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DoD Studies Depleted-Uranium Effects on Gulf Veterans

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 1998 – After examining all available evidence, DoD does not believe Gulf War veterans are ill because of exposure to depleted-uranium ammunition or armor.

Bernard Rostker, special assistant to the secretary of defense for Gulf War illnesses, said during a Pentagon news conference Aug. 4 that even veterans most severely exposed to depleted uranium show no symptoms.

The U.S. military uses depleted uranium in armor-piercing tank rounds and as armor because of its extreme hardness. Depleted uranium is about 40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium. The major health concern, Rostker said, is not radioactivity but the material's properties as a heavy metal.

Heavy metals are a group of dense elements including lead, mercury and cadmium. All can cause health problems if ingested or inhaled as vapor or dust. High doses of depleted uranium can damage the kidneys.

"The [Department of Veterans Affairs] has been monitoring the health of 33 soldiers hurt in friendly fire incidents," Rostker said. "Almost half of those in the study still have depleted uranium pieces in their bodies. [Medics at] the Baltimore VA Medical Center are tracking their health very carefully to see if depleted uranium causes any health problems."

Rostker said those with depleted-uranium fragments in their bodies have higher levels of uranium in their urine. "Their kidney functions are still normal, as is their reproductive health," he said. No children born to these veterans between 1991 and 1997 had birth defects.

Rostker said even a worst-case scenario does not show release of significant enough amounts of depleted uranium to harm people. A worst-case scenario, according to investigators, would be two depleted uranium rounds hitting a uranium-sheathed Abrams tank.

"The amount of uranium oxide released over 15 minutes [in this worst-case scenario] is equal to one REM [roentgen equivalent, man -- a measure of radiation dosage], well below the limits set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," Rostker said.

DoD will continue the investigation into depleted uranium. The results of this examination are posted on GulfLINK at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil.

DoD and the VA have started a program to identify, contact and evaluate veterans who are believed to have had the greatest risk of coming into contact with depleted uranium. This includes veterans who were riding in or on a vehicle struck by depleted uranium munitions or veterans who entered a struck vehicle immediately after it was hit by depleted uranium munitions. Check the Internet site for information or call (800) 472-6719.

DoD investigators will also continue studying chemical agent reports and will branch into investigating whether pesticides or oil well fires could have anything to do with Gulf War illnesses.

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