Iraq Misinformation/Disinformation Depleted Uranium
BG0310E | Date: 2003-04-03
There is a great deal of misinformation and unwarranted fears about depleted uranium, which U.S. Armed Forces use in several types of ammunition to take advantage of its unsurpassed ability to penetrate armored vehicles.
Depleted uranium is a derivative of natural uranium, a very common element in our environment. Many people don't realize that our environment contains small amounts of natural uranium, which we breathe in, eat and drink every day.
U-235 and U-234 are the highly radioactive isotopes in natural uranium, extracted to make nuclear fuel or enriched, weapons-grade uranium. Depleted uranium is what is left over after much of these highly radioactive isotopes have been removed. Depleted uranium is actually 40% less radioactive than the natural uranium in the environment around us.
In March 2001, a World Health Organization report stated: "no increase of leukemia or other cancers has been established following exposure to uranium or depleted uranium."
A March 2001 European Commission report concluded, "taking into account the pathways and realistic scenarios of human exposure, radiological exposure to DU could not cause a detectable effect on human health."
A January 2001 NATO report said, "based on the data today, no link has been established between depleted uranium and any forms of cancer."
In 1999, a RAND Corporation study on depleted uranium concluded: "no evidence is documented in the literature of cancer or any other negative health effect related to the radiation received from exposure to natural uranium, whether inhaled or ingested, even in very high doses."
Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the lack of a link between depleted uranium and cancer is the case of 20 Gulf War veterans who were struck by shrapnel from depleted uranium shells that hit the armored vehicles in which they were riding. Some have shrapnel pieces up to 20 mm long still embedded in their bodies. The veterans have very high levels of uranium in their urine samples, but not one has developed leukemia, bone cancer, lung cancer, or any kidney abnormalities, despite the fact that they are walking around with depleted uranium inside their bodies. In addition, none of the children born to any of these men has any reported birth defects. A 1999 study of these veterans concluded, "there is no evidence of adverse clinical outcomes associated with uranium exposure at this time in any of these individuals."
Accusations that depleted uranium has caused cancer in Iraqi newborns are groundless. In fact, Iraq's use of chemical weapons - known cancer-causing agents - is the most likely cause of the cancers and birth defects blamed on depleted uranium.
Independent studies have shown large increases in cancers and birth defects where the Iraqi regime has used chemical weapons. According to Dr. Fouad Baban, Chairman of the Department of Medicine of Suleymania University, in northern Iraq, "congenital abnormality rates" in Halabja, where the Iraqi regime killed 5,000 Kurds with chemical weapons in 1988, are "four to five times greater than in the post-atomic populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." Dr. Baban says, "rare and aggressive cancers in adults and children are found at levels far higher than anywhere in the world."
Depleted uranium is another man-made substance that evokes widespread, unfounded fears. But it has not been found to cause cancers or birth defects, as many mistakenly believe.