Albion Monitor /News

Radioactive Weapons Possible Cause of "Gulf War Syndrome"

by Frank Sietzen, Jr.

More than 200 pages of documents suppressed by the U.S. Army

(AR) WASHINGTON -- The use of armor-piercing bullets and tank shielding made of radioactive depleted uranium (DU) during the 1991 Persian Gulf War may be one of the causes of the mystery disease known as the "Gulf War Syndrome," a group of citizen-researchers alleges.

The group backs up its claims against the weapons with more than 200 pages of documents suppressed by the U.S. Army. The documents include an unreleased report on the effects of the use of depleted uranium by the Army Environmental Policy Institute, a contracting firm hired by the Army in 1994, after Congress demanded a study of the radioactive substance.

The research group, called the Military Toxics Project, formed the Depleted Uranium Citizen's Network in March 1993 to gather data on the possible harmful effects of the use of depleted uranium with a low level of radioactivity in a variety of weapons.

"They're not even making the study available to Congress, which commissioned the report"

The bullets, shells, and metal shielding containing the substance were used in actual combat for the first time during the Gulf War. In 1994 the Army released a congressionally-mandated study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) of battlefield use of depleted uranium that found no conclusive results could be drawn based on the research completed at the time.

The GAO report also supported the continued use of the material in weapon manufacturing. What the Army did not release -- to the public, to most members of Congress, and even to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteran's Illnesses, according to researchers -- was a far more massive study completed after the June 1994 congressional report was issued.

"They're not even making it available to Congress, which commissioned the report," Lymburner said. "We had it leaked to us from someone who had a copy of it. Even the President's Commitee on Gulf War iIlnesses doesn't have a copy of it."

A copy of that larger study, called "Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium Use in the U.S. Army," was obtained by the toxic project's researchers and made available to this reporter.

Depleted uranium is what remains of naturally existing uranium after the fissionable isotope material has been extracted, although the remainder can also be converted into Plutonium by a Breeder Nuclear Reactor. The depleted uranium is most often fashioned into munitions and armor-plating because of its greater density. Penetrating bullets made using depleted uranium have unusually great range and speed, making the weapons using the material ideal for use against tanks and fortified structures.

But critics argue that the advanced military potential of depleted uranium weapons are offset by its deadly qualities. The most serious of these negative effects are the substance's radioactivity and propensity to burst into flames upon impact. The burning uranium triggers a limited-effect fallout of the aerosolized particles which can be inhaled from the air, or through contact with contaminated sites.

In the Gulf War thousands of burning Iraqi vehicles were set ablaze by depleted uranium munitions. The toxics group alleged last week that "four out of five U.S. soldiers entered destroyed Iraqi vehicles, many of them DU-contaminated." However, as of yet the Army has no studies of the possible degree of exposure, or the possible long-term effects, the group alleged.

"Particles can cause illnesses such as lung cancer, and kidney disease, that often takes decades to manifest themselves"

Dolly Lymburner is national organizer for the network of veterans, people who live near sites where weapons are produced and tested, and others who believe they have been affected by it. The group, which was formed in March 1993, is primarily concerned with pollution caused by military projects and works with other environmental organizations to change related policies and laws.

"At the time it was used in the Persian Gulf, the soldiers in the field didn't know they were using depleted uranium munitions, and even their officers didn't know it," said Lymburner. "Not only that, the guys that were doing cleanup and those that were doing medical treatment weren't aware of the fact that they were exposing themselves to radiation," the veteran organizer said.

"Persian Gulf vets became organized quite quickly, and they used this organization to look at what their exposure might have been." The group began making the report available to veterans on Jan. 16, the fifth anniversary of the start of the Gulf War, and supply it to other veterans' groups for distribution to their members.

The suppressed 1995 Army study obtained by project researchers allegedly reaches conclusions about DU effects at odds with its own scientific analysis. The study claims that "no available technology can significantly change the inherent chemical and radiological toxicity of depleted uranium."

The study also adds that depleted uranium is "a radioactive waste, and therefore must be disposed of in a licensed repository."

If that is true, the researchers say, why have miles of desert battlefield been allowed to remain contaminated with DU-tainted vehicles? Although the Army claims that the environmental effects of DU exposure aren't clear, their report also says that the uranium material is a deadly substance from which soldiers, the environment, and the public should be protected, because no existing technology can mitigate the effects of its use.

Although the report goes on to endorse the military necessity of DU weaponry, it also calls for further research and implementation of "better safety procedures" for its handling.

"They draw a conclusion that depleted uranium munitions are safe to use, and now because they're spreading throughout the world they say there's an advantage in continuing to use them. But the documents in the report don't substantiate that," Lymburner said.

The report also contained new details on depleted uranium when used in the battlefield. "As much as 70 percent of a depleted uranium penetrator can be aerosolized when it hits a tank," the report says, adding that other DU agents in the air "can contaminate the air downwind as well as the soil around the vehicle." The study also documents the latest medical data on the weapons effects on the body.

"If depleted uranium enters the body, it has the potential to generate significant medical consequences ... its particles can cause illnesses such as lung cancer, and kidney disease, that often takes decades to manifest themselves," the study says.

Most damning of all, say the toxic researchers, is the Army report's own assessment that exposure of Gulf War veterans to depleted uranium exposure "has not been taken seriously, documented, or studied," although thousands of U.S. soldiers and allied forces remain at risk from internalized depleted uranium.

The Military Toxic Project is calling on the Clinton Administration to abandon military use of DU weapons and materials, and to draft instead an international agreement to ban all such weapons from the world's military arsenals.

Frank Sietzen, Jr. is the military correspondent for The American Reporter.

Albion Monitor January 31, 1996 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page