Study finds 400,000 Troops May Be Contaminated by Depleted Uranium

By Robert Burns-- Associated Press Writer

Washington -March 3, 1998

As many as 400,000 Persian Gulf War troops may have been exposed to hazardous uranium particles fromshells fired by American tanks and aircraft, says a study released by a coalition of veterans groups.

The National Gulf War Resource Center also alleges that the Defense Department was aware of the potential for health problems from battlefield exposure to depleted uranium before the 1991 war but failed to alert the troops.

The U.S. Department of Defense has engaged in a deliberate attempt to avoid responsibility for consciously allowing the widespread exposure of hundreds of thousands of U.S. and coalition servicemen and women.

Depleted uranium is a metal residue created when natural uranium is refined. It is used in artillery shells and bombs designed to penetrate the armor of tanks. It also is used as a protective shell on armored vehicles. When sealed in armor or in a bomb or artillery shell, depleted uranium exposure is relatively harmless. But when a depleted uranium shellhits its target, some of the metal burns and oxidizes into small particles. This creates an airborne dust that, if inhaled or ingested, can be toxic in humans.

Until just recently, the Pentagon office investigating links between the mysterious ailments of Gulf War veterans - known collectively as Gulf War Illnesses - and troop exposures to a variety of toxins and chemical agents had insisted that only 27 soldiers had possibly been exposed to depleted uranium. It also contended that the troops faced no health risk from their exposures. On Jan. 8, in a report marking the first year of its investigation, the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses made a sweeping -- but little noted -- admission that thousands of troops may have been exposed.

These hazards were well documented" by the Army, it said. "Unfortunately, this information was generally known only by technical specialists," and combat troops and those who scoured the battlefields in Iraq and Kuwait after the war were not aware of the dangers.The failure to properly disseminate such information to troops at all levels may have resulted in thousands of unnecessary exposures, the Pentagon report said.

The veterans coalition went further, alleging that the Pentagon -- most particularly the Army -- purposely kept soldiers in the dark and failed after the war to conduct immediate testing of those possibly exposed. They settled on a rough estimate of 400,000 exposed troops based on surveys that indicated about three quarters of the 541,000 U.S. servicemen and women in the Gulf during the war reported coming in contact with destroyed Iraqi equipment either during the fighting or afterward.

The vast majority of those who had physical contact with destroyed Iraqi vehicles were on postwar missions to clear the battlefield or to destroy what remained of Iraqi equipment to prevent the Iraqis from collecting it later.