young boy, Huthaifa Ghanim, a resident of Mosul
City, is among hundreds of deformed children,
victims of the horrendous American depleted uranium
shells used against Iraq in the Bush Gulf War.
Huthaifa is not the first such case, nor will he be
the last. Depleted uranium weapons are made with
waste U-238 -- an alpha emitter with a radioactive
half-life of 4.5 billion years.
Uranium-Related Birth Defects caused by Bush Sr. in
Iraq - Not for the squeamish- Robert
Fisk.com depleted uranium links
Gene-Busting Munitions Spiked with Plutonium
Posted December 14, 2002
By JOHN M. LaFORGE
is a fuel that is toxic beyond human experience. It is demonstrably
carcinogenic to animals in microgram quantities [one
millionth of a gram]. The lung
cancer risk is unknown to orders of magnitude. Present plutonium standards
are certainly irrelevant.” -- Dr. Donald P. Geesaman, health physicist, formerly of Lawrence
Bush White House fooled most of the world's press with its unverified
claims of intercepting a "dirty bomb" attack against the U.S. On
its front page, USA Today barked:
"US: 'Dirty Bomb' Plot Foiled." Newspapers everywhere explained
breathlessly what radioactive materials could do if dispersed in populated
areas. As Alex Cockburn reports in The
Nation, when the story faced some mild scrutiny, Deputy Secretary of
Defense Paul Wolfowitz backed away from the propaganda saying, "I
don't think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk."
Meanwhile, the real-time,
worldwide use by the United States of radiological dirty bombs has moved
well beyond the plotting and shooting stage, and has begun to produce dire
consequences. Toxic, radioactive uranium-238 -- so-called depleted uranium
-- used in munitions, missiles and tank armor may be responsible for
deadly health consequences among U.S. and allied troops and populations in
bombed areas, and has probably caused permanent radioactive contamination
of large parts of Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and perhaps Afghanistan.
uranium “penetrators” as they are called burn on impact and up to 70
percent of the DU is released (aerosolized) as toxic and radioactive dust
that can be inhaled and ingested and later trapped in the lungs or
In January 2001, the world press
finally discovered depleted uranium (DU) weapons, the super hard
munitions made with waste U-238 -- an alpha emitter with a radioactive
half-life of 4.5 billion years. Nine years of radiation-induced death,
disease, and birth abnormalities in Iraq did not move major news
organizations to investigate, but the deaths from leukemia of 15 Western
Europeans -- after their participation in military missions in Bosnia and
Kosovo -- prompted the major media, the European Parliament and 11
European governments to launch investigations into the health and
environmental consequences of what Dr. Rosalie Bertell calls
"shooting radioactive waste at your enemy."
DU is left after uranium ore has
gone through the gaseous diffusion process that removes most of the
fissionable isotope U-235. The refuse also of nuclear weapons and reactor fuel production, some 700,000 tons are now left in the U.S. as "resource material" -- a legal definition that saves the
Energy Department the cost of managing DU as radioactive waste.
Prized for its high density, DU
is used inmunitions for piercing armor plate. Shot from planes like the
USAF A-10 Warthog, the DU shells are called "tank killers." But
by building radioactive waste into armaments, the U.S. is, in effect using
poisoned weapons as gene busters in war. At least five types of U.S.
munitions contain DU, which is also used in casings for bombs, shielding
on tanks, counter-weights for commercial jet aircraft, and "ground
penetrators" on missiles. DU shells are made by Starmet Corporation
in Concord, Mass., Aerojet Corp. in Sacramento, Calif. and others. Alliant
Techsystems in Minneapolis (formerly Honeywell Corp.) assembled over 15
million DU shells for the Air Force in the 1990s.
Between 300 and 800 tons of DU
munitions were blasted into Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait by U.S. forces
in 1991. The Pentagon says the U.S. fired about 10,800 DU rounds --
close to three tons -- into Bosnia in 1994 and 1995. More than 31,000
rounds, about 10 tons, were shot into Kosovo in 1999 according to NATO. British journalist
(an independent researcher and occupational psychologist) reports that as
much as 1,000 tons of DU may have been used against Afghanistan, although
the Pentagon and the British MOD have not acknowledged its use. They say a
"heavy metal" is used in bunker busting and earth penetrating
munitions, but have not specified what this metal is. Williams writes:
"If DU is the mystery metal used in most of the systems suspected in
the report then I estimated that 500-1000 tons (of DU) may have been used
by the end of December. "
A total of 24 soldiers from
Europe have died of cancer since their 1994 and '95 service in Bosnia. In response, Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Guterres wrote to NATO's
Robertson demanding an explanation of where and why DU munitions were used
The Pentagon and the nuclear
industry reacted typically to European politicians who in 2001 demanded
health physics information from the Pentagon; after a laughable week-long,
study NATO assured them that DU used in the Balkans can be "ruled
out" as a significant health hazard. And when Italy, Germany,
Greece, the Netherlands and Norway all called for a moratorium on the use
of DU, NATO ministers flatly rejected the suggestion. NATO denials contradicted
Prominent scientists also worked
to calm the uproar. Dr. John Boice, of the International Epidemiology
Institute, told the New York Times,
"To get leukemia you need to get the radiation to the bone marrow.
The radiation does not go to the marrow. And Uranium 238 will not get to
the bone marrow. I don't think it causes leukemia at all." U.S.
physicist Steve Fetter told the Times
that uranium did not penetrate to bone and bone marrow where leukemia
This sophisticated obfuscation
refers to external DU exposure
and ignores the hazard from DU ingestion or inhalation. Jean Francois
Lacronique, director of France's National Radiation Protection Agency,
flatly contradicted NATO, saying, "U-238 has been found stored in
bone, and if it gets into bone, it can reach the bone marrow." Dr. Frank von
Hipple, author of
a December 1999 Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists article on DU, told me, “Yes, it does get to the
bone. We looked at that in our study.” And the December 2000 Science
for Democratic Action -- from the Institute for Environmental and
Energy Research (IEER) -- reports that, “Some [DU] particles remain in
the body where they can build up in lung [tissue], or enter the blood
stream where it can accumulate in bone tissue.” Internal exposure, the
IEER article says, “increases the risk of leukemia and lung, bone and
soft tissue cancers, particularly when inhaled or ingested.”
Photo by Derek
Hanson's birth defects may stem from his
father's Gulf War service. But like hundreds
of other families, the Hansons face official
stonewalling--and a frightening future. life.com/Life/essay/gulfwar
America used Depleted Uranium weapons in Iraq in the
first gulf war and we are using them again without any
thought of the devastating long term effects on the
local population or our own people. Of the 697,000
U.S. troops who served during Operation Desert Shield
and Desert Storm, more than 100,000 have registered
with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the
Department of Defense (DOD), with health problems. We
have given their sickness a catchy name, Gulf War
Syndrome, which our government and their carefully
scripted parade of doctors, scientists, and media
mouth pieces tell us does not exist. Ask any one of
the thousands of sick American veterans if it exists.
This next wave of victims that Bush Jr. will send into
Iraq may not have the benefit of medical coverage
later in life when they fall sick from Uranium-238
dust in their lungs. The White House has eliminated
lifetime medical coverage for career military
At the height of the January
2001 media frenzy over cancers among peacekeeping troops deployed in
Bosnia, a 17-year-old advisory bulletin from the Federal Aeronautics
Administration (FAA) was leaked to the press. Still in effect today, it
puts the lie to industry, Pentagon, UK and NATO denials of health risks
associated with DU exposure. The 1984 memo warns FAA crash site
investigators that, “if particles are inhaled or ingested, they can be
chemically toxic and cause a significant and long-lasting irradiation of
internal tissue.” More recently, the prestigious British Royal Society's second DU
study found that troops who inhale or ingest “high levels” of DU could
suffer kidney failure within days, and that children in DU-bombed areas
face a long-term risk of cancer and heavy metal poisoning. The United
Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned in March 2002, that there is a
danger of groundwater contamination from corroding DU ammunition at six
sites in Serbia and Montenegro bombed in 1999. UNEP president Pekka
Haavisto said he, “was surprised to find DU particles still in the air
two years after the conflict's end.” As early as January 2000, the
DOE admitted that its DU munitions are spiked with plutonium, neptunium
and americium – “transuranic” (heavier than uranium) fission wastes
from inside nuclear reactors.
Canadian researchers have found
“unequivocal evidence” of long-term DU contamination of Persian Gulf
vets: they found that eight years after the bombing, Canadian veterans
were still passing U-238 in urine. Italy announced last August 5 that
its soldiers -- afflicted with cancer after service in the Balkans and
potential exposure to some of the three tons of DU exploded there by U.S.
jets -- will be awarded medical compensation. German researcher Albrecht
Schott has found that UK soldiers exposed to DU in wartime have suffered
10 times more genetic damage than the general population. Prof. Schott
said of this study, “This level of genetic damage doesn't occur
And in the U.S., a Dept. of Veterans Affairs study
recently found that children of veterans of the Persian Gulf bombardment
are two to three times as likely as those of other vets to have birth
defects. The U.S. vets also reported more miscarriages. In Iraq, government figures show
an increase in cancer cases from 6,555 in 1989 to 10,931 in 1997 -- mostly
in areas bombed by the U.S.-led coalition in 1996 -- and the number of
reported cancer cases increased 12 fold between 1991 and 2001. Ironically, the clearest U.S.
government admission of the dangers of DU came from U.S. intelligence
officers fighting in Afghanistan, when Knight Ridder Newspapers reported
Dec. 21, 2001, that uranium-238 had been found in “Taliban hideouts.”
U.S. officials, who spoke only
on the condition of anonymity, had concluded, “Al-Qaida intended to use
the U-238 to make ‘dirty bombs,’ which use conventional explosives to
spread radioactive material over a wide area. In addition to killing
people in the bomb blast and poisoning others with radiation, the
officials said, such a bomb could render large areas unusable and require
lengthy and expensive clean-up efforts.”
Agreeing it had sufficient
evidence of harm from DU, the European Parliament, on Jan. 17, 2001, voted
394 to 60 in favor of a moratorium on the use of DU among its members.
NATO commanders issued a one-page statement Feb. 13, 2001 dismissing
concerns. But the Navy and Marines decided sometime before June to stop
using DU. “We’re not considering [DU] anymore because of the
environmental problems associated with it.... We don't want to be in a
position of having someone say, ‘You can't bring your armor piercing
rounds on the battlefield,’” said Col. Clayton Nans, head of the
Marines’ Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle program. As press coverage began to fade,
and NATO felt it was bringing the DU “hysteria” under control, the
weapon’s contamination with highly radioactive plutonium was disclosed.
Plutonium contamination raises
Europe, a wildfire of publicity was lit anew by the United States’
official admission that its DU contains plutonium and other reactor-borne
fission products far more radioactive and carcinogenic than uranium-238.
The discovery of uranium-236
contamination in spent munitions used against Kosovo revealed that the DU
was not obtained before the
nuclear reaction process. The Pentagon, NATO and the British Ministry of
Defense have always downplayed the danger of DU saying it was "less
radioactive than uranium ore." But at least half of the DU (250,000
metric tons) is now known to have been left over from the reprocessing of
irradiated reactor fuel (done to extract weapons-grade plutonium), leaving
it salted with fission products. “If it has been through a
reactor, it does change our idea on depleted uranium,” says Dr. Michael
Repacholi of the World Health Organization, which has demanded to know how
much plutonium is in DU ammunition. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is
still working on an answer to that question.
The health consequences here are
fearsome: americium-243 -- with a half-life of 7,300 years -- decays to
plutonium-239, which is more
radioactive than the original americium.
DU “contains a trace amount of
plutonium,” said the DOE’s Assistant Secretary David Michaels, who
wrote to the Military Toxics Project's Tara Thornton January 20, 2000.
“Recycled uranium, which came straight from one of our production sites,
e.g. Hanford [Reservation, in Richland, Washington], would routinely
contain transuranics at a very low level....” Michaels wrote. “We have
initiated a project to characterize the level of transuranics in the
various depleted uranium inventories,” he said.
Von Hippel says in The Bulletin of
the Atomic Scientists that plutonium-239 is 200,000 times more
radioactive than U-238.
Plutonium “is probably the most carcinogenic
substance known,” according to Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of IEER,
writing in his 1992 book Plutonium.
government’s bland assurances regarding material carcinogenic
to animals in microgram quantities appear scientifically preposterous,
yet the AP reported Feb. 3, 2001: “U.S. officials have said the shells
contained mere traces of plutonium, not enough to cause harm.” On Jan.
19, after a one-week “investigation,” NATO officials said, “traces
of highly radioactive elements such as plutonium and americium were not
relevant to soldiers’ health because of their minute quantities.” This public relations ploy failed to calm the furor raised across Europe,
especially after the leak of a July 1, 1999, “hazard awareness” memo
issued by the Pentagon. The memo warned military personnel entering Kosovo
against touching spent ammunition, suggested the use of protective masks
and skin covering while in contaminated areas, and recommended follow-up
health assessments. The warning was sent to defense ministries in
Europe but it is not known to have been given to civilians or returning
Poison weapons illegal in any
. The U.S. Air Force’s 1976
manual, “International Law: The Conduct of Armed Conflict and Air
Operations” governs the actions of all USAF commanders and pilots,
including the top guns shooting DU. “It is especially important,” the
Air Force manual says, “that treaties, having the force of law equal to
laws enacted by the Congress on the United States, be scrupulously adhered
to by the United States armed forces.” The manual names treaties
specifically recognized as binding, including the Hague Conventions of
1907, the Geneva Gas Protocol of 1925, and the Geneva Convention Relative
to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, 1949. The
Geneva Gas Protocol outlaws, “ ... asphyxiating, poisonous or other
gases, and all analogous liquids, materials or devices.” The Hague Conventions explicitly
outlaw poison saying, “It is especially forbidden: To employ poison or
Poison is defined by the Air
Force manual as, “biological or chemical substances causing death or
disability with permanent effects when, in even small quantities, they are
ingested, enter the lungs or bloodstream, or touch the skin.”
Although the law could not be
clearer, NATO spokesman Francois Le Blevennec told Knight
Ridder that depleted uranium, “has never been declared illegal by
any war convention.” However, the Air Force law manual says, “any
weapons may be put to an unlawful use.” The Air Force declares
unequivocally that, “A
weapons may be illegal per se
if either international custom or treaty has forbidden its use under all
circumstances. An example is poison to kill or injure a person.”
Because the U.S. government has
known since at least 1984 about the poisonous effects of its DU warfare,
the commanders of its bombing raids over Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and
Afghanistan may well hope the White House wins its fight for immunity in
the International Criminal Court. If not, the Pentagon’s dirty bomb
contamination may move from the gene pool and the water table into the
-- end --
JOHN M. LaFORGE
740 Round Lake Road
Luck, WI 54853
John LaForge is on the staff of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental action group in Wisconsin, and edits
its quarterly newsletter The
Federal Ban on DU Proposed in Congress. In the first move by Congress to
investigate the military's use of DU weapons, U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney
(D-GA) introduced the Depleted Uranium Munitions Suspension and Study Act
of 2001, H.R. 3155. McKinney's
* Suspend the U.S. military's
use and approval for foreign sale or export of DU munitions, pending a
certification from the Sec. of Health and Human Services that DU munitions
will not pose a long-term threat to the health of U.S. or NATO military
personnel or jeopardize the health of civilian populations in the area of
* Suspend the foreign sale and
export of plutonium-contaminated DU munitions;
* Initiate a GAO investigation
of plutonium contamination of DU, and
* Initiate a study of the health
effects of DU on current or former U.S. military personnel who may have
been exposed and medical personnel who treated such affected personnel.
In an appeal for co-sponsors
McKinney wrote, " ... the U.S. should take care not to leave a toxic
legacy for either people in a foreign land, nor to our own military
personnel. Approximately 300 tons of DU munitions were used in the Gulf
War, much of which still sits on the ground in Iraq. Since we really do
not know the comprehensive consequences of DU contamination, I urge you to
support this legislation, and protect our soldiers and innocent citizens
from any unnecessary health threats." For info. on HR 3155: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Alarm over NATO uranium deaths," BBC News, Jan 3, 2001;
"UN raises alarm on toxic risk in Kosovo," Guardian
Weekly, March 30 - April 5, 2000, p.5.
2. The New Nuclear Danger, by
Helen Caldicott, The New Press, New York, 2002, p.146; The
Nation, April 9, 2991, p.24; Dan Fahey uses the figure 505,000 tons in
his chapter "Collateral Damage," in Metal
of Dishonor: Depleted Uranium, Ed. by DU Education Project, New York,
3. The Nation, May 26, 1997.
Dai Williams, Letter to J.M. LaForge, Feb. 21, 2002. (See also, Le
Monde Diplomatique, March 2002)
5. New York Times, Feb. 14 &
Jan. 29, 2001.
6. New York Times, Jan. 17 &
7. Wis. State Journal, Jan. 1;
York Times, Jan. 11, 2001.
8. New York Times, Jan. 13, 2001.
9. New York Times, Jan. 29, 2001.
“Avoiding or Minimizing Encounters With Aircraft Equipped With Depleted
Uranium Balance Weights During Accident Investigations,” FAA Advisory
Circular 20-123, by M.C. Beard, Dec. 20, 1984.
“The health hazards of depleted uranium munitions, Part II,” The Royal
Society, March 2002, p. ix.
United Nations Environment Program, Press Advisory, March 27, 2002.
BBC, Aug. 27, 1999.
14. The Express, UK, Dec. 24, 2001.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,
Oct. 6; Chicago Tribune, Oct.
16. Arabic News, Feb. 18, 2002.
17. USA Today, June 25, 2001.
19. New York Times, Feb. 14, 2001.
20. New York Times, Jan. 18, 2001.
21. New York Times, Jan. 9, 2001.
Department of the Air Force, “International Law -- The Conduct of Armed
Conflict and Air Operations,” Judge Advocate General Activities, Air
Force Pamphlet 110-31, 19 Nov. 1976.
INFORMATION ON DU
Against Depleted Uranium,
World Center, 6 Mount St.
MTP's report: "Don't Look, Don't Find."
Study Team on Depleted Uranium, IDUST
1/2 Lopezeville Rd
Level Radiation Campaign
Knoll, Montpellier Park
& Fax: (+44) 01597-824771
Francisco, CA 94103