Monday, November 30, 2009

Depleted Uranium, The Emerging Radiation Crisis in Iraq and US Students

For OpEdNews: Don Lieber - Writer
November 24, 2009

Depleted Uranium, The Emerging Radiation Crisis in Iraq and US Students: Vermont Takes Lead with Divestment

On Oct 24, The Board of Trustees at the University of Vermont adopted a resolution, without fanfare, to divest the University's investment funds from companies involved in the production of depleted uranium weapons (DU), citing the weapon's "indescriminate use" and "broad adverse effects to human health and the environment" 1)

This appears to be the first large University system in the United States to take this step, as reports are increasing out of Iraq suggesting an emerging radiation crisis in areas where these highly radioactive weapons have been used.

Many health professionals and scientists, including a former director of the Army's "Depleted Uranium Project" in Iraq, are documenting a dramatic rise in birth defects, cancers, genetic mutations and other conditions consistant with severe radiation exposure from Fallujah and Basra - where major battles included the use of DU weapons by US forces. Disturbing photos show grotesque malformations including huge hydroencephaly (enlarged heads), webbed fingers and eyelids, and severe organ protrusions (photos available at cited reference) 2)

DU weapons have been the subject of ongoing concern from experts and activists who have warned about the serious health risks posed from the highly radiactive materials used in their manufacture. Military analysts acknowledge their effective battlefiled applications - particularly as armour and concrete penetrating 'bunker busters', and the government has consistantly refuted the health concerns.

The University did not not identify publically the names of the manufactures involved nor their investors, but said the divestment would focuson the known "three main producers" and their financers. The three largest producers of DU weapons in the United States, are General Dynamics, ATK Alliance Systems, and Aerojet Ordnance Tennessee. Their US financers include Bank of America, US Bank, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and many more, according to several DU watchdog groups. 3)

Two of the areas in Iraq reporting significant radiation exposure are Fallujah and Basar, sites of major battles where DU weapons were used.

Saud Al-Azzawi, an environmental engineer who has been involved in several epidemiological research studies in the Basra region, said "A few years after exposure to (DU) contamination, multifold increase of malignancies, congenital malformations, miscarriages, children leukemia, and sterility cases have been registered in suburb areas of Basra and other surrounding areas". 4)

The Army has repeatedly denied any link between Depleted Uranium and high rates of cancer or other conditions in Iraq. "There is not really any danger, at least that we know about, for the people of Iraq," said Lt. Col. Michael Sigmon, deputy surgeon for the US Army's V Corps. 5), 6)

Individual experts from the military, however, have contradicted the official denial.

Dr Alexandra C. Miller of the Armed Forces Radiological Research Institute reported that DU has significant carcinogenic potential, is mutagenic and genotoxic. Another expert, Dr. Doug Rokke, who was the director of the Army's Depleted Uranium Project in Iraq in 2003 (charged to study how to safegaurd U.S. troops from DU and properly dispose of DU material) - has become a leading advocate for a total ban on their use. 7,8).

A brief search of Army practice suggests further contradictions to its own public denial of health risks:

Army and Defense Department regulations prohibit the use of DU munitions during training. 9)

U.S. troops are instructed to avoid any sites where DU weapons have been used — destroyed tanks, exploded bunkers, etc.—and to wear masks if they do have to approach. 10)

The U.S. removed over 6,000 tons of DU contaminated soil from Kuwait after the 1991 Gulf war. The contaminated material was brought back to the US for disposal to a radioactive waste managment company, the American Ecology Corporation, based in Bosie. Army trucks hit by 'friendly' DU fire in Iraq also had to be brought back to radioactive waste disposal facilities in the U.S. 11)

And - perhaps the striking example - the Army has built a new, state-of the art hospital in Basra specializing in advanced pediactric cancer treatment.

It is the first hospital of its kind in Iraq - a multi-million dollar, 90-bed unit - built to serve an area known for significant DU weapon use by US forces.

The Department of Defense website, in touting the Army's humanitarian efforts, cites the high cancer rates in the region without making reference to any potential causes. 12)

Fallujah - another area where US forces used considerable DU munitions during the battles in 2004 - now is also reporting an observable rise in birth defects and other radiation-related conditions. A report sent to the UN General Assembly on October 12, 2009, by Dr Nawal Majeed Al-Sammarai, Iraq's Minister of Women's Affairs, stated that 24% of the babies born in Fallujah General Hospital in September 2009 died within their first week of life. Of the remainder of the babies who survived beyond the first week of life, a full 75% were reported born with deformaties.

Statistics from the same hospital in 2002 - six months prior to start of the 'shock and awe' attacks of 2003 (which included DU weapons) - recorded 530 live births with only six dying in the first week and only one deformity. 13)

An important detail of DU risk to humans is that the most dangerous form of exposure is inhalation (rather than contact). This happens when DU weapons 'aerosolize' upon impact. A single particle of inhaled DU can expose the surrounding tissue to radiation 800 times the annual dosage considered safe by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the entire body. (Authors Note: The US Army has no established protocols for diagnosing, nor treating soldiers with suspected inhaled DU). 14)

Several sources place the amount of DU used in US weapons since 2003 at over 1,600 tonnes: this amount would create a staggering, uncountable amount of particles to be dispersed in the soil, water and air. 15) This corresponds to studies now showing local soil, water and air which now show radiation levels 'hundreds to thousands of times' above what occurs naturally. An American reporter from the Christian Science Moniter described that radiation meters which his crew brought to the region went "off the scale" in some areas. 16)

The emerging reports out of Iraq have been virtually absent in the United States media, with scant attention in European media - two recent reports in the Guardian (UK) being notable exceptions. 17)

Largely out of the US press, however, some governments and humanitarian organizations are reacting.

The government of Belgium in 2007 became the first nation to ban "all weapons" which contain Depleted Uranium. In 2008 the European Parliament adapted a resolution for both a moratorium and an international treaty to ban them . The International Coalition to Ban UraniumWeapons, based in Manchester, is seeking an international ban modeled after the Ottawa Landmine-Ban Treaty and has called upon the United Nations to do so.

And at least one U.S. University has voted to cease doing business with producers of a weapon which one former nuclear expert from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory described as a "a dirty every way". 18)

So what led the students in Vermont to ask the University to divest - on an issue relatively unknown in the United States - at a time when any number of pressing issues could well have merited more publicized attention?

"At UVM social and political activism are both things that are taken very seriously" said Hillary Walton, the student journalist who first wrote about the divestment vote in the campus newspaper The Vermont Cynic. The University's culture indeed appears to welcome student social activism, perhaps more than most US universities: It previously created a Socially Responsible Investing Work Group which is composed of students, faculty, administration, and staff: all have equal vote in deciding which issues to bring before the Trustees. Previous divestment resolutions have passed regarding tobbaco and the human rights in Sudan. 19)

Whether other US Universities follow Vermont's lead on DU weapons and the emerging radiation crisis in Iraq remains to be seen.

In their October 22 divestment resolution, the University Trustees said "... The University's policy of fiscal prudence shall not preclude the consideration of moral, ethical and social criteria in determining which companies to invest." 20)

It appears that the CEOs and Board of Directors at General Dynamics, ATK Alliance Sytems, and Aerojet Ordnance Tennessee - along with their their US Banking partners and Army contractors - have it the other way around.

Don Lieber is an independent journalist whose previous works have been published with the Associated Press, the United Nations, The Willamette Week (Portland Ore.), The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and others.

1) Budget, Finance and Investment Minutes, Board of Trustees Meeting, University of Vermont, October 22-24, 2009. click here
2) click here

Explicit and disturbing photos of children displaying severe symptoms associated with radition exposure as collected by Iraq hospital officials, and health researchers, can be seen at:

3) International Coalition to Ban Depleted Uranium.

According to the ICBDU, the three main producers of DU weapons are:

General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems,

Michael S. Wilson President,
11399 16th Court North, Suite 200
St. Petersburg, FL 33716
Main Number: (727) 578-8100 (727) 578-8100
Fax Number: (727) 578-8119
Web Site:

ATK Armament Systems
Amanda Covington, Director of Communications
Clearfield, Utah
Phone: 801-779-4625 801-779-4625
ATK Alliance Systems - Corporate Headquarters
7480 Flying Cloud Drive,Minneapolis, MN 55344
Phone: 952-351-3000 952-351-3000
Aerojet Ordnance Tennessee, Inc.
Jonesborough, Tennessee.
1367 Old State Route 34,
Jonesborough, TN 37659
(423) 753-1200 (423) 753-1200
(423) 753-8645 (FAX)

4) Remarks given by Souadd Al-Azzawi, Associate Professor of engineering, Kuala Lumpur International Conference to Criminalise War, Putra World Trade Centre, 28-31 October 2009

5) Remains of Toxic Bullets Litter Iraq.
Scott Peterson, The Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 2003.

6 ) The government's denial also applies to thousands of returning US soldiers also exposed to DU fallout in Iraq. For a detailed account of this, see: Paul Zimmerman, Depleted Uranium and the Mismanagement of Gulf War Veterans, as published November 20, 2009, in TruthOut,org

Authors note: The Army has "no code" (i.e., established protocols) for the testing, diagnosing, or treatment suspected exposure from inhalation of DU - despite the awareness that this is most dangerous form of DU exposure (unlike 'contact' exposure, such as shrapnel, for which the Army has extensive diagnosing and treatment protocols).

See: Memorandum for Commanders,
26 June 2007,
Subject: Medical Management of Army Personnel Exposed to Depleted Uranium,
Department of the Army, Headquarters, US Army Medical Command. click here

7) Alexandra C. Miller, Mike Stewart, Rafael Rivas, Robert Marlot, and Paul Lison, Depleted Uranium internal contamination: Carcinogenisis and Leukeinogenisis in Vivo. Proc. American Association of Cancer Research. Volume 46, 2005.

8)The War Against Ourselves: Interview with Dr. Doug Rokke, Yes!Magazine, March 31, 2003. Dr. Rokke's public speeches on DU are available on YouTube. See:

9) Army Installation Management Command, Pacific Region Information Booklet "Depleted Uranium in Hawaii"

10) Peterson, Remains of Toxic Bullets, Christian Science Monitor, as cited.
11) Peterson, Remains of Toxic Bullets, and Al-Azzawi, Remarks, as cited.

12) U.S. Department of Defense News Website,


14) Rosali Bertell, Depleted Uranium: All the questions about DU and Gulf War Syndrome are not yet answered. International Journal of Health Service 36(3), 503-520, 2006, and Memorandum for Commanders, 26 June 2007, Subject: Medical Management of Army Personnel Exposed to Depleted Uranium, Department of the Army, Headquarters, US Army Medical Command. click here)

As described in Bertell, DU weapons, when they combust upon impact, create clouds of highly toxic, microscopic particles of radioactive uranium oxide which can be inhaled. The particles enter the lungs, cross the lung-blood barrier and gain entrance to tissue cells. Once in the cells, DU - a heavy metal - disrupts DNA and RNA functions, among other functions linked to the development of chronic diseases, tumors and cancer. Scientific details on the biology and epidimiology of DU exposure is reviewed in Depleted Uranium Contamination: Iraq: An overview, August 31, 2006., and multiple other sources as cited in this article.

15) Memorandum for Commanders, 26 June 2007, Subject: Medical Management of Army Personnel Exposed to Depleted Uranium, Department of the Army, Headquarters, US Army Medical Command. click here

For a detailed account of DU use in Iraq, see Depleted Uranium Contamination: Iraq: An overview, August 31, 2006

17) Depleted Uranium Dust - Public Health Disaster For The People Of Iraq and Afghanistan
by Doug Westerman, Global, May 3, 2006 and multiple sources.

18) Marion Falk, a former physicist who worked on nuclear weapons at the government's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, told Agence France Press that DU weapons operate in a similar manner as a dirty bomb. "That's exactly what they are," Falk said "They fit the description of a dirty bomb in every way." click here

19) Board Votes to Divest from Cluster Ammunitions
By Hillary Walton
The Vermont Cynic, November 16, 2009

20) Budget, Finance and Investment Minutes, Board of Trustees Meeting, University of Vermont, October 22-24, 2009. click here

Don Lieber is an independent journalist. His works have been published by the Associated Press, the United Nations, the International Campaign to Ban the Use of Landmines, Willamette Week (Portland Oregon), the Coalition to Ban the Use of Child (more...)