After an extensive and complex investigation into the use of depleted uranium in the Gulf War, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Gulf War Illnesses has released its report.
The Gulf War was the arena for the first battlefield use of armor-piercing munitions and reinforced tank armor incorporating depleted uranium. Depleted uranium played a key role in the overwhelming success of U.S. forces during the Gulf War. While DU showed the metal's clear superiority for both armor penetration and armor protection, its chemical and radiological properties gave rise to concerns about possible combat and non-combat health risks associated with DU use.
The report examines a variety of health risk exposures that occurred during and after the Gulf War. Beginning with a short lesson on the potential health risks associated with DU, the report goes on to describe DU exposures that occurred during the war. Recent environmental studies of DU munitions, environmental assessments of DU contamination on the battlefield, results of current medical studies, further monitoring efforts and on-going research are included. The report also identifies some lessons learned from the Gulf War and makes recommendations for future force protection.
"It is important for the reader to recognize the scope of the DU investigation and the extent to which the DoD and the VA have dedicated time, resources and staff to present a very comprehensive analysis of DU's role in the Gulf and treatment of those potentially exposed," said Dr. Bernard Rostker, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses.
Based on data developed to date, the Office of the Special Assistant believes that while DU can pose a chemical toxicity and radiological hazard under specific conditions, the available evidence does not support claims that DU caused or is causing the undiagnosed illnesses some Gulf War veterans are experiencing.
Since 1993, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been monitoring 33 vets who were seriously injured in friendly fire incidents involving depleted uranium. These veterans are being monitored at the Baltimore VA Medical Center. Many of these veterans continue to have
medical problems, especially problems relating to the physical injuries they received during friendly fire incidents. About half of this group still have depleted uranium metal fragments in their bodies. Those with higher than normal levels of uranium in their urine since monitoring began in 1993 have embedded DU fragments. These veterans are being followed very carefully and a number of different medical tests are being done to determine if the depleted uranium fragments are causing any health problems.
The veterans being followed who were in friendly fire incidents but who do not have retained depleted uranium fragments, generally speaking, have not shown higher than normal levels of uranium in their urine.
For the 33 veterans in this program, tests for kidney function have all been normal. In addition, the reproductive health of this group appears to be normal in that all babies fathered by these veterans between 1991 and 1997 had no birth defects.
- However, to learn as much as possible about the possible health effects of DU, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans' Affairs have instituted a medical follow-up program to evaluate veterans who received the largest depleted uranium exposures
- during the Gulf War. The evaluation will consist of a complete physical examination, a DU exposure questionnaire, and a 24-hour urine collection for uranium level. This program will identify higher than normal levels of uranium in their urine and provide them appropriate monitoring and follow-up, if required. Soldiers are expected to have normal levels of uranium in their urine unless they have DU fragments embedded in their bodies. This medical program should provide reassurance to those who had the greatest exposures.
"Our investigators continue to compile data, pursue DU testing to fill data gaps, and interview Gulf War veterans in an effort to more accurately report on DU exposures in the future. As the new medical follow-up program progresses, investigators will be notifying and interviewing DU exposed soldiers. The specific information will be passed to the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine which is assessing the dose and health risks for each of the exposure scenarios. This work is expected to take at least another year to complete," says Rostker.
"It is important for the veteran to recognize the scope of the DU investigation and the extent to which the DoD and the VA have dedicated time, resources and staff to present a very comprehensive analysis of DU's role in the Gulf and evaluation of those who may have had the highest DU exposures," says Rostker.
Veterans with new or additional information should call the DoD's Persian Gulf Task Force Hot Line at 1-800-472-6719. A free, in-depth medical examination is available by calling the DoD's Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program at 1-800-796-9699 or the VA's Persian Gulf Registry at 1-800-PGW-VETS to enroll.
For more information on this or other Gulf War illnesses issues, see GulfLINK, an interactive Internet side, at http://www/gulflink.osd.mil.