20| DU Spread and Contamination of Gulf War Veterans and Others (excerpt)

The fallout range of airborne DU aerosol dust is virtually unlimited. These micro-particles can be inhaled and ingested easily and that makes them dangerous to human health.

Leonard A. Dietz

Abstract

We develop background information about depleted uranium (DU) and use it to describe a physical model of how on the battlefields in Kuwait and Iraq a large number of unprotected Gulf War veterans could easily have acquired dangerous quantities of DU in their bodies.

We examine how U-238, which comprises more than 99% of DU, decays radioactively, producing two decay progeny that are always present with it and add significantly to its radioactivity. The pyrophoric nature of uranium metal causes it to burn (oxidize rapidly) when heated by impact or in fires to form invisible aerosol particles that become airborne.

We refer to scientific measurements that have been made of the atmospheric wind-borne transport of uranium aerosols over distances up to 25 miles (42 km) from their sources. Stokes' well-known physical law helps to explain how airborne transport of DU particles can occur over large distances.

We describe how gamma rays and energetic beta particles become absorbed in body tissue and can traverse large numbers of body cells, potentially causing damage to genetic material in the nuclei of living cells. We describe a biokinetic model developed by the International Commission on Radiation Protection that explains how uranium microparticles can enter the body and spread to vital organs. The model predicts that an acute intake of uranium particles can result in urinary excretions of uranium for years afterward.

We review estimates of the tonnage of DU munitions fired during the Gulf War. Even if only one or two percent of a low estimate of 300 metric tons of DU fired had burned up, this would have produced 3,000-6,000 kg of DU aerosols.

This background information allows us to propose a plausible contamination model at a battle site. It consists of three steps:

1. a source of hundreds of kilograms of DU aerosols generated suddenly against concentrated Iraqi armor;

2. widespread rapid dispersal of DU aerosol particles by wind action;

3. inhalation and ingestion of DU particles by unprotected U.S. service personnel on the battlefield.

The U.S. military and its representatives claim that DU munitions are safe, but they have not publicly addressed health and safety issues that apply after DU munitions have been fired. Apparently the official view is that in a combat situation it is acceptable for unprotected personnel to be exposed to the combustion products of fired DU munitions and assume any health risks involved.

We mention that 22 U.S. service personnel have been reported to have suffered imbedded fragments of DU in their bodies from "friendly fire." More than five years after the Gulf War, few of these fragments have been removed and the long-term health situation for these veterans has not yet been determined. We note the astonishingly high incidence of serious birth defects in families of Gulf War veterans in the State of Mississippi.

Finally, we mention how commonly used DU flight-control counterweights in aircraft and DU munitions can burn in intense fires and produce dangerous concentrations of airborne DU aerosol particles that can be inhaled and ingested.

 

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

METAL OF DISHONOR TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

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