Depleted uranium: the saga continues

As Coalition forces were gearing up, the weekend before last, for the high intensity battles now underway in Iraq, the anti—American left was resurrecting a tactic from the post—Gulf War I era to take a proven weapon out of the arsenal of US and UK soldiers.  Equally insidious is that they are again using returning GIs as pawns in their obvious attempts to undermine our military capability, and to sow seeds of doubt in our Soldiers and Marines currently in pitched battles against Baathist dead—enders and Shia extremists.  The Depleted Uranium (DU) Fight, Round 2, has begun.

The New York Daily News reported in its April 3d edition  that an investigation launched by the paper found that four GIs returning from Iraq are 'contaminated with radiation likely caused by dust from depleted uranium shells fired by U.S. troops.'  All four of the soldiers are from the 442d Military Police Company, and were previously stationed in the vicinity of Samawah, Iraq.  A nuclear medicine expert, Dr. Asaf Duracovic, examined and tested nine soldiers from the company, and says that four "almost certainly" inhaled radioactive dust from exploded American shells manufactured with depleted uranium.  He also stated that "These are amazing results, especially since these soldiers were military police not exposed to the heat of battle.'  And indeed they are amazing, considering the newspaper account of the soldiers' illnesses, and the discussions of the ammunition itself are fraught with half—truths and errors.

One of the most glaring omissions by Dr. Duracovic and his colleagues is that they fail to explain how a substance that is less radioactive than natural uranium can be labeled as 'radioactive weapons.'  By way of comparison, DU's radioactivity is so low, that a single piece weighing 6,615 pounds would be needed to obtain one curie of radioactivity.  In contrast, one pound of Cobalt — 60 emits 518,000 curies of radioactivity.  In fact, DU is classified in the lowest hazard class of all radioactive materials.

Another error that is mentioned several times throughout the article is that the soldiers are having problems from in haling the dust of 'exploded' DU shells.  In fact, the type of ammunition in which DU is used is called Hypervelocity Armor—Piercing Discarding Sabot Fin—Stabilized (HVAPDSFS), where DU comprises what is known as the solid rod penetrator.  There is no explosive charge in the penetrator, so any references in this article to DU rounds 'exploding' are patently misleading.

However, when a DU penetrator strikes armor plating, a pyrophoric effect does occur.  That is, a very fast moving, dense, heavy metal penetrator striking steel armor will produce a white—hot ignition (flash) at the point of penetration, which generates high concentrations of airborne, breathable, DU oxides and high velocity shards of metal that can cause serious wounds.  As the Army spokesman said in the Daily News piece, the effects of DU only impact people who are on or near the target vehicle.  We know this because of data gathered from tests, and from examinations of our own DU friendly fire casualties in Gulf War I.  This cohort of 33 veterans, and their medical status have been virtually ignored in the article.  But one would expect that from an 'investigation' funded by a newspaper with an obvious agenda.

Medical follow—up of these veterans show that only personnel within the 50 meters of the target vehicle may internalize DU in excess of safety standards.  This internalization takes place through inhalation, ingestion, wound contamination, and embedded DU fragments.  Almost as soon as the round hits and the dust has settled, the levels of airborne DU on the outside of the vehicle will rapidly fall to levels that are much lower than the safety standards prescribed by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

In 1997, 29 of the original 33 Gulf War veterans exposed to DU were reevaluated.  Of those about half were identified as having retained DU fragments, with the majority having elevated urinary uranium levels.  Although these individuals have an array of health problems, many of which are related to their physical combat injuries, all tests for kidney function have come up normal.  Laboratory tests also found DU in semen samples from some, but not all of these veterans who were exposed to DU.  However, all babies fathered by these veterans between 1991 and 1997 have had no birth defects.  As the Army spokesman, Michael Kirkpatrick has said, the concern is primarily about the chemical toxicity of internalized DU, not the radiological toxicity.  But even here, there is uncertainty about this factor since no kidney or skeletal damage has been documented to date in these veterans with embedded DU fragments.

Clearly, the article focuses on inhalation of uranium dioxide dust as being the culprit in causing the ailments afflicting the four soldiers.  But again, the investigation ignores a group of people who have experienced a lifetime of inhaling the more radioactive natural uranium: uranium miners.  Simply put, there is no evidence of cancer or any other negative health effect related to the radiation received from exposure to natural uranium by uranium miners, whether inhaled or ingested, even at very high doses.  There is evidence of lung cancer in uranium miners from previous epidemiological studies, but this is related to exposure to a combination of airborne short—lived decay products of radon in the mines and other air toxicants, such as silica dust, diesel fumes, and cigarette smoke.  Studies have not shown a link between the inhalation or ingestion of either natural uranium or depleted uranium and any form of cancer.

Internalization of DU appears to be the primary concern in the 'investigation', yet another discrepancy is revealed about the sick soldiers.  Only Staff Sgt. Ray Ramos described his symptoms, which were 'daily headaches, constant numbness in my hands and rashes on my stomach.'  These symptoms are so generalized that is impossible to link this illness to radiation.  If any linkage can be plausibly made, it would be more reasonable to link it to exposure to an external radiation source, where the rash may be a manifestation of cutaneous radiation injury.  However, these types of injuries normally follow much higher external doses focused on the skin such as in radiation therapy.  Skin injuries may occur due to external radiation contamination, but this requires a noticeable heavy contamination of the bare skin.  If Staff Sgt. Ramos had reported his illness promptly while in Iraq, and medical personnel suspected a radiation injury of this type, a blood count would have been ordered.  The medics apparently thought this was not necessary, therefore it is impossible to tell if Staff Sgt. Ramos' illness was due to external radiation.

There are also too many other confounding factors not addressed in the investigation, such as proximity of the MP company to the battle area, duration of engagements, amount of DU impact on enemy tanks in their area, how many of the other members of the company reported sick, etc.  For example, Dr. Durocovic tested only nine soldiers out of the normal MP company complement of a little over 100 soldiers.  This begs the question: What happened to the other 91—plus soldiers?

As mentioned, the investigative team focused on internal contamination, but typically, low—level internal contamination radiation injuries result in in an increased statistical probability of cancer rates.  However, it is difficult to address the radiation—induced cancer risk of an individual patient due to the already high background risk of developing cancer over a life—time. In fact, The National Academy of Sciences reports that deciding which additional cancer cases are radiation—induced is impossible.  And in the case of the 442d MP Company, deployment to overseas areas, such as Iraq, which suffer from a destroyed infrastructure and varying levels of sanitary conditions and background radiation, further confounds the picture.

These inconsistencies point to the basic question of exactly who are the 'experts behind the probe.'  A cursory check of Dr. Duracovic and Leonard Dietz, the physicist who was formerly at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL), reveal some interesting associations.

According to his published biography, Professor Asaf Durakovic, MD, Ph.D., is the Medical Research Director of the UMRC— Uranium Medical Research Center.  He is a clinical professor of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, and a specialist in all aspects of nuclear and radiation medicine for over 25 years.  In 2000, Prof. Durakovic had been a nuclear medical expert working for the Pentagon for twelve years, when he was told to stop the investigation of veterans with Gulf War Syndrome.  He further contends he was threatened with loss of his job, yet continued his investigations at his own expense.

Further research indicates the good professor is affiliated with organizations such as The Gewaltfreie Aktion Atomwaffen Abschaffen — GAAA.  This is a German non—governmental organization dedicated to the total abolition of nuclear weapons.  GAAA 'observes and pressures the nuclear weapon states to fulfil [sic] their obligation under international law and treaties to start to abolish their nuclear weapons.' 

According to the World Uranium Conference web site, the GAAA organizes actions on civil disobedience at military bases in Germany, and conducts public hearings to inform the German population.  Some of the other affiliated groups are a rather eclectic bunch, and generally comprise all of the usual suspects who attempt to undermine allied military power:

  •  The 911 Truth Alliance
  •  BAN DU — Initiative Against Depleted Uranium Weapons, Tucson, Arizona, USA
  •  For Mother Earth, Belgium
  •  Grandmothers for Peace International, USA

    Another expert cited in the article is a Leonard Dietz.  According to his bio, he retired in 1983 from the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL) in Schenectady, New York, which General Electric ran for the US Navy.  He and his colleagues were using mass spectrometers to measure the uranium content in air filter monitors around Navy facilities in the area around the lab, when they accidentally detected depleted uranium.  He determined that this was coming from a company called National Lead Industries, which closed in 1980 and which produced 30mm cannon penetrators using DU under an Air Force contract.

    While Dietz's bio conforms to the account in the Daily News article, it's interesting that his bio is also posted on the University Cork College (UCC) Palestine Solidarity Campaign which is affiliated with the Ireland Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.

    It is quite clear, that the 'investigation' funded by the New York Daily News has been stacked with experts that are openly hostile to the US and UK effort in the War on Terror, and, if given their way, would essentially give away our war fighting capability.  Depleted uranium armor and DU munitions have been so successful for the US and UK that other nations, including potential adversaries, are now using, or are developing DU munitions and armor plating.  The anti—American left wants to not only deprive our soldiers of a weapon that works extremely well, but  they also manipulate and deceive our own soldiers to further their efforts.

    Douglas Hanson is a Gulf War I combat veteran, and was formerly the Ministry of Science and Technology for the Coalition Provisional Authority.  He has a background in radiation biology and physiology, and helped develop a multi—service treatment manual for nuclear and radiological casualties.  He has written previously for The American Thinker on WMD in Iraq.

  • As Coalition forces were gearing up, the weekend before last, for the high intensity battles now underway in Iraq, the anti—American left was resurrecting a tactic from the post—Gulf War I era to take a proven weapon out of the arsenal of US and UK soldiers.  Equally insidious is that they are again using returning GIs as pawns in their obvious attempts to undermine our military capability, and to sow seeds of doubt in our Soldiers and Marines currently in pitched battles against Baathist dead—enders and Shia extremists.  The Depleted Uranium (DU) Fight, Round 2, has begun.

    The New York Daily News reported in its April 3d edition  that an investigation launched by the paper found that four GIs returning from Iraq are 'contaminated with radiation likely caused by dust from depleted uranium shells fired by U.S. troops.'  All four of the soldiers are from the 442d Military Police Company, and were previously stationed in the vicinity of Samawah, Iraq.  A nuclear medicine expert, Dr. Asaf Duracovic, examined and tested nine soldiers from the company, and says that four "almost certainly" inhaled radioactive dust from exploded American shells manufactured with depleted uranium.  He also stated that "These are amazing results, especially since these soldiers were military police not exposed to the heat of battle.'  And indeed they are amazing, considering the newspaper account of the soldiers' illnesses, and the discussions of the ammunition itself are fraught with half—truths and errors.

    One of the most glaring omissions by Dr. Duracovic and his colleagues is that they fail to explain how a substance that is less radioactive than natural uranium can be labeled as 'radioactive weapons.'  By way of comparison, DU's radioactivity is so low, that a single piece weighing 6,615 pounds would be needed to obtain one curie of radioactivity.  In contrast, one pound of Cobalt — 60 emits 518,000 curies of radioactivity.  In fact, DU is classified in the lowest hazard class of all radioactive materials.

    Another error that is mentioned several times throughout the article is that the soldiers are having problems from in haling the dust of 'exploded' DU shells.  In fact, the type of ammunition in which DU is used is called Hypervelocity Armor—Piercing Discarding Sabot Fin—Stabilized (HVAPDSFS), where DU comprises what is known as the solid rod penetrator.  There is no explosive charge in the penetrator, so any references in this article to DU rounds 'exploding' are patently misleading.

    However, when a DU penetrator strikes armor plating, a pyrophoric effect does occur.  That is, a very fast moving, dense, heavy metal penetrator striking steel armor will produce a white—hot ignition (flash) at the point of penetration, which generates high concentrations of airborne, breathable, DU oxides and high velocity shards of metal that can cause serious wounds.  As the Army spokesman said in the Daily News piece, the effects of DU only impact people who are on or near the target vehicle.  We know this because of data gathered from tests, and from examinations of our own DU friendly fire casualties in Gulf War I.  This cohort of 33 veterans, and their medical status have been virtually ignored in the article.  But one would expect that from an 'investigation' funded by a newspaper with an obvious agenda.

    Medical follow—up of these veterans show that only personnel within the 50 meters of the target vehicle may internalize DU in excess of safety standards.  This internalization takes place through inhalation, ingestion, wound contamination, and embedded DU fragments.  Almost as soon as the round hits and the dust has settled, the levels of airborne DU on the outside of the vehicle will rapidly fall to levels that are much lower than the safety standards prescribed by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

    In 1997, 29 of the original 33 Gulf War veterans exposed to DU were reevaluated.  Of those about half were identified as having retained DU fragments, with the majority having elevated urinary uranium levels.  Although these individuals have an array of health problems, many of which are related to their physical combat injuries, all tests for kidney function have come up normal.  Laboratory tests also found DU in semen samples from some, but not all of these veterans who were exposed to DU.  However, all babies fathered by these veterans between 1991 and 1997 have had no birth defects.  As the Army spokesman, Michael Kirkpatrick has said, the concern is primarily about the chemical toxicity of internalized DU, not the radiological toxicity.  But even here, there is uncertainty about this factor since no kidney or skeletal damage has been documented to date in these veterans with embedded DU fragments.

    Clearly, the article focuses on inhalation of uranium dioxide dust as being the culprit in causing the ailments afflicting the four soldiers.  But again, the investigation ignores a group of people who have experienced a lifetime of inhaling the more radioactive natural uranium: uranium miners.  Simply put, there is no evidence of cancer or any other negative health effect related to the radiation received from exposure to natural uranium by uranium miners, whether inhaled or ingested, even at very high doses.  There is evidence of lung cancer in uranium miners from previous epidemiological studies, but this is related to exposure to a combination of airborne short—lived decay products of radon in the mines and other air toxicants, such as silica dust, diesel fumes, and cigarette smoke.  Studies have not shown a link between the inhalation or ingestion of either natural uranium or depleted uranium and any form of cancer.

    Internalization of DU appears to be the primary concern in the 'investigation', yet another discrepancy is revealed about the sick soldiers.  Only Staff Sgt. Ray Ramos described his symptoms, which were 'daily headaches, constant numbness in my hands and rashes on my stomach.'  These symptoms are so generalized that is impossible to link this illness to radiation.  If any linkage can be plausibly made, it would be more reasonable to link it to exposure to an external radiation source, where the rash may be a manifestation of cutaneous radiation injury.  However, these types of injuries normally follow much higher external doses focused on the skin such as in radiation therapy.  Skin injuries may occur due to external radiation contamination, but this requires a noticeable heavy contamination of the bare skin.  If Staff Sgt. Ramos had reported his illness promptly while in Iraq, and medical personnel suspected a radiation injury of this type, a blood count would have been ordered.  The medics apparently thought this was not necessary, therefore it is impossible to tell if Staff Sgt. Ramos' illness was due to external radiation.

    There are also too many other confounding factors not addressed in the investigation, such as proximity of the MP company to the battle area, duration of engagements, amount of DU impact on enemy tanks in their area, how many of the other members of the company reported sick, etc.  For example, Dr. Durocovic tested only nine soldiers out of the normal MP company complement of a little over 100 soldiers.  This begs the question: What happened to the other 91—plus soldiers?

    As mentioned, the investigative team focused on internal contamination, but typically, low—level internal contamination radiation injuries result in in an increased statistical probability of cancer rates.  However, it is difficult to address the radiation—induced cancer risk of an individual patient due to the already high background risk of developing cancer over a life—time. In fact, The National Academy of Sciences reports that deciding which additional cancer cases are radiation—induced is impossible.  And in the case of the 442d MP Company, deployment to overseas areas, such as Iraq, which suffer from a destroyed infrastructure and varying levels of sanitary conditions and background radiation, further confounds the picture.

    These inconsistencies point to the basic question of exactly who are the 'experts behind the probe.'  A cursory check of Dr. Duracovic and Leonard Dietz, the physicist who was formerly at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL), reveal some interesting associations.

    According to his published biography, Professor Asaf Durakovic, MD, Ph.D., is the Medical Research Director of the UMRC— Uranium Medical Research Center.  He is a clinical professor of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, and a specialist in all aspects of nuclear and radiation medicine for over 25 years.  In 2000, Prof. Durakovic had been a nuclear medical expert working for the Pentagon for twelve years, when he was told to stop the investigation of veterans with Gulf War Syndrome.  He further contends he was threatened with loss of his job, yet continued his investigations at his own expense.

    Further research indicates the good professor is affiliated with organizations such as The Gewaltfreie Aktion Atomwaffen Abschaffen — GAAA.  This is a German non—governmental organization dedicated to the total abolition of nuclear weapons.  GAAA 'observes and pressures the nuclear weapon states to fulfil [sic] their obligation under international law and treaties to start to abolish their nuclear weapons.' 

    According to the World Uranium Conference web site, the GAAA organizes actions on civil disobedience at military bases in Germany, and conducts public hearings to inform the German population.  Some of the other affiliated groups are a rather eclectic bunch, and generally comprise all of the usual suspects who attempt to undermine allied military power:

  •  The 911 Truth Alliance
  •  BAN DU — Initiative Against Depleted Uranium Weapons, Tucson, Arizona, USA
  •  For Mother Earth, Belgium
  •  Grandmothers for Peace International, USA

    Another expert cited in the article is a Leonard Dietz.  According to his bio, he retired in 1983 from the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL) in Schenectady, New York, which General Electric ran for the US Navy.  He and his colleagues were using mass spectrometers to measure the uranium content in air filter monitors around Navy facilities in the area around the lab, when they accidentally detected depleted uranium.  He determined that this was coming from a company called National Lead Industries, which closed in 1980 and which produced 30mm cannon penetrators using DU under an Air Force contract.

    While Dietz's bio conforms to the account in the Daily News article, it's interesting that his bio is also posted on the University Cork College (UCC) Palestine Solidarity Campaign which is affiliated with the Ireland Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.

    It is quite clear, that the 'investigation' funded by the New York Daily News has been stacked with experts that are openly hostile to the US and UK effort in the War on Terror, and, if given their way, would essentially give away our war fighting capability.  Depleted uranium armor and DU munitions have been so successful for the US and UK that other nations, including potential adversaries, are now using, or are developing DU munitions and armor plating.  The anti—American left wants to not only deprive our soldiers of a weapon that works extremely well, but  they also manipulate and deceive our own soldiers to further their efforts.

    Douglas Hanson is a Gulf War I combat veteran, and was formerly the Ministry of Science and Technology for the Coalition Provisional Authority.  He has a background in radiation biology and physiology, and helped develop a multi—service treatment manual for nuclear and radiological casualties.  He has written previously for The American Thinker on WMD in Iraq.