Current Issues - Depleted Uranium Weapons in the Gulf Wars (1991, 2003)
(last updated 19 Aug 2011)
|Gulf War (2003)|
Evidence of depleted uranium in tree bark suggests long-distance travel of depleted uranium particles in southern Iraq"To assess the quality of the environment in southern Iraq after the Gulf War II, a geochemical survey was carried out. The survey provided data on the chemistry of Euphrates waters, as well as the trace element contents, U and Pb isotopic composition, and PAH levels in soil and tree bark samples. [...]"
"The chemistry of the tree bark samples closely reflected that of the soils, with some notable exceptions. Unlike the soils, some tree bark samples had anomalous values of the 235U/238U ratio due to mixing of depleted uranium (DU) with the natural uranium pool. Moreover, the distribution of some trace elements (such as REEs, Th and Zr) and the isotopic composition of Pb in barks clearly differed from those of the nearby soils. The overall results suggested that significant external inputs occurred implying that once formed the DU-enriched particles could travel over long distances. [...]" (from abstract)
Trace element distribution and 235U/238U ratios in Euphrates waters and in soils and tree barks of Dhi Qar province (southern Iraq), by F. Riccobono, G. Perra, A. Pisani, G. Protano, in: Science of The Total Environment, Vol. 409, Issue 19 (1 Sep 2011), p. 3829-3838, published ahead of print July 18, 2011
"In this report, it is concluded that the radiation doses from DU do not pose a radiological hazard to the population at the four studied locations in southern Iraq. The estimated annual committed effective radiation doses that could arise from exposure to DU residues are low, always less than 100 µSv/a and only to a few, if any, individuals, and therefore of little radiological concern. The estimated radiation doses are less than those received on average by individuals from natural sources of radiation in the environment (worldwide average 2.4 mSv/a), below internationally recommended dose limits for members of the public (1 mSv/a) and below the action level of 10 mSv/a set out in the IAEA Safety Standard on Remediation of Areas Contaminated by Past Activities and Accidents  to establish whether remedial actions are necessary."
Radiological Conditions in Selected Areas of Southern Iraq with Residues of Depleted Uranium , Report by an international group of experts, Radiological Assessment Report Series, STI/PUB/1434, 78 pp., IAEA 2010 (2.5M PDF)
Urinary isotopic analysis in the UK Armed Forces shows no evidence of depleted uranium absorption in combat and other personnel in IraqArmy personnel involved in the Iraqi invasion of 2003 have not absorbed dangerous levels of depleted uranium, finds research published ahead of print in Occupational and Environmental Medicine .
The authors (from the King's centre for military health research at King's College London) tested depleted uranium levels in the urine of four different groups who would have been subject to different levels of exposure. These comprised 199 soldiers directly involved in fighting, 96 soldiers involved in other duties, 22 medical staff, and 24 people responsible for cleaning up or repairing contaminated vehicles. The staff were also questioned closely about the circumstances in which exposure might have occurred.
The results showed that there were no differences in depleted uranium levels among the four groups. And the findings showed that levels were very close to those that would be expected from absorption of naturally occurring uranium. In cases where higher levels were found, these were within the normal range for naturally occurring uranium, when re-analyzed. (Eurekalert July 2, 2007)
Urinary isotopic analysis in the UK Armed Forces: No evidence of depleted uranium absorption in combat and other personnel in Iraq, by D J Bland, R J Rona, D Coggon, J Anderson, N Greenberg, L Hull and S Wessely, in: Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Published Online First: 3 July 2007.
published online by the Lancet , suggest there may not be an Iraq war syndrome. But the research raises concerns for reservists and suggests they may need more help and support.
The research was carried out by Simon Wessely and colleagues from the King's centre for military health research at King's College London, who also did the definitive studies on the illnesses now commonly described as Gulf war syndrome. They say they are surprised by the results, which are not in line with work carried out in the United States.
One of their studies compares the mental and physical health of nearly 4,000 soldiers who went to Iraq with that of a similar number who did not. The second contrasts the results from Iraq with those from the Gulf war in 1991.
Researchers found twice as many symptoms of ill-health in Gulf war veterans compared with servicemen who had not been deployed. But the new study of 3,642 male regular armed forces personnel serving in Iraq in 2003 found that their mental and physical health was not significantly different from that of 4,295 servicemen who were not deployed. (Guardian May 16, 2006)
Is there an Iraq war syndrome? Comparison of the health of UK service personnel after the Gulf and Iraq wars, by O Horn, L Hull, M Jones, D Murphy, T Browne, N T Fear, M Hotopf, R J Rona, S Wessely, in: Lancet 2006, Vol. 367: 1742–1746, Published Online May 16, 2006
U.S. House of Representatives passes Depleted Uranium Study Amendment to study possible health effects of DU on soldiersBill Number H.R. 5122 for the 109th Congress: SEC. 716. STUDY OF HEALTH EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE TO DEPLETED URANIUM
> See also: Rep. Jim McDermott release May 11, 2006
The use of armor-piercing ammunition made from depleted uranium (DU) during the war in Iraq has raised concerns about DU exposures among military personnel and civilians. Since 2003, the US Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have tested more than 2,100 Iraq war veterans for DU exposure and the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has tested approximately 350 veterans. There have reportedly been few positive test results, but these results obscure problems with selection processes and testing methods. In this paper I summarize publicly available information about the use of DU munitions in Iraq, analyze differences between DoD/VA and MoD testing processes, review the results of government testing efforts, and discuss the significance of the testing processes and results.
Summary of Depleted Uranium Test Results For Iraq War Veterans, by Dan Fahey, 17 March 2006
> Download: full paper (71k PDF - posted with permission)
"Since 2003, United States and United Kingdom government agencies have tested hundreds of servicemembers for DU exposure. There have reportedly been few positive test results, but publicly available information indicates that, at least in the United States, not all veterans who believe they were exposed to DU are in fact being tested." (from the Summary)
Summary of Government Data on Testing of Veterans for Depleted Uranium Exposure During Service in Iraq, by Dan Fahey, 10 February 2005
> Download full paper (162k PDF)
The initial results cover the period June 3, 2003 - March 31, 2004: 14 out of the 766 persons tested were identified with total uranium levels above the upper bound of the U.S. population range of 50 ng/g creatinine, and five had indications of DU in their urine.
> Download table of bioassay results (15k PDF)
- Level I - personnel who were in, on, or near combat vehicles at the time they were struck by DU rounds (to include wounded), or who entered immediately after to attempt rescue;
- Level II - personnel who routinely entered DU-damaged vehicles as part of their military occupation or who fought fires involving DU munitions;
- Level III - personnel involved in all other exposures (incidental in nature, e.g. driving by a vehicle struck by DU.)
> Download facsimile of DOD letter (PDF, posted with permission)
The agency also has been asked by the Iraqi government to investigate possible pollution by depleted uranium ordnance used to pierce tank armor during the 1991 Gulf War and the latest war. The British government has given the agency detailed information on locations where it used 1.9 tonnes of depleted uranium in the south of Iraq, but the U.S. government hasn't come forward with the same information despite requests from the United Nations.
The Japanese government has funded much of the US$4.7 million (Euro 3.8 million) project, which will be coordinated by the Nairobi-based U.N. agency and implemented by the Iraqi Ministry of the Environment. Samples - collected by Iraqi experts - will be evaluated by the U.N. Environment Program's Post-Conflict Assessment Unit in Geneva. The project will concentrate on at least five sites, including the Al-Mishaq Sulfur State Company, the Midland Refinery Stores, Al-Suwaira Seed Stores, sites were oil pipelines have been sabotaged and scrap metal yards where destroyed military vehicles have been taken. (AP Sep. 14, 2004)
The samples were analyzed by Dr Axel Gerdes at the Institute of Mineralogy of the University of Frankfurt am Main (Germany) using extremely sensitive multi-collector mass spectrometry. Detailed results have not been published yet.
> Download University of Frankfurt am Main release, April 2, 2004 (PDF, in German)
Some details of the data on the US military personnel were published in a conference poster: It shows the data for 9 military persons; DU was found in 4 of these. Total uranium ranged from 1.6 - 6.2 ng/L. In the DU-positive samples, DU ranged from 0.12 - 0.87 ng/L, comprising 4.2% - 22.8% of total uranium.
Quantitative Analysis of Concentration and Ratios of Uranium Isotopes in the US Military Personnel at Samawah, Iraq During Operation Enduring Freedom, by A. Durakovic, A. Gerdes, I. Zimmerman, F. Klimaschewski; Poster presented at European Radiation Research 2004 - The 33rd Annual Meeting of the European Society for Radiation Biology - August 25-28, 2004, Budapest.The corresponding radiation doses from inhalation of DU were very low: assuming that the samples were collected half a year after exposure, the radiation dose received can be determined as less than 0.025 mSv, even for the worst case that all material inhaled was Type S (slowly soluble).
Details of the data on Iraqi civilians are to be presented at a conference; some figures are available from the abstract: total uranium in all 15 samples was 24.3 +/- 4.6 ng/L. DU was found in 5 samples, at an average concentration of 1.2 ng/L, comprising 5% of total uranium. U-236 was found in 8 samples, at a concentration of approx. 0.74 ppm.
Uranium Isotopes Bioassay in the Civilians of Baghdad and Al Basra after Operation Iraqi Freedom, by Asaf Durakovic, Axel Gerdes, Isaac Zimmerman; Paper to be presented at Radiological Society of North America 90th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting, Nov. 28, 2004, Chicago.The corresponding radiation dose from single inhalation can be estimated at approx. 0.03 mSv, assuming inhalation of pure Type S material, and that the urine samples were taken half a year after exposure.
The elevated concentration of U-236 found in 8 samples, though higher than expected in natural uranium, is only about half of what would be expected if the 5% DU fraction found in the total uranium were attributed to material used by the U.S. for the manufacture of DU weapons (containing approx. 0.003% U-236).
DU conference held at MIT on March 6, 2004, Michael Kilpatrick, Deputy Director of Deployment Health Support in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, presented an accounting of DU use in Iraq. He stated the Air Force (A-10) shot 103 short tons of DU, and the Army (M1A2 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles) shot 24 short tons of DU. This equates to approximately 115,000 kg/DU. He stated the Marine Corps has not yet released information about how much its forces shot (AV-8B, M1A2s, LAVs). Based on this information, it is reasonable to assume that somewhere between 120,000 and 140,000 kg/DU was shot by US forces during the war.
Every serviceman or woman who took part in last year's Iraq campaign or has since been posted to Basra on garrison duty has been offered the chance of supplying a urine sample to determine whether there is DU in his or her body. An MoD spokeswoman said only 275 have submitted samples. All have tested negative for contamination. (Glasgow Herald Feb. 5, 2004)
A spokeswoman for Mrs Vale said urine samples provided by returned soldiers had been analysed by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). She said ANSTO's reference range for so-called normal urine uranium concentrations in spot samples was below 50 parts per trillion [ng/l]. "None of the currently tested defence urine samples are above that range," she said. (The Age, Sep. 24, 2003)
See also: Question No. 2233, COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES , Votes and Proceedings, Hansard, 18 SEPTEMBER 2003, p. 19742-19743
"... the former government of Iraq started a programme for the development of depleted uranium weapons but only produced about 10 rounds. Two or three of which were fired in a test and the others are under the control of the Iraq Action Team."The inquiry was based on a December 2002 fact sheet from IAEA, indicating Iraq may have been experimenting with the development of DU munitions and counterweights. Iraq was reported to have “processed uranium dioxide to produce UF4, uranium metal and UF6,” and “casted a uranium sphere of about five centimeters diameter, several hemispheres of similar size and a small number of rods weighing 1.2 kg per piece, from which to machine ‘sub-calibre munitions.’”
"To date, U.S. Army data shows that 2,466 depleted uranium (DU) tank rounds (M829A1) were expended during Operation Iraqi Freedom, in all of Iraq (about 24 tons). I caution that these statistics are preliminary and the operation is ongoing. The Army is currently unable to provide the number of expended 25 mm depleted uranium rounds from Bradley vehicles, nor a specific number of rounds fired in Baghdad."> Download facsimile of Jon Kyl letter (PDF, posted with permission)
Note: 24 tons are equivalent to 21.8 metric tonnes, but with a DU weight of 4.64 kg per M829A1 round, 2,466 rounds have a weight of 11.4 metric tonnes.
"SUMMARYThe Use of Depleted Uranium in the 2003 Iraq War: An Initial Assessment of Information and Policies, by Dan Fahey, June 24, 2003
During the 2003 Iraq War, United States and United Kingdom armed forces shot ammunition made from depleted uranium (DU) at a wide variety of targets. Although there is little known about the actual quantities of DU released or the locations of contamination, it appears approximately 100 to 200 metric tons was shot at tanks, trucks, buildings and people in largely densely populated areas. The US and UK governments have announced they will medically test veterans who were exposed to DU, but the lack of a coherent environmental policy is likely resulting in Iraqi civilians and relief and development workers being unnecessarily exposed to DU contamination. Further policy action and additional research are needed to resolve the uncertainties regarding the use and effects of DU munitions in the 2003 Iraq War."
> Download full report (PDF 114k)
In the unclassified report "Operation IRAQI FREEDOM – By The Numbers, Assessment and Analysis Division, 30 April 2003, by T. MICHAEL MOSELEY, Lt Gen, USAF Commander", the number of 30-mm rounds spent is more precisely given as 311,597.
> Download US Central Air Forces report (432k PDF)
> View Royal Society release Apr. 24, 2003
About 45,000 British servicemen and women have been involved in the Gulf conflict, of which about 26,000 have been land forces. The Ministry of Defence said that it would publish the test results and would release details of where depleted uranium weapons had been used. (The Independent April 25, 2003)
"[...] Another priority activity should be conducting a scientific assessment of sites struck with weapons containing depleted uranium (DU). The report recommends that guidelines be distributed immediately to military and civilian personnel, and to the general public, on how to minimize the risk of accidental exposure to DU." (from UNEP release Apr. 24, 2003)
> Download: Desk Study on the Environment in Iraq, April 2003 (9.4MB PDF)
Pentagon claims it was not necessary.
Professor Brian Spratt, chairman of the Royal Society working group on depleted uranium: "We recommend that fragments of depleted uranium penetrators should be removed, and areas of contamination should be identified and, where necessary, made safe." He added: "We also recommend long-term sampling, particularly of water and milk, to detect any increase in uranium levels in areas where depleted uranium has been used. This provides a cost-effective method of monitoring sensitive components in the environment, and of providing information about uranium levels to concerned local populations." (Guardian April 17, 2003)
> See also: UK Royal Society releases DU report
A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel David Lapan, told BBC News Online: "Since then there've been a number of studies - by the UK's Royal Society and the World Health Organisation, for example - into the health risks of DU, or the lack of them. [...] One thing we've found in these various studies is that there are no long-term effects from DU. And given that, I don't believe we have any plans for a DU clean-up in Iraq."
(BBC News April 14, 2003)
> View UNEP release April 6, 2003
IPPNW release April 4, 2003 (in German)
|Gulf War (1991)|
Department of Veterans Affairs denies presumption of service for illnesses caused from exposure to depleted uranium"As required by law, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hereby gives notice that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs [...] has determined not to establish a presumption of service connection at this time, based on exposure to depleted uranium in the Persian Gulf during the Persian Gulf War, for any of the diseases, illnesses, or health effects discussed in the July 30, 2008, report of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), titled Gulf War and Health: Updated Literature Review of Depleted Uranium. [...]"
Federal Register: March 9, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 45) p. 10867-10871 (download full text )
> View/download report Gulf War and Health: Updated Literature Review of Depleted Uranium , Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, 2008, 264 p.
> Download Summary (504k PDF)
> Read full text online (NAP)
The study concludes that the reports of serious health risks from DU exposure are not supported by veteran medical statistics nor supported by this analysis. Only a few U.S. veterans in vehicles accidentally struck by DU munitions are predicted to have inhaled sufficient quantities of DU particulate to incur any significant health risk. For these individuals, DU-related risks include the possibility of temporary kidney damage and about a 1 percent chance of fatal cancer.
Health risks for Iraqi civilians are predicted to be very small, and claims of observable increases in leukemia and birth defects from DU exposure are not supported by this study. The highest health risk for civilians was for children playing in DU-contaminated vehicles. The nominal radiation-induced fatal cancer risk for these children was 0.1%.
> View Sandia release July 21, 2005
An Analysis of Uranium Dispersal and Health Effects Using a Gulf War Case Study, by Albert C. Marshall, SANDIA REPORT SAND2005-4331, July 2005
> Download full report (2M PDF)
According to the report, evidence supports a probable link between exposure to neurotoxins, such as the nerve agent sarin, and the development of Gulf War veterans' illnesses.
As of 25 October 2005, 280 samples had been tested, and none were found to contain DU. The rate of applications for the test has fallen - only nine have been received over the last three months. Consequently the DUOB have decided to end the testing programme, and have asked that any further applications are received by 31 January 2006. (MoD Nov. 7, 2005)
According to an article in The Times of Sep. 23, 2004, Britain is to test thousands of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War who have suffered a range of unexplained ailments for the possible presence of depleted uranium in their bodies. Four clinics will undertake the tests in a fresh attempt to explain so-called Gulf War Syndrome. David Coggan, the scientist overseeing the programme, told the Times that the new tests would be able to detect any amounts of depleted uranium in veterans' urine sufficient to cause ill-health. The tests would be sufficiently "sensitive and accurate" to uncover even "tiny traces" of uranium, he told the paper. (AFP Sep. 23, 2004)
> View French Ministry of Defense release July 13, 2004 (in French, includes links to full report)
This confirms the result of an earlier study on 169 veterans.
Biologic monitoring for urinary uranium in Gulf War I veterans, by Melissa A. McDiarmid, Katherine Squibb, and Susan M. Engelhardt; in: Health Physics, Vol. 87 (2004), No. 1 (July), p. 51-56
Urinary uranium concentrations in an enlarged Gulf War veteran cohort, by Melissa A. McDiarmid, Susan M. Engelhardt, and Marc Oliver; in: Health Physics, Vol. 80 (2001), No. 3 (March), p. 270-273
The Legal Services Commission (LSC), which is estimated to have spent around £4m on the case, is expected to withdraw legal aid this month after being told by the veterans' lawyers that the action has no real chance of success.
To succeed in their claim against the Ministry of Defence, the veterans would have to produce scientific evidence not only that their illness was caused by their service in the 1991 Gulf war, but also that the MoD had been negligent. The burden of proof would be on them as claimants to prove their case.
More than 2,000 Gulf veterans have been awarded "no fault" war pensions, granted to those whose health has been affected by war service. This week the first war pension for the effects of depleted uranium was awarded to a former soldier, Kenny Duncan, who claimed he was poisoned from inhaling DU dust from burnt-out tanks.
But winning a war pension is no pointer to success in a high court compensation claim. The burden of proof is reversed in pension cases, putting the onus on the MoD to prove the illness is not linked to Gulf service, and there is no need to prove negligence. (The Guardian Feb. 5, 2004)
Mr Duncan's case relied on blood tests carried out by Dr Albrecht Schott, a German biochemist, which revealed chromosome aberrations caused by ionising radiation.
Dr Schott's research formed part of a study of 16 British veterans of conflicts in the Gulf, Bosnia, and Kosovo. The test results were dismissed by the MoD as "neither well thought out nor scientifically sound". (Glasgow Herald, Feb. 4, 2004)
Incidence of cancer among UK Gulf war veterans: cohort study, by Gary J Macfarlane, Anne-Marie Biggs, Noreen Maconochie, Matthew Hotopf, Patricia Doyle, Mark Lunt, in: British Medical Journal (BMJ) Vol. 327, No. 7428, 13 December 2003, p. 1373
At the request of the Kuwait Government, in February 2002 the Agency sent a team of senior international experts to assess possible long-term radiological impacts of DU residues at 11 locations in Kuwait.
Horan P, Dietz L, Durakovic A: The quantitative analysis of depleted uranium isotopes in British, Canadian, and U.S. Gulf War veterans. Military Medicine Aug 2002; vol. 167 no. 8, p. 620-627
No depleted uranium found in Canadian Forces personnel who served in the Gulf War and in Kosovo> see here
> download Federal Register: July 6, 2001 (Vol. 66, No. 130), p. 35702-35710
> View WHO release Sep. 5, 2001
On Aug. 28, 2001, a six member WHO team began investigating claims that cancer rates and birth defects in Iraq have increased due to depleted uranium in ammunition used during the 1991 Gulf War. (AP Aug. 28, 2001)
The World Health Organisation said on Aug. 23, 2001, it would meet Iraqi experts in Baghdad from August 27-31, 2001, to firm up planned research into cancers which Baghdad blames on Allied use of depleted uranium in the 1991 Gulf War. The talks follow a formal invitation received from the Iraqi government. (Reuters Aug. 23, 2001)
> View WHO release Aug. 23, 2001
A team of World Health Organization officials will arrive in Iraq in March 2001 to analyze whether there is a link between the use of depleted uranium shells in the Gulf War and cancer or birth defect rates in this part of Iraq. (Washington Post March 15, 2001)
At Baghdad's request, the World Health Organization intends to send a team to Iraq to study the health impact of depleted uranium from munitions used during the Gulf War a decade ago, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday. The U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) and the International Atomic Energy Agency also said on Thursday they would consider requests for fact-finding missions to Iraq as well as Bosnia and Yugoslavia to study the effects of exposure to depleted uranium. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the three agencies would coordinate their activities, but no date has yet been set for the Geneva-based WHO team to go to Iraq. (Reuters, Jan. 25, 2001)