Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More on Depleted Uranium (DU)

I was looking through the Operation Truth site, and came across a page describing DU as an issue affecting our troops.
While the U.S. government insists these weapons are perfectly safe, anti-DU activists have called DU use "genocide." The truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in between the extremes. But without the government committing to increased openness and funding for thorough, widespread, and long-term studies, the vital questions surrounding DU will not be resolved.


How does the military use DU? Why?

The military uses DU in bullets and artillery, as well as in some tank armor.

Depleted uranium is 70% denser than lead, which allows it to penetrate armor easily. Additionally, when DU hits a tank's metal armor, the heat of impact can melt the armor. This makes DU bullets and artillery an extremely effective force. Because of its density, DU is also used in some tank armor.

DU has the added advantage of being extremely cheap. Because it would otherwise have to be stored as low-level radioactive waste, the government is happy to "dispose" of DU in weapons.

So DU makes the best bullets for tank-busting. There are other materials that can be used, but they include some heavy metals that can be toxic as well.

What is DU exposure?

DU is only slightly radioactive, and most experts believe is not a danger as long as it stays outside the body. A single sheet of paper is generally considered capable of blocking the radiation. But when DU weapons explode, fragments can become lodged in the body of soldiers or civilians, and a cloud of DU dust can be inhaled or ingested. In these instances, DU becomes a health issue.

The radiation from DU is alpha wave radiation, and is not detectable by a standard Geiger counter. Specialized detectors are more expensive and fragile. From www.epa.gov,

Alpha particles can be shielded by a sheet of paper or by human skin. However, if radionuclides that emit alpha particles are inhaled, ingested, or enter your body through a cut in your skin, they can be very harmful.
Back to OpTruth

Although the health effects of DU are disputed, anti-DU activists claim that DU is linked to a number of conditions, including leukemia, lymphoma, kidney damage, birth defects, and Gulf War Syndrome. While there are many individual cases of people exposed to DU who have suffered from these diseases, more study is needed to determine if they are related or naturally occurring illness.

One of the Iraq war veterans profiled at Operation Truth has tested positive for depleted uranium. Spc. Gerard Matthew has suffered a number of mysterious illnesses since his return for Iraq, and his newborn daughter has severe birth defects. Read his story here.

Iraqi doctors have been reporting an increase in childhood cancers since the first Gulf War, as well as an increase in birth defects after the second Gulf War. When I first heard of this (late 90s) I assumed that it was Iraqi propaganda. I'm not so certain anymore. Is it possible that Spc. Matthew's daughter's illnesses are unrelated to DU? Yes. But there are two things we need to be sure about. This is happening to real people. This affects our soldiers as much as it affects the people of the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.

  1. Our troops must have health care for themselves and their families. They need that care now. We promised our soldiers health care and it is our responsibility to follow through. This needs to extend to being able to visit a local hospital for care, not just the VA, which is under constant threat of having hospitals shut down
  2. We can't put this off for a decade like we did with agent orange. We need to investigate, study and honestly determine the risk we have put our soldiers in. We owe it to both our troops, their families and those we set out to "liberate" not to inflict lasting and severe damage. If we have, we owe it to them to make things right.
I don't normally go for this kind of extreme illustration, and you don't have to go to this site, as the images are very graphic, but these are Iraqi children with severe birth defects that may be due to DU exposure. We need to make certain that this is not the legacy of our war on terror.

by Robster @ 5/17/2005 06:21:00 PM PERMALink