USA's Depleted Uranium Weapons
January 23, 2001 10:06 AM   Subscribe

USA's Depleted Uranium Weapons

1 in 7 Gulf War veterans suffer from Gulf War Syndrome, including a high incidence of birth defects, respiratory, kidney and liver problems. There are outrageously high rates of leukemia and severe birth defects among Iraqi civilians. Now Israel uses DU weapons against Palestinians. After DU weapons were used in Kosovo, Italy wants to know why Kosovo veterans are getting cancer. Still the pentagon insists that "... we do not believe it poses any significant health risk." Does anybody in the US give a damn?
posted by snakey (22 comments total)

Are you going to believe your government or the evidence? If you can't believe your own governbment, what's a government for?
posted by Postroad at 10:17 AM on January 23, 2001

There are a few of us -- several members of my husband's Gulf War unit developed leukemia, aplastic anemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma upon return stateside, my husband among them, which led to a great deal of research and coalition building among the affected. GW vets and their families watch these developments very carefully.

But there are not nearly enough of us watching and documenting to create the critical mass needed to lobby or raise a ruckus. What is there for us to do?
posted by Dreama at 10:20 AM on January 23, 2001

Veterans should make some alliances with the no nuke and anti-WTO crowd. That could bring the numbers you'd need to get in the media's face about it.
posted by snakey at 10:32 AM on January 23, 2001

I believe that there's something to the Gulf War Syndrome, but I'm not so sold on the DU issue. The quantities of Unranium we're talking about here are extremely small. Plus, most of the European activists who started this thing (at least the ones I've heard) are pretty much crackpots. Having said that, it's gotta be investigated.

And, to answer the actual question, no, Americans don't care. How can we concentrate on something like that when tomorrow night "Temptation Island" is on!
posted by jpoulos at 10:51 AM on January 23, 2001

As I've mentioned on other threads, I work in cancer research, so while I having nothing but sympathy for those suffering, I am very, very wary of the urge to immediately point a finger and say "That right there is what gave me cancer." All kinds of things may contribute to one's risk, but the fact is, we still don't really know WHAT the hell "causes" it. The jury is still way out on the relative dangers of DU (not that I'd be terribly anxious to roll around in the stuff), and most of the evidence out there now is pretty anecdotal. The BMJ has a good rundown.
posted by Skot at 11:07 AM on January 23, 2001

PS--I just noticed that the phrase "I work in cancer research" sounds really snooty and inflating and just lame. I'm not a doctor or biostatistician. I just work with some data interpretation at a pretty basic level in an statistical lab for a nonprofit cooperative research group.
posted by Skot at 11:18 AM on January 23, 2001

I used to be skeptical like Steven, but now that they're (reluctantly, as always) admitting that DU isn't just depleted uranium, but includes trace plutonium ....

Still, all those Italian soldiers could have been a coincidental cancer cluster, a statistical "hot streak".
posted by dhartung at 12:35 PM on January 23, 2001

Um, the dirt you're standing on includes trace plutonium...
posted by aramaic at 1:21 PM on January 23, 2001

I'm sure you folks figure that the ridiculous rate of cancer and birth defects in Iraq is also an 'anomaly.' How many more wars will be fought with these low level nukes before we Americans open our eyes to these atrocities? Skot, Jpaulos, perhaps we'll see where your healthy skepticism goes once DOE allows the use of depleted uranium in consumer goods.
posted by snakey at 2:33 PM on January 23, 2001

GAH! one of these days I'll learn to post the right link the first time.
posted by snakey at 2:35 PM on January 23, 2001

Snakey, all I was saying is that the science on DU is nowhere near complete, but that's never going to register with someone who apparently is only interested in pointing their finger over and over at what they just know has to be the cause. There are millions of factors that can contribute to these things--like, oops, say being on the losing end of a war with all the myriad of woes that get visited on the losers.

And yes, I for one hope we all lose our healthy skepticism soon in favor of sweet, fattening credulity.
posted by Skot at 3:01 PM on January 23, 2001

Perhaps the US should assess the instant death risk involved with DU rounds as well. DU rounds are probably extremely dangerous moments after they are fired.

I imagine research would confirm a dropoff in lethality once DU rounds are firmly lodged in a target, a wall, or the ground.
posted by dfowler at 3:11 PM on January 23, 2001

Skot, if the research hasn't been undertaken, as you claim, then shouldn't the research have been done well in advance of actually using these weapons? In fact, I don't doubt that the research has been done by the pentagon, since they paid 4 billion dollars to clean up radioactive waste from a proving ground where they tested DU weapons, and since they have pentagon employees don radiation suits before handling the stuff.
posted by snakey at 3:49 PM on January 23, 2001

dfowler : wouldn't the lethality increase quite dramatically once firmly lodged in a target?

(for the target that is)
posted by fullerine at 4:25 PM on January 23, 2001

The use of DU in weapons should be suspended.

The burden of proof about their safety should be put onto the military, not the other way around.
posted by lagado at 4:36 PM on January 23, 2001

DU becomes chemically toxic once it burns, and it burns on impact.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 5:31 PM on January 23, 2001

fullerine: I figure the lodging of the round in the target would cause instant death. Let's say we assign a lethality rate of 100 to said round, since it caused death. If lethality were measured once every minute, my guess would be that in the next minute, the lethality rate would drop from 100 to zero, as it would have finished all of its killing. At least until someone, somewhere, attributed their death to the cancer it caused. In which case, the round's lethality rate would skyrocket again.

But let's not quibble over semantics. Lives are at stake here.

By the way, with all the seeping chemical agents, smoke-belching bombed-out refineries, and dodgy falafel floating around, Iraq hardly needs DU rounds to kick up the cancer rate.
posted by dfowler at 6:34 PM on January 23, 2001

"dodgy falafel" fowler... that's awful... heheh. But seriously, there hasn't been nearly enough research done upon this subject... not enough conlusive research anyway, but...
Dreama: we live in a democracy... i.e. serving the people, so therefore, any matter can be made into a national issue with time, effort, and most importantly, facts.
posted by Silentbob at 7:28 PM on January 23, 2001

Silentbob: I should have been more specific: "what are we to do until we have the numbers and the time amassed behind our cause to undertake serious efforts to force further investigation into this matter?"
posted by Dreama at 7:27 AM on January 24, 2001

posted by Silentbob at 8:00 AM on January 24, 2001

Most of the top teams in Formula 1 use DU in their cars to control the center of gravity. The FIA banned the use berilyium, but they haven't said anything about the usage of DU.
posted by riffola at 8:59 AM on January 24, 2001

Actually, there has been a good deal of research on the safety of depleted uranium. As I recall, the general conclusion is that it's pretty safe to have around. The big concern is that when a uranium-tipped projectile hits a hard surface (say a wall or a tank), it can generate uranium dust. If this dust were inhaled, in addition to the toxicity of uranium itself, it could result in increased exposure to radiation from the trace radioactive isotopes in the dust.
posted by shylock at 1:50 PM on January 24, 2001

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