration of a HEPA filter as a function of
Attachment 5: CHART: "Natural Aerosols" from ENCYCLOPEDIA OF
Attachment 6: PHOTO: "Hot" or radioactive particle in lung
tissue" photo by
Attachment 7: Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia 5th Edition (1976)
The Ron Gray Human Rights Foundation