- Concealed nerve gas exposure, medical
experimentation on soldiers in the field -- could Gulf War military policy
get much worse?
- How about routine radiation poisoning?
- According to the Military Toxics Project,
Depleted Uranium (DU), the radioactive byproduct of the uranium enrichment
process, is "roughly 60% as radioactive as naturally occurring uranium
and has a half-life of 4.5 billion years." The United States has in
excess of 1.1 billion pounds of DU waste material.
- Waste not, want not. In a perverse twist
on recycling, the government currently offers this attractively-dense material
free to arms manufacturers. Large and small caliber rounds made of depleted
uranium were highly effective in piercing Iraqi armor; tanks incorporating
depleted uranium into tank armor effectively resisted penetration. Yet
while the Army tested the strategic effectiveness of DU, it skated around
health and environmental assessments, as the Army Environmental Policy
- Although munitions such as Tomahawk missiles
contain DU in their tips, most DU ammunition was fired from USAF tank-killer
aircraft and U.S. tanks employing depleted uranium sabot rounds. The Army
reports that it fired 14,000 DU tank rounds during the Gulf War. Over ranges
up to and exceeding 3 miles, the Army found DU rounds to be "highly
effective in penetrating Iraqi tank armor."
- The Air Force's A-10 tank-killer aircraft
were used extensively against Iraqi armored vehicles and artillery. The
A-10s fired 940,000 of these radioactive rounds -- the equivalent of 564,000
pounds of DU.
- When a depleted uranium projectile strikes,
up to 70% of the DU penetrator is oxidized and scattered as particulates.
According to the U.S. Army, this creates "smoke which contains a high
concentration of DU particles. These uranium particles can be ingested
and are toxic."
- Ironically, while DU armor proved effective
in shielding tank crews from impacting rounds, the crews were repeatedly
irradiated by their own protection. According to the Military Toxics Project,
"the amount of radiation a tank driver receives to his head alone
will exceed the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission's] annual standard for public
whole-body exposure to man-made sources of radiation. Unfortunately U.S.
tank crews were not monitored for radiation exposure during the Persian
- American troops came into contact with
DU through combat, during the recovery of contaminated U.S. vehicles, and
while exploring battlefields after cease fire. Some troops assigned to
Kuwait are still being exposed today.
- Only after most of the fighting subsided
did the Army Armament, Munitions and Chemical Command warn commanders in
the Gulf that "any system struck by a DU penetrator can be assumed
to be contaminated by DU." Army studies have found that "personnel
inside or near vehicles struck by DU penetrators could receive significant
internal exposures." Naturally, this didn't deter the military from
using the weapons, since the rounds and armor were found to be highly effective.
In the long run, thousands of disguisable American and collateral civilian
deaths are acceptable trade-offs for short term military-effectiveness
statistics, which benefit the Joint Chiefs -- who, after all, are not at
risk from exposure.
- As of September 1996, most stateside
U.S. soldiers still had not been advised of the dangers of handling or
working with DU. Although the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration
have provided medical exams to more than 85,000 Gulf War veterans with
confirmed health problems, only a handful of these veterans have been tested
for DU exposure. Many of these have shown elevated levels of DU in their
urine several years after the war.
- No battlefield cleanup of DU has come
about, nor is a cleanup planned. Locals and still-deployed U.S. troops
are being exposed to DU on an ongoing basis. DU particles are transported
by the wind and water and are presumed to be migrating into food and water
supplies. Children routinely play in and around the hulks of irradiated
tanks; soldiers brought irradiated souvenirs home from the battlefield.
- Some DU ingested through breathing and
wounds lodges permanently in bones and tissue, and acts as a chemical and
radiological toxin for the remainder of a person's presumably-shortened
lifetime. The Military Toxics Project reports that "large numbers
of children near contaminated areas have developed leukemias and other
health problems" likely associated with exposure to DU.
- The customary military foot-dragging
has followed calls for studies on the effects of DU exposure, and there
are reasons besides the attractiveness of DU devices. The following segment
from the Army Environmental Policy Institute report, leaked in late 1995,
reveals a more sinister motive: "The potential for health effects
from DU exposure is real; however it must be viewed in perspective... the
financial implications of long-term disability payments and healthcare
costs would be excessive."
- DU rounds are being developed for use
in the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the Vulcan Air Defense Gun and in new
combat helicopters. U.S. defense contractors have sold DU weapons to the
United Kingdom, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia and half a dozen
- No warnings or protective gear for DU
were issued before the Gulf War, just as soldiers were not alerted to or
protected from nerve gas toxins despite continuous alarms from detection
systems. The DU legacy is yet another example of radical irresponsibility
toward the well-being of American soldiers and battle-area civilians.
- How did it happen? How did we come to
subject tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to nerve gas, with health effects
complicated by questionable medical countermeasures which actually worsened
toxicity, and now radiation poisoning, all while keeping countless human
guinea pigs in the dark? How is the military able to justify these abuses
and their cover-ups?
- It appears to be policy. And policy has
- "Collateral Damage: How U.S. Troops
Were Exposed to Depleted Uranium During the Persian Gulf War," Dan
Fahey, Swords to Plowshares Depleted Uranium Network of the Military Toxics
- U.S. Army Environmental Policy Institute:
Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium in the U.S. Army,
Technical Report, June 1995.
- U.S. General Accounting Office, Operation
Desert Storm: "Early Performance Assessment of Bradley and Abrams,"
January 2, 1992.
- The Nation Magazine, October 21, 1996,
"The Pentagon's Radioactive Bullet" by Bill Mesler.
- (c) Copyright 1996 ParaScope, Inc.
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