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Forum against military use of depleted uranium

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 19, 1997) From November 14-16, the US-based Military Toxics Project's Depleted Uranium Citizens' Network held a forum on the risks of industrial and military use of depleted uranium (DU). Representatives from many grassroot organisations all over the US, and some from Europe, came together in Washington to discuss a common strategy against this horrible new weapon in the conventional armsrace.

(483/4.4793) H. vd Keur Despite a demanding program, spirit was high among the diverse participants, who included Gulf War veterans; workers from DU munition factories; Native Americans; neighbours from military bases, test-sites, DU plants, uranium mines and mills (etc.); as well as lawyers, physicians, scientists and researchers. On the first day a number of speakers told about the role of uranium in their daily life and work. Extracts of this testimony follow.

The worker.
Some 17 years ago John Paul Hasko organized a health safety strike at TNS, a DU munitions factory in Jonesborough, Tennessee. The union supported his claim and took it into court. An independent research study showed that the workers were exposed to high levels of uranium dust. Regular incidents took place during the manufacture of 30mm shells, exposing workers to micro-particles of DU. The results of the independent research were dramatic. The average exposure of TNS-workers to radioactive radiation doses during 1980 was ten times higher than the average radiation burden for workers in the US nuclear industry. High levels of uranium were found in workers' urine. A number of workers suffered from kidney disfunctions. Despite the stark conclusions of the study, the workers' case was denied by the National Relations Labor Board. A lawsuit on their behalf still drags on today.

The Gulf War veteran.
After six months of training, Cassandra Garner went on active duty in December 1990, just a month before the Gulf War began. Before leaving for Saudi Arabia she received several injections, but was never told what they were for. The first days after her arrival at King Khaled Military City she felt sick. Frequently alarms for chemical attacks would go off, but the troops present were always reassured that these were false alarms. At the end of the war Garner witnessed the Highway of Death, the mass slaughter by allied forces of Iraqi forces who were withdrawing from Kuwait in long columns, just after the cease-fire signal. Like many other soldiers, Cassandra climbed on and in DU contaminated tanks without protection, and put souvenirs in her pockets. Last year she learned about DU and how it was used, and how to protect yourself before entering a contaminated area. Since her return Cassandra has not been able to work and is continually under a doctor's care, at military hospitals and the Veteran Affairs, where they say her illness is stress-related. She suffers from many health problems: cramping, weakness, asthma, rashes and head aches. Her blood counts are abnormal and her over-all health is deteriorating rapidly.

The Native American.
The Navajo nation lies in the middle of a territory laced with uranium mines, mining waste "tailings", and test-sites. Anna Rondon is a board member of the Navajo Council, which represents the region between Church Rock and Gallop and has 220 members in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Although most of the 3000 underground and open-pit uranium mines are closed, the polluting tailings remain. In addition, Navajo lands have been used for tests of small missiles, including those used in the Gulf War. Many Navajo families suffer from a range of diseases and new medical problems have developed. Many children have birth defects. Currently additional mining and milling sites are proposed for the Rocky Mountain area. 25 companies have submitted proposals for mining and milling sites.

The citizen.
Nuclear Metals Inc. (NMI) in Concord, Massachusetts, produces DU counterweights and DU tank armour piercing penetrators. Higher rates of cancer in Concord, compared to neighbouring towns or state-wide, are strongly suspected to be linked to NMI's activities. In 1994 Dr. Harper and Prof. Jacobson from Harvard University confirmed high levels of DU in soils in Concord, 1.5 km from the NMI factory. This suggests that inhabitants of Concord are indeed exposed to DU-particles. Judy Scotnicki is actively involved in the local group Citizens, Research and Environmental Watch (CREW). For years the group has collected data on health and safety and the environmental impact of NMI on their community. CREW tries to get evidence on whether cancers in Concord could have been caused by radiation exposure. According to the first director of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry, the rate of male leukemia in Concord from '82 to '86 was one of the highest in the state. CREW reviewed the cancer registration data for Concord up to 1990, which showed thyroid cancers 2.5 times the state-wide level. In the same period there were high incidences of other cancers in Concord: breast, skin, myeloma, testicle, brain and central nervous system, and multiple myelomas. Last October members of CREW learned of a doctor in a local hospital who has been treating NMI-workers with multiple myeloma. In April 1993, the federal agency with oversight for NMI, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), wrote letters to Mass. Senator John Kerry and a CREW member about a major fire at NMI in which they stated: "credible emergency scenarios, including a major fire, do not produce a significant radiation dose to off-site individuals." A curious statement. NMI has about one million pounds of DU on site, more than the amount calculated as having been fired during the Gulf War. However there is no NMI-specific emergency evacuation plan for Concord.

Former Veteran Affairs expert.
Asaf Durakovic is a specialist on the behaviour of DU in the human body. In April 1997 he was discharged from his position as chief of the Nuclear Medicine Service of the Veterans Affairs' Medical Center in Wilmington, Delaware. A group of DU-contaminated Gulf War veterans had been referred to him as an expert in nuclear contamination. He properly referred them to different institutions dealing with transuranium elements for diagnostic tests. Subsequently all of their records were lost in his hospital and in the referring institutions. Only a small part of the information gathered was recorded in the final report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses. Durakovic accused Veteran Affairs, the Pentagon and other institutions of a conspiracy against the U.S. veterans. In his speech, Durakovic said that one of the patients, under his care since 1991, was asked the day before his speech to sign a paper saying that he was not sick. The patient, he said, was in fact very sick and in deteriorating health, with symptoms including immunodeficiency, and several infections after having gone five surgeries of the kidneys. The doctor and radiobiologist says he was asked in 1992 by the Pentagon and the Office of the Surgeon General to deny any connection between patients' symptoms and exposure to DU. He refused, and was finally fired. But that is not all, the specialist continues: "They are trying to build a case against me, and the veterans who were under my care are brought to the VA Hospital in Bloomington by the Chief of Staff and the Directors of Public Affairs, and are asked to sign a document saying that they are perfectly healthy." Durakovic calls this criminal obstruction of his own conscience and role as a physician.
The scientist explained his concern about the accumulation of uranium in the human body: "Uranium goes to the inner compartment of the bone where it gets incorporated in the crystals of calciumphosphate or hydroxy-appetite. Once in these crystals, it gives off a high internal dose of radiation, not only because of the uranium-235, but because of the daughters of uranium-238 and uranium-235, with protactinium-234 in particular, which has the capacity to penetrate one thousand cells.

Experiences of a physician in Iraq.
Siegwart-Horst Guenther from Germany goes to Iraq frequently with medicines for local hospitals. In 1992 he saw Iraqi children playing with projectiles of DU; one of them later died from leukemia. As early as the end of 1991 he diagnosed a hitherto unknown disease among the Iraqi population, caused by renal and hepatic dysfunctions. During the last five years he visited many Iraqi communities located in the Gulf War combat areas where DU ammunition was used to study possible health impacts of the DU fragments. The results offer ample evidence that contact with DU ammunition has the following consequences, especially for children:

  1. A considerable increase in infectious diseases caused by severe immunodeficiencies in a great part of the population
  2. Frequent occurrence of massive herpes and zoster afflictions, also in children
  3. AIDS-like syndromes
  4. A hitherto unknown syndrome caused by renal and hepatic dysfunctions
  5. Leukemia, aplastic anemia and malignant neoplasms
  6. Congenital deformities caused by genetic defects, which are also found in animals

On the second day, forum participants divided into four groups to formulate goals for international networking. Two goals were decided on: education and scientific credibility. Two working groups have been established to deal with these themes.

Source and Contact: Henk van der Keur, Laka Foundation, Ketelhuisplein 43, NL-1054 RD Amsterdam, Netherlands. Tel: +31-20-6168 294; Fax: +31-20-689 2179
Or: Dolly Lymburner, Military Toxics Project, 471 Main St. 2nd Floor, Lewiston, ME. 04240 USA.
Tel: +1-207-783-5091; Fax: +1- 207-783-5096