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National Association of Atomic Veterans, Inc.

A tax exempt organization

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Depleted Uranium Radiation Information " is dedicated to those veterans of the Gulf War and all conflicts which resulted in exposure to Depleted Uranium munitions and armor fragmentation events...

 

 

 

DEPLETED URANIUM RADIATION EXPOSURE INFORMATION

 


Depleted uranium is what is left over when most of highly radioactive ( isotopes )  of uranium are removed for use as nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons grade materials.   The depleted uranium used in armor-piercing munitions ( such as 30mm anti-tank penetration rounds, ) and in enhanced armor protection metallurgy,  or deflector plates as used on some Abrams tanks or Bradley fighting vehicles, is also used in civilian industry, primarily for stabilizers on commercial aircraft and trim tabs on power boats. 

These depleted uranium alloys are harmless, unless acted upon by destructive forces that will pulverize or vaporize such allows, thus releasing the uranium particles into the atmosphere.

Depleted uranium is a heavy metal, that is also slightly radioactive.  Heavy metals, such as uranium, lead, tungsten, etc., have chemical toxicity properties that, in high doses, can cause  severe adverse  health effects.  Depleted uranium, however;  that  remains  outside  the body is not harmful.

A common misconception is that radiation is depleted uranium’s primary hazard.  This is not the case under most battlefield exposure scenarios.  Depleted uranium is approximately 40 % less radioactive than natural uranium.  Depleted Uranium emits alpha and beta particles, and gamma rays. 

Alpha particles, the primary radiation type produced by depleted uranium, are blocked by skin, while beta particles are blocked by boots and battle dress utility uniforms ( BDU’s ) typically worn by service members. 

While gamma rays are a form of highly penetrating energy, the amount of gamma radiation emitted by depleted uranium is very low. Thus, depleted uranium does not significantly add to the background radiation that we encounter during every day activities.

When fired, or after “ cooking-off “ in fires or explosives, the exposed depleted uranium material poses an extremely low radiological threat, as long as it remains outside the body. 

When taken into the body, by inhalation, or by ingestion into the stomach and intestinal track, via metal fragments, or as dust-like particles, depleted uranium may pose long-term hazard to personnel if the amount is large. 

However; the amount which remains in the body depends upon a number of factors, including the amount inhaled or ingested, the particle size, and the ability of the  particles to dissolve in the body fluids.

  The health effects of uranium have been studied extensively for over 50 years.  In September 1999 the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry published a Toxicological Profile for Uranium, an update to the original profile published in May 1989. While natural and depleted uranium are considered chemically toxic, they are not considered a radiation hazard.

The environmental effects of depleted uranium have been studied comprehensively by a wide range of governmental and non-governmental bodies, both before and after the Gulf War.  Burn tests and other evaluations performed under simulated battlefield conditions indicated that the health risks associated with the battlefield use of depleted uranium were minimal and even those could be reduced even more by simple, field-expedient measures, especially, avoidance of depleted uranium-contaminated vehicles and sites. 

During and after the Gulf War, personnel awareness of the hazards posed by battlefield depleted uranium contamination was generally low. As a result, many personnel did not practice field-expedient measures that would have prevented or mitigated possible exposure to depleted uranium radiation.

There are two main medical health issue areas, important to veterans of the Gulf War, Somalia, Afghanistan and the war in Iraq,  that were not adequately addressed before the Gulf War.  These areas of extreme urgency and  interest are:

1.The medical implications of embedded DU fragments.

2.Exposure estimates for friendly fire incidents, recovery activities, and incidental DU contact scenarios.

These are weaknesses that have been recognized and are now being addressed.  The December 19, 2000 Environmental Exposure Report,  Depleted Uranium in the Gulf ( II ) includes the Army’s latest health risk exposure estimates for various Gulf War exposure scenarios.  Health risk estimates for DU-contaminated vehicle recovery and incidental contact scenarios indicate that these exposures were well within safety standards. 

Because of gaps in data pertaining to uranium oxide dust levels inside DU-struck vehicles, exposure estimates for personnel inside DU-struck vehicles at the time of impact, or immediately after the event, were based on conservative assumptions only!  


2.
These estimates for this highest exposed group indicated that medical follow-up studies were warranted.  There was no data on the long term health effects of exposure to  inhaled or ingested DU particles.
 
The Department of Defense is currently in the process of conducting additional live-fire testing in order to further refine the exposure estimates for those troops in or around vehicles when they were hit by DU munitions. 

It is important to note that over 60 friendly-fire victims have been evaluated by the voluntary V.A. DU Medical Follow-up Program.  Aside from the problems associated with their traumatic injuries, to date, this follow-up program has attributed no illness or other harmful effects in the evaluated veterans exposed to DU munitions fragmentation.

Note:    Given the long term debilitating health effects from exposure to atmospherically dispersed ionizing
radiation particles experienced by America’s  Atomic Veterans,  it would be impossible for applicable
Government Agencies to determine similar effects from inhaled or ingested  DU radiation particles.

The voluntary Veterans Affairs DU Medical Follow-up Program was begun in 1993 – 1994 with the medical evaluations of 33 friendly-fire DU-exposed veterans, many with embedded DU fragments.  An additional 29 of the friendly-fire victims were later added to the surveillance program in 1999. 

In 1998, the program was enlarged to assess the wider Gulf War veteran community’s exposure to DU through close contact with DU munitions, inhalation of smoke containing DU particulate during a fire at the Doha depot or while entering or salvaging vehicles or bunkers that were hit with DU projectiles.   The published results of these medical evaluations conclude that the presence of retained DU fragments continue to have elevated urine uranium levels none years after the incident.

It is unlikely that an individual would have an elevated urine uranium result, and consequently any uranium related health effects, in the absence of retained DU fragments. Those individuals with normal urine uranium levels now are unlikely to develop any uranium related toxicity in the future, regardless of what their ( external bodily ) DU exposure may have been in the Gulf War.

Those DU exposed friendly fire individuals with elevated levels of urinary uranium none years after the Gulf War have not ( to date ) developed kidney abnormalities, leukemia, bone or lung cancers, or any classical uranium related adverse health anomalies. 

The DU Medical Follow-up Program will continue to elevate thee individuals with elevated urine uranium levels to enable early detection of potential untoward health effects in the future due to their continued ( internal ) chronic exposure to DU.

Given reports of individuals from the Balkans and Iraq who are currently recovering from the effects of  DU penetrators, the hazards associated with such activities must be explained.  Depleted uranium penetrators are only one of many possible hazards on the modern day field of battle.  Civilians and soldiers are strongly discouraged from recovering souvenirs from the battlefield or from climbing on or around damaged equipment.


For example, some Eastern Bloc equipment also contains other more highly radioactive sources such as radium dials,  DU armor plate  and asbestos fire retardants.  There is also a possible problem with unexploded munitions.

As stated before, DU is only mildly radioactive.  Deplete uranium emits alpha and beta particles, and gamma rays.  Aplha particles, the primary radiation type produced by depleted uranium, are blocked by the body’s skin, while beta particles are blocked by boots and battle dress uniforms.  While gamma rays are a form of highly penetrating energy, the amount of gamma radiation emitted by depleted uranium is considered to be  very low.

The threat of chemical toxicity would also be minimal because there is little likelihood that sufficient quantities of DU could be inhaled or ingested to cause a heavy metal concern.  It must be emphasized that these comments only apply to non-inhaled or non-ingested DU particles, which pose a serious long term effect on the human chemical processes.

The Dept. of Defense has categorized DU exposure  into three  identifiable  levels, based on their relative exposure scenarios.

Level 1 is the highest exposure group, including 102 soldiers who were in, on, or near combat vehicles at the time they were struck by depleted uranium munitions, and an estimated 30 to 60 soldiers who entered these vehicles immediately afterwards, to perform combat rescues.  DU metal fragments struck a number of these soldiers, and some of them still retain embedded DU fragments.

Others inhaled or ingested airborne depleted uranium particulates, or had DU contaminated wounds.  The U.S. Army’s Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine preliminary estimate of the highest exposure levels were based on test data that “ assumed “ two depleted uranium rounds impacted and penetrated the depleted uranium armor of an Abram’s heavy armor model tank.  The “ estimated radiation dose “  was less that the 5 rem per year limit for workers. 

It is well to note that it was stated that the “ theoretical “ kidney concentration could have exceeded the maximum permissible concentration guideline of 3 micrograms of uranium per gram of kidney tissue.  However; the report implies that it is may be unlikely.

These highest exposure estimates were based on two perforations of DU armor by 120mm DU rounds.  The D.O.D. used the DU rounds on DU armor exposure data because it had no exposure data on DU rounds that impacted or penetrated non-DU armor during the Gulf War, and only two Abrams tanks were actually penetrated by two DU penetrators rounds. 

In addition, the amount of DU aerosol generated by a DU round penetrating a Bradley Fighting Vehicle could ( theoretically ) be much less that that produced by a DU round penetrating an Abrams tank because the armor of the Abrams tank is harder to penetrate than the armor of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Level 2 exposures comprise an estimated 200 soldiers who worked in and around combat vehicles ( mainly U.S. friendly fire vehicles ) struck be DU rounds and as many as 600 personnel who took part in the clean up after the fire at Camp Doha.  These exposures resulted in significantly lower “ estimated “ intakes of DU than the Level 1 exposure group.


The radiation “ estimates “  were considered to be  less than the 0.1 rem per year guidelines for members of the general public and “ much less “ than the 5 rem per year limit for workers.   The chemical exposure “ estimates “ were also well below the chemical toxicity guidelines.  Therefore;  it was deemed by the D.O.D. that no adverse health effects are expected from the Level 2 exposures. 

Level 3 is an “ all others “  category for personnel whose contacts with depleted uranium were very brief and are ( according to the D.O.D., )  highly unlikely to have resulted in any medically significant exposure taking place. 

This group includes curious personnel who entered Iraq equipment or personnel down wind from vehicles that burned after being struck with a DU penetrators round.  This group’s exposure levels were “ estimated “ to be minimal.

It is well to note that the European press, in particular, has been raising concerns of increased rates of leukemia in European troops that have been stationed in the Balkans. They raise questions about the causes of these high rates of  leukemia cases among these troops.

The “ official “ U.S. Government response to this issue indicates that it is highly unlikely that exposure to DU ammunition would cause leukemia.  The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services stated in it’s  Toxicological Profile for Uranium,  “ [n]o human cancer of any type has ever been seen as a result of exposure to natural or depleted uranium. “ 

A 1999 RAND Corp.  study concluded, “ there are no peer-reviewed published reports of detectable increases of cancer or other negative health effects from radiation exposure to inhaled or ingested natural uranium at levels far exceeding those ‘ likely ‘ in the Gulf War. “  Exposure events in the Balkans should be no more than those exposure events in the Gulf.  

Excess leukemia incidence among those exposed to radiation ( atomic bomb survivors ) has been recognized only with doses in the range of 1 Seivert ( 100 rem ) or more to the bone marrow.  In the body, uranium concentrates on the bone surface, rather that in the bone marrow.  Under these conditions, irradiation of bone marrow by uranium’s alpha particles would be almost impossible, according to the assessment reports. 

The scenarios for the highest potential exposure to DU in the Gulf War ( friendly fire incidents, Level 1 ) had   “ estimated “ doses in the range of 0.05 rem.  Level 2 and 3                 “ estimates “ are found to be of less magnitude, or below the 0.05 rem exposure level.

Note:The U.S. Government  “ theoretical “ and “ assumed “  levels of exposure to ionizing radiation
exposure  ( as determined by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, )  has consistently been just
below the 0.05 rem level, required by the Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs for service connected radiation
induced illness benefits. 

This blatant example of the use of “ theoretical assumptions  “   and has continued to deny  America’s
Atomic Veterans, who participated in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests from 1945 to late 1962, of
their rights to proper compensation and benefits for more than 50 years.   It is feared by the National
Association of Atomic Veterans, Inc. that the same methods of disclaimers and denials by the Federal
Government will prevent veterans of the Gulf War and other conflicts, who were exposed to radiation
from DU munitions and armor from gaining proper benefits, as well. 


There  are  concerns related to the extent of  DU  exposure by  NATO forces assigned duties in the Balkans.  Depending upon how may NATO forces were deployed to Bosnia and how many years have passed since their return, it should be possible to calculate the expected frequency of leukemia among these troops. 

News accounts state that approx. 60,000 Italian troops and 15,000 civilians have served in the Balkans since 1995.  One could project that this group of 75,000 adults would have experienced seven to ten cases of leukemia during the six years since 1995.

Similarly, one could project several hundred cases of cancer of all types. Leukemias  following high doses of radiation peak in frequency five to seven years after the exposure event. 

Media accounts of leukemia cases and deaths within months of return from the Balkans are not consistent with current scientific understanding of the time course of radiation induced leukemia, however confirming such accounts has, to date, been allusive.

Additionally, there have been accounts indicating the presence of trace levels of plutonium and other contaminants in DU munitions that are indicative of recycled nuclear fuel.  Given these assertions,  it is necessary to understand the nature of how DU munitions were evolved.

The Department of Energy operated three gaseous diffusion plants ( Paducah, Kentucky; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee ) where they enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and power plants; creating depleted uranium as a by-product. 

Some or all of these plants received uranium extracted from spent nuclear fuels for recycling in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.

Uranium extracted from spent nuclear fuels included low levels of transuranics                      ( americium, neptunium, and plutonium ) , technetium-99, and uranium-236.  The gaseous diffusion process concentrates these contaminants in the enriched uranium and decreases the levels in the depleted uranium so that only trace quantities remain.  

The D.O.E. plants have established maximum allowable levels for radioactive contaminants in the enriched uranium extracted from recycled nuclear fuel. 

Routine monitoring has documented contaminant levels below these allowable levels in post-1980 samplings.  D.O.E.’s plant at Fernald has received and / or shipped loads from almost all of the DU produced by the gaseous diffusion plants and tested subsets. 

These data, included in a draft of D.O.E. report dated June, 2000, indicated that radioactive contaminants increase the radiation dose from the DU itself by less than 1 percent.

This result agrees with the U.S. Army’s testing of the DU used in its armor plate for the Abrams Heavy Tank.

The D.O.E. staff have indicated that their testing is representative of all D.O.E. depleted uranium applications. The testing being performed by the United Nations Environmental Programme ( U.N.E.P . ) team is not a simple task, and is faced with a host of complex situations to which assumptions must be formulated, so as to reach final situation assessments. 
6.
Given the medical and environmental concerns of depleted uranium munitions and armor plate, a suitable substitute for DU alloys has not yet been found.  Each weapon system that uses DU has undergone extensive development testing and evaluation. 

As part of the process, D.O.D. evaluates possible alternative metal alloys considering operational requirements and medical / environmental impacts. 

As improvements have been made in all the “ hardness “ of armored vehicles, tests have demonstrated that DU offers superior performance to all other known alloy formulas. 

While some candidate replacement alloys may not be radioactive, they are not necessarily less toxic to the human mechanism.

Current estimates of the number of Veterans exposed to Depleted Uranium radiation,  since the Gulf War may exceed 36% of those who were deployed to areas where DU munitions were actively engaged, or where residues of DU are still present.   This would suggest that the total number of future illnesses attributed to exposure to DU residual radiation will increase sharply within in the next  several  years.


This Depleted Uranium information paper was prepared by the National Association of Atomic Veterans, Inc.

Fred Schafer National Commander
130 Cleveland St
Lebanon, OR 97355-4505
541-258-7453
derf@trcschafer.com


 Note:

If you are a Veteran of the Gulf War or any conflict since the Gulf War,  or if you are currently on Active Duty in the Military and were engaged in activities that caused you to be exposed to Depleted Uranium radiation particles, you are eligible to become a member of the National Association of Atomic Veterans, Inc.  We welcome your participation in our quest to assist our fellow Atomic Veterans in their quest to obtain proper recognition and compensation for  health issues precipitated by their exposure to radiation while serving their country in an honorable and un-selfish fashion.  Should you choose to join our group, can download an application form from this website.



“ No  amount  of  exposure  to  ionizing  radiation  has  been  scientifically  proven  to  be  safe “

 

 

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