a Toxic Boomerang
The lies surrounding "depleted" uranium (DU) begin with its name, which implies that it is worn out, ineffective. A waste product of the nuclear energy and nuclear weapons industries, DU is about twice as dense as lead, and is weakly radioactive. The US uses it to make armor-piercing ammunition and shielding, as well as counterweights for large aircraft. DU ammunition ignites on impact, creating a fine, radioactive, toxic heavy metal dust, which is easily airborne. Hundreds of tons of DU weapons and tanks have been used in Iraq and elsewhere, and several countries have DU weapons in their arsenals. Of the 696,661 Gulf War I vets who served, 185,780 have filed claims for service-related illnesses or injuries, and 9,600 have died.1
DU on the Roads with Us
DU could be shipped from places like the Seneca Army Depot, in Romulus, NY, to planes bound for the Middle East. In the event of an accident, firefighters and first responders would see only an "Explosive" placard. Like the four sickened National Guards from New York City never warned about DU and denied adequate testing and medical care, first responders to an accident could inhale DU dust in the event of an explosion, which could spread for miles.2 The military's exemption from labeling DU in transport as "Radioactive" expires June 30. (See "Action" box below.)
Military is Aware of Dangers
This effective weapon pierces metal like a knife through butter. A Pentagon report links DU "to cancer when exposures are internal, [and] chemical toxicity causing kidney damage. Short term effects of high doses can result in death .Combat conditions will lead to the uncontrolled release of DU. The conditions of the battlefield, and the long term health risks to natives and combat veterans may become issues in the acceptability of the continued use of DU kinetic penetrators for military applications."3 A 2002 Department of Defense report also recognizes risks of cancer, lung fibrosis, and DNA damage from DU, as well as risk to water and food.4
Army regulations for fires involving DU require that, "personnel or equipment exiting the fire area are to be monitored for the presence of any DU contamination [D]econtamination should be performed."5 Exposures due to smoke from DU fires or dust from DU require medical screening within 24 hours and then medical care.6 To reliably test for DU exposure requires a $1,000 spectrometry of a urine sample collected within hours of exposure.
Who benefits from denial and delay concerning DU?
The nuclear industry has been giving away tons of DU, a waste product of uranium "enrichment," for decades: safe disposal is expensive. DU could find its way into consumer goods. Industry, government, the media, the military: none of these can be relied upon to be objective about DU. The military has denounced its own studies, claiming that DU is harmless. To admit otherwise would imply liability.
The World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a powerful pro-nuclear lobby, have had essentially interlocking directorates since 1959.7 In an as yet unfinalized 2001 report, Dr. Baverstock, the top WHO expert on radiation and health warned, "There is increasing scientific evidence the radioactivity and the chemical toxicity of DU could cause more damage to human cells than is assumed." He pointed out that in the dry climate of Iraq, DU would likely be blown about and inhaled for years. He worries about bombed-out Iraqi buildings that are repaired without being cleaned up.8
DU weapons makers, including National Lead Industries (NL), have showered DU on civilians, such as those near the former NL site in Colonie, NY. The federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) assessed health risks from NL pollution without acknowledging evidence presented to them from physicist Leonard Dietz that DU particles can travel at least 26 miles.9 ATSDR used an external radiation model, ignoring inhaled DU.10 One NL neighbor has discovered ties to NL in 13 of the 16 members of Bush's cabinet.
The Precautionary Principle
Signed by the US in 1992 and subsequently ignored, the Precautionary Principle proposes that when there is credible evidence of harm, even when the exact details are not yet proven, government and industry have a duty to act11 The national Veterans for Peace has passed a resolution to support global banning of all radioactive weapons, and supports passage of the McDermott (D-WA) Bill (HR1483) which requires cleanup and studies of DU.12 SAFE Legacy of New Paltz has gathered organizations to support similar goals, and planned April meetings to discuss DU with NY Senators Schumer and Clinton. For information on Syracuse meeting with Rep. Jim Walsh.
Anybody, anywhere, any time can do a lot.
The "Depleted" Uranium Weapons Network of the Hudson Mohawk Region (DUWNHMR) is ordinary people in extraordinary times, few in number but linked with folks afar, working on the issues offered in the "Action" box - which we invite any and all to share in.
Label DU in Transport: <www.traprockpeace.org>, Traprock Peace Center (413) 773-7427.
Ban DU Petition: DUWNHMR <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Sheree (518) 286-0359, Carole: (518) 463-0095, <email@example.com>.
Support health study and possible lawsuit: NL Neighbors/Citizens' Environmental Coalition, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, (518) 732-4538 or Tom Ellis (518) 453-8874.
Lobby legislators; get more organizations to sign the Senator letter. SAFE Legacy, <email@example.com>, Michele Riddell (845) 255-5482.
Organize a screening of Invisible War: Depleted Uranium and the Politics of Radiation, available from the Peace Council, (315) 472-5478.
Get "Ban Depleted Uranium Weapons" buttons: Red on black on white, 10/$6.50, includes shipping to continental US. Write to: DU Buttons, 137 Hidley Rd., Wynantskill, NY 12198-8065. Checks payable to Upper Hudson Peace Action.
Write elected officials: no whitewash! Write the mainstream media: tell the whole truth!
To join DUWNHMR's listserve: <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nysnet-du/>.
To get on our low volume email list or infrequent mailing list: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
or (518) 286-0359.
Sheree, a founder of DUWNHMR, lives happily in the Capital District, aiming for sustainability.
3. Science and Applications International Corp. report: "Kinetic Energy Penetrator Environment and Health Considerations," July 1990. US Army Armaments, Munitions and Chemical Command report: "Kinetic Energy Penetrator Long Term Strategy Study," (Appendix D), July 1990.
8. "WHO 'Suppressed' Scientific Study Into Depleted Uranium Cancer Fears in Iraq; Radiation experts warn in unpublished report that DU weapons used by Allies in Gulf war pose long-term health risk," by Rob Edwards. The Sunday Herald (Scotland), February 22, 2004.