19| Nine-Legged Frogs, Gulf War Syndrome and Chernobyl Studies (excerpt)

Desert Storm veterans along with the people of Iraq and Kuwait were victims of one of the latest military experiments on human beings. I believe that the ignorance was culpable and criminal.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell

I first heard about the military using depleted uranium for bullets from the Native Americans for a Clean Environment (NACE) in Gore, Oklahoma. Kerr Magee was operating a factory there, and in a liquid waste spill a young man, about twenty-one years old, was sprayed with the mixture and died. Many members of the public were also exposed, and were taken to the University in Oklahoma City for medical examination and feces analysis. It seems that the liquid waste contained primarily uranium and other heavy metals.

Local people had found this factory to be very polluting. When I visited the town to see what was happening and to decide whether or not I could help, they showed me rust marks scattered over the surface of their automobiles where the toxic corrosive spray released from the factory routinely had impacted on the paint. People complained of burning throats and eyes, some with even more serious complaints, but little systematic information which would show that the factory was the source of their problem.

I met a young boy who showed me a frog he had caught—the frog had nine legs. It was in a bottle of formaldehyde. I wanted to take it for some tissue and bone analysis but it was his prize possession and he would not part with it.

I learned that the Kerr Magee plant had been disposing of its waste by deep-well injection in this rural, primarily farming area. The people, becoming alarmed at this practice which threatened the water table, got a court injunction to stop it. In an action, which seemed to the local farmers to be a retaliation, Kerr Magee had applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to call their waste an "experimental fertilizer" and just spread it over the top of the land. The stories were quite strong evidence that this so-called fertilizer was sometimes just released into the local river, or released in one place on the factory property, with no pretense even to spread it.

The young boy had found his nine-legged frog on the hill which served as the "experimental plot." Hunters had found a rabbit with two hearts, and the local taxidermist told me that he had tried to mount two deer heads and the fur came off in his hands in clumps. He had never seen anything like it in his whole career.

As local people became sick and started to complain, Kerr Magee bought them out, and took over their land. The Native people, who were determined to preserve their land, formed a Coalition of Whites and Natives Concerned, and began the long legal fight with the company. They learned about environmental assessment hearings, licensing hearings, etc. and began to seriously participate. They also undertook a human health survey of all families—there were about four hundred of them—living within four miles of the factory. Every family was included in the survey, which was very comprehensive and carefully administered.

The International Institute of Concern for Public Health agreed to analyze this data for the citizens. The outstanding illnesses in the area were respiratory and kidney problems. There were significantly more persons with respiratory illnesses downwind of the plant, and significantly more with kidney problems downstream of the plant.

We intended to do a clinical follow-up of this survey, and designed the study with the cooperation of the Occupational Health and Respiratory Units at the University Medical School of New Jersey. We were not able to obtain funding for this study. Nevertheless, with the health survey and a great deal of local perseverance, Kerr Magee moved out. A second multinational tried to take over the factory—I think it was General Dynamics—but it failed.

I learned much about uranium bullets during this research:

• They are incendiary; that is, after piercing the object they can burst into flame.

• They are fragmentary; they disintegrate into small fragments inside the body, and cannot be removed.

• They are more dense than lead, and can pierce a bullet-proof vest, or a light armored car or tank.

• Because the "enemy" might also use them, the military made uranium armor as a protection.

• They were cheap, because the depleted uranium was a waste product of the nuclear-bomb program.

• They were radioactive, which meant that even handling them was risky, but no one seemed to be worrying about this!

Research into Gulf War Syndrome

Six years after the Gulf War there is still deep controversy over the causes of the severe health problems observed in the veterans. Reluctantly, the U.S. government has been slowly releasing data on possible Iraqi chemical exposures of the veterans, but many physicians, some of whom have reported that their jobs are being threatened, have said that this information does not explain the variety of symptoms observed.


The full text of this chapter is available in the book, Metal of Dishonor. Link here for order information.



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