Do DU Munitions Pose Longterm Threat?

In a report released April 23, UNEP said the heavy use of DU munitions in Iraq "has likely caused environmental contamination of as-yet unknown levels or consequences" and recommended that guidelines be distributed immediately on how to minimize the risk of accidental exposure.

Walker said there is a possibility of environmental contamination from the munitions. "It can spread to agricultural fields and cattle," he said. "Then, of course, this creates the possibility of radioactivity in the milk."

Link to Gulf War Syndrome Disputed

At a March 14 Pentagon briefing on depleted uranium, officials disputed suggestions that DU munitions pose any long-term health threats. Dr. Michael Kilpatrick of the Army's Deployment Health Support Directorate said the military has tracked 90 Gulf War veterans for the past 12 years and found no causal relationship between their exposure to DU and any ailments.

Regarding the possibility of environmental contamination, Kilpatrick said there is little chance that DU-laden dust would become airborne or leech into ground water supplies because of its weight. "Even if it's a small dust particle, it's still heavy and it stays on the ground," he said.

Kilpatrick prescribed a fairly minimal amount of protection for troops who might have direct contact with spent DU munitions.

"If somebody needs to go into a tank that's been hit with depleted uranium, a dust mask, a handkerchief is adequate to protect them — washing their hands afterward," he said.

Iraqi officials have said depleted uranium exposure is behind an alleged rise of cancer cases and birth defects in and around the southern city of Basra since the Gulf War. But Kilpatrick said there were no tank battles involving DU munitions near population areas in the Gulf War. He said there was no basis to tie any purported rise in cancers or birth defects in Basra to DU munitions.

Col. James Naughton of the Army Materiel Command told reporters at the Pentagon briefing that Iraqi complaints about depleted uranium had no medical basis. "They want it to go away because we kicked the crap out of them," he said.

Returning Troops Will Be Tested for DU Exposure

While the Pentagon contends it has seen no evidence linking DU munitions to serious health problems, officials on April 29 said that troops returning from Iraq will be screened for exposure to DU. The move is part of a broader effort to improve record-keeping on veterans' health.

Returning troops will be required to give a blood sample and complete an extensive questionnaire detailing any symptoms they experienced during their deployment and whether they had been exposed to chemical weapons, pesticides, smoke, lasers, or depleted uranium.

Rokke and other veterans who feel DU has contributed to their health problems want the Pentagon to take stronger action.

"There's gotta be some accountability," said Rokke. "There's gotta be medical care and you have to clean this stuff up. You physically take all the pieces of broken buildings, then pick up all the spent rounds, then bulldoze the whole area and physically get rid of all that material."

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