Depleted Uranium: Weapons Tied to Genetic Damage & Leukemia

© Nukewatch Pathfinder
Fall 2002

By John LaForge, Nukewatch Staff

Children of British soldiers who served in wars where depleted uranium (DU) ammunition was used are at greater risk of suffering genetic diseases passed on by their fathers, new research reveals.

DU is toxic, radioactive waste uranium-238 that is given away free to arms merchants who turn it into armor-piercing shells, then turn around and sell the munitions to the military. Toxic to the liver and kidneys and radioactive for 4.5 billion years, DU has been linked to increases in cancer and birth abnormalities in Iraq since the U.S. and Britain bombed the country with over 350 tons of the material in 1991.

As London’s Observer and Guardian papers reported in August, UK veterans of wars in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo have been found to have up to 14 times the usual level of chromosome abnormalities in their genes. This has raised fears they will pass cancers and genetic illnesses to their offspring. British MP Paul Tyler said it would be "outrageous" if the findings were ignored by the UK government.

"High levels of genetic damage do not occur naturally. It increases the probability of cancer, deformed babies and other genetic conditions significantly," said Professor Albrecht Schott, a German biochemist who coordinated the research.

Even after the disclosure that DU weapons are generally contaminated with highly radioactive plutonium, americium and other fission products, U.S., British and NATO officials still insist that exposure to DU weapons could not have caused the cancer deaths of 24 European peacekeepers. "We consider the tests neither well thought-out nor scientifically sound," a British military official told the Guardian.

Relatives of the dead soldiers are worried that leukemia and other cancers were caused by the victims’ exposure to DU while on duty in Bosnia. The U.S. and UK used at least three tons of DU in their bombardment of Bosnia in 1994 and 1995. The UN Environment Program reported in March that, surprisingly, DU particles were "still in the air two years after the conflict’s end," according to the Sept. 2 New York Times.

A Pentagon survey of 21,000 veterans last year showed that those who served in the Persian Gulf in 1991 were two to three times more likely to report birth defects in their children.

DU in Blood of Iraqi Leukemia Sufferers

The Iraq Daily reported Aug. 12, that after estimating the amount of depleted uranium in blood samples among several Iraqi leukemia patients, researchers concluded that the disease’s incidence increased noticeably in the southern provinces due to the heavy presence of DU.

Blood samples were collected from patients in southern Iraqi provinces, where the U.S. and UK left over 350 tons of expended DU munitions in their 1991 bombardment. The ‘control’ samples were collected from Baghdad, where the bombing left far less DU contamination.

Scientists S.M. Al-Jubouri, H.H. Jawad and M.F.Sultan, conducted the study.

One Thousand Tons of DU in Afghanistan?

British researcher Dai Williams reports that as many as 21 different weapon systems used by the U.S. in bombing Afghanistan contain a mystery "dense metal" needed to double the penetration of older models.

Unlike its admissions in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo, the Pentagon has refused to confirm the use of DU in Afghanistan. But if the mystery metal turns out to be DU, Williams believes that between 500 and 1,000 tons of DU may have been used.

So-called bunker busters, which are known as GBU 28s and GBU 37s, weigh about 1.5 tons and between 50 and 70% of the warhead weight has to be this high-density metal, says Williams. "So you’re talking about, potentially, for each bunker buster bomb over a ton of uranium waste being burnt up and then spread around in the area," Williams told Asia Pacific Features in July.



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