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From sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu Mon Jan 15 12:19:19 2001
From: Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics) <sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu>
To: Mike Alewitz <ALEWITZM@mail.ccsu.edu>
Subject: Depleted Uranium and its deadly legacy
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2001 12:10:16 -0500

Depleted Uranium and its deadly legacy

[No attribution], [15 January 2001]

The recent death from leukemia of several Italian peacekeepers in Kosovo has once again focused attention on the use of weapons fortified with depleted uranium (DU). Depleted uranium shells were first used in the Gulf War against Iraq (1991). The United States military fired one million rounds of such shells at Iraqi tanks. As returning U.S., British and Canadian troops came down with mysterious debilitating ailments, officials in the three countries discounted any possibility of the illnesses (called the Gulf War syndrome) being linked to the use of DU munitions.

DU missiles have been called silver bullets by the Pentagon because of their killer punch in penetrating even the strongest armor like a knife through butter. But after blasting through, DU burns and disperses as toxic dust that is radioactive for a very long time (half life of 4 billion years). Military authorities in the U.S. have insisted that the radioactivity of DU is lower than naturally occurring uranium in the environment. But once used in battle, DU is regarded as both a chemical and a radiation hazard. As a form soluble in water, DU can be absorbed by humans through breathing or ingestion. It is implicated in causing serious kidney damage. When DU is dispersed in the soil, inhaling dust impregnated with DU leads to deposits in the lungs that is suspected of causing lung cancer.

The raging debate in the media so far has mainly concerned the possible damage to NATO soldiers due to exposure to DU in Kosovo. But as far as the wars in which DU weapons have been used (Iraq, Bosnia and Yugoslavia), its deadly effects have been suspected in the deaths, debilitating ailments and birth defects of thousands of innocent civilians in these countries.

Several European countries have decided to test their soldiers for signs of illness related to radiation damage from DU residue. They have demanded that NATO conduct a thorough investigation into the health and environmental impact of DU, with some of the countries expressing distrust of Pentagon and British Department of Defence reassurances to the contrary. Soldiers and aid workers in Kosovo and Bosnia have experienced symptoms of chronic fatigue, hair loss and various types of cancer that are collectively referred to as the Balkans War syndrome. The unreported situation of the people of Kosovo and Serbia can only be direr.

The larger question that simply won't go away is whether the use of DU munitions in the wars in the Gulf and the Balkans was legal. A December 18 (2000) report from the Environment Committee of the Council of Europe (made up of 41 European countries that aims, among other things, to protect human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law) found that during the bombing of Yugoslavia, NATO violated the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of civilians in war by using depleted uranium in warheads. The report added that the violations had dramatically worsened the environment in Yugoslavia with long-lasting, deleterious effects for future generations. Most serious was its assertion that this damage can be presumed to have been deliberate. Such a statement is perilously close to the charge of several groups - including one led by the former U.S. Attorney general, Ramsey Clark - that the indiscriminate bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 (and Iraq in 1991) constituted a deliberate violation of international laws governing warfare and thus constituted grounds for the prosecution of officials from the countries involved in the bombing, such as the U.S. and Britain, for gross violations of the human rights of innocent civilians.

The governments of Britain and the United States of America are isolated in the latest outcry against DU weapons. These two allies coordinate military strategy more closely than any of the other countries in NATO.

They are the sole producers of DU missiles. Professor Malcolm Hooper of Sunderland University in north-east England has given evidence on DU to the British parliament's Defence Select Committee. He said on an English TV. channel recently, ...people living near centres manufacturing DU projectiles are in very real danger.. and, ...often these (factories) are covert and are not known to the local population.

The government of Iraq, whose people have suffered horribly and in great numbers from the after-effects of the devastating Gulf War, has demanded that the U.S. and British governments face a war crimes tribunal for the irresponsible damage caused to its people and environment through their reckless and illegal use of DU weapons. Birth defects and deaths through cancer have been documented to have increased seven-fold in some areas of Iraq from before to after the Gulf War (study conducted by the World Health Organization).

One newspaper in Iraq commented bitterly after the recent news of renewed unease on the effects of DU, It's the turn of the Europeans to pay the price for their follow-the-leader attitude towards the American bull , but this was not any more serious than the damage inflicted by American and British missiles on the Iraqi people in 1991.