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DoD News Briefing, August 4, 1998, Gulf War Illnesses

Presenters: Dr. Bernard D. Rostker, Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses
August 04, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Col. Bridges: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Today Dr. Bernie Rostker, the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses will present the latest in a series of public releases of investigations his office has conducted on potential causes of Gulf War Illnesses.

In addition to releasing two new case narratives, he will also be releasing the first environmental exposure report, as well as announcing two new initiatives to help our veterans.

Dr. Rostker?

Dr. Rostker: Thank you very much. It's my pleasure to be here today.

As the Colonel said, we're going to release two case narratives in the series that deal with chemical and biological incidents. We'll also release the first of a new series that deal with environmental exposures. The case narratives on chemical and biological will be relating to French-Czech detections in An Nasiriyah. The narrative or the, now we're calling them environmental exposure reports, will deal with depleted uranium.

We'll also announce two initiatives, one following from the depleted uranium work that will have us assessing several hundred additional soldiers as to possible medical impacts of their exposures to depleted uranium, and the other an effort which we hope will be useful to our veterans. We've been able to locate many of the in-patient medical records from the Gulf and we've established a program that will allow them to request these records and to facilitate them obtaining the information that they desire.

First, in terms of Czech-French. When I took over the investigations we agreed that we would start over on all of the inquiries, and that included the inquiries about the reports of low level chemicals being developed by the Czechs and the French. In that regard we visited Prague and Paris. We had in our team a member of Senator Spectre and Rockefeller's investigating subcommittee, and we have shared with both the French and the Czechs the write-up that you're going to see today, in fact, an earlier version of that.

These exposures were well documented in the 1994 timeframe, and frankly, we can bring little new to the table. We've been able to confirm what was well known.

The area that represents new work is correlating these exposures with the bombing campaign. For the last year we've been working with CIA, DIA and NEMA, the old Defense Mapping Agency, to get a handle on the specifics of the bombing campaign -- exactly what was hit on what date. And this has turned out to be rather difficult. We've had to look at overhead photography; we've had to look at gun camera footage to determine what was actually attacked on what date.

Almost all of the attacks occurred later than the late January timeframe reported by the French and the Czechs. The only exception is that in the area of Mohamidiyah we're not able, yet, to sort out what occurred on what date.

A perfect example of this has to do with An Nasiriyah. We now know that there were chemicals at An Nasiriyah at the time of the bombing campaign. We know these chemicals were stored in Bunker 8 and Bunker 8 was not attacked. So here's where we can bring information from the bombing campaign and correlate it with the Czech-French detections.

Our conclusion in the French and Czech area has not changed. We believe the equipment was highly credible and could, in fact, detect to the low levels that were reported. The CIA had called these detections credible, and we continue that assessment.

In terms of the other reports that have not been confirmed by either the Czech government or the French government, we've made a call of indeterminate. We just don't know. They have not been able to provide us with any additional information that would shed any light on these detections -- either the magnitude of the detections or the source of any of the detections. So they remain open and we call them indeterminate.

Turning for a moment to An Nasiriyah, this is the third ammunition depot that we have examined. The first being, of course, Khamisiyah, then Talil, and now An Nasiriyah. An Nasiriyah is about a kilometer from Talil. It was examined by the United Nations and by the 82nd Division. They found no traces of chemicals in either site, although the United Nations tells us that chemicals were there in January. These are the chemicals that were eventually shipped to Khamisiyah and were, in the case of the 122mm sarin rockets, destroyed both in Bunker 73 and in the pit.

In the case of the 155mm artillery rounds that were filled with sarin, these are the rounds that the United Nations recovered and were subsequently incinerated.

An Nasiriyah is interesting because it is also the subject of several additional reports that we've been able to investigate... one of a mysterious helicopter that landed at An Nasiriyah. Samples were taken, and before the people who took the samples got back into the helicopter they took off their MOPP suits and they burned their MOP suits.

In the report you'll see documented the fact this was one of many missions that were looking for biological samples, and An Nasiriyah was a suspected biological site because it contained a 12 frame bunker that was refrigerated. You'll remember that the main thing the targeteers and the intelligence community were looking at the time were where the S-shaped bunkers were and where the 12 frame bunkers were.

So a mission was sent in to collect samples. We've talked to the pilot of the mission and he was the one who asked that the crew, when they came back in, to burn their MOPP suits. There was nothing specific in terms of what they had found. It was a general concern that he had for contamination.

The samples that were drawn that day have been identified. They were tested for biological agents. All of the tests were negative.

One of the samples was a melted TNT and came from a leaking artillery round. That was, again, one of the stories that veterans have been concerned about. It turns out that's not unusual to rounds that have been put under heat and pressure, which is what happened when we started to blow up those depots. This is one of the rounds that was not completely destroyed, was mysterious as far as the soldier was concerned. Samples were taken, and those samples have shown it to be TNT, which is what we had expected.

So with these last two chemical cases, we have brought to 16 the number of reports -- either case narratives or information papers -- that we've published that relate to chemical or biological exposures.

We continue to look in the chemical and biological area. We'll have, shortly, a paper on the 11th Marines. There's a paper on the incidents at a cement factory. We are looking at all of the 256 kit reports, the so-called Edgewood tapes are, again, reports that are in progress, and we'll be bringing those to you over time.

It's important, though, that we expand the horizons of the office to move it not only from just chemical and biological inquiries, but to other environmental inquiries. Right now we're actively engaged in looking at the impact of the oil well fires, of pesticides, and of depleted uranium. Today we're going to release the report on depleted uranium.

This report has been a long time in the preparation. Because of interest that some veteran groups have had in the subject, we wanted to make sure that there was complete unanimity of understanding within the federal government, certainly, as to what the science was concerning depleted uranium. So we have a list for you of the organizations that have coordinated, have chopped on the depleted uranium paper.

The paper really does three things. It first of all provides a short course, if you will, on depleted uranium. It points out its radioactive properties which are less than natural uranium, and that the major concern we have is for kidney damage as a result of it being heavy metal and the toxicity of heavy metals. The concern here is if the material could be ingested.

We then review the number of cases or incidences where we believe there was extraordinary exposure to depleted uranium and we've categorized those in terms of Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. On page eight of the case narrative is a table which looks like the table here on the side, and here we've identified Level 1 which is of most concern, those who were involved in friendly fire incidents or immediately the retrieval of people or equipment from those vehicles; Level 2, those people who were involved in cleanup. Part of that Level 2 is those who were involved in the cleanup at Camp Doha which was a fire situation. Then all of the other people.

To date, 33 of the Level 1 people, actually 33 of these folks here have been monitored by the Department of Veterans Affairs. At their request we are extending that program to include all of those in Level 1 as well as, for safety's sake, extending the inquiry to all of the rest of Level 2 with the exception of Doha. If we find there are medical reasons to include the Doha group we certainly will do that and go even further.

Let me highlight for you the results so far of the VA's program monitoring the 33. I'm going to read a couple of short paragraphs to be very precise in this language. These can be found on page 128 and 129 of the case narrative and is also in the handout, the two page information handout that we are including with the information fact sheet we're sending to anybody we've contacted.

The important part here is that since 1993 the Department of Veterans Affairs has been monitoring 33 vets who were seriously injured in friendly fire incidences 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 related to the physical injuries they received during friendly fire incidents, and these physical injuries include burns and wounds from being in a tank or a Bradley that was hit by a depleted uranium round.

About half of this group still have depleted uranium fragments in their bodies. These are small, pin-sized fragments that cannot be removed surgically. 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 the 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 those veterans between 1991 and 1997 have no birth defects.

So that's the result of the work so far on 33. And as I said, we're going to extend it to all like people who have had heavy doses of depleted uranium, as well as those who worked around depleted uranium equipment.

Frankly, our expectation is that we would not see heavy concentrations of uranium in the urine except if unbeknownst to these folks they have embedded uranium fragments, so that's what we're going to be looking for, as well as to understand any kidney functions.

The report also highlights the various incidents where depleted uranium, where there were friendly fire incidents, where there was exposure to depleted uranium.

There are two other parts to our effort here. One is by CHIPM, the Army's environmental health unit at Aberdeen, and they are calculating what kind of dosages we might have expected from these various incidents. They have defined a worst case, and I say this is a worst case. It is a case that did not appear in the Gulf. It's more severe than anything we actually experienced in the Gulf. This would be where an Abrams tank, that was protected with depleted uranium armor, was hit by two depleted uranium rounds. And their calculation based on test data is that the amount of ingested depleted uranium oxide that would occur over a 15 minute period is equal to one REM which is 20 percent of the occupational limit for a year. So we're looking at exposures that are well below the occupational limit set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In addition, the RAND Corporation has been working on a paper that somewhat parallels our effort that looks at the medical literature as it pertains to depleted uranium. I received today their final draft that we will put in interagency review and then they will react to that review and we will publish that later this summer or early in the fall. So there is additional work that's coming forward.

I mentioned CHIPM's work. In effect, CHIPM's work is based on test data and modeling. We have, unfortunately, people who actually have been exposed here in ways that we would never expose people in a laboratory and a test setting. We expect to be able to learn a great deal about residual uranium and kidney, the effects on the kidneys from the people who will be monitored by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The last program that we want to announce today has to do with medical records. As part of our inquiry, we became aware that the Army had in fact taken the inpatient records from the Gulf and had archived them and created a database, but this was not widely known and it did not facilitate the veteran's ability to retrieve this information.

We've been able to locate a good deal of the remaining health records from the Air Force and the Navy, and have created an expanded database of about 17,000 entries which identify people that we have health, inpatient records for, and we've been able to identify where those records physically are. They're generally in St. Louis, but we have been able to identify where specifically they are, what box they literally are being stored in.

If the veterans need this information, we'll be happy to facilitate that process. So we'll be working with the VSOs, the Veterans Service Organizations, to publicize this. We have an 800 hotline number. We can ascertain whether or not, if a veteran calls, whether his records are in fact in St. Louis. Then we will fill out the paperwork, requiring only the veteran's signature. We'll forward that to the veteran. If he or she will sign it, then the records can be retrieved.

We're also working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide that information in any claims processing to make sure, again, that individuals have the best information that we're able to provide them, even though this is seven years later.

We believe there were about 25,000 inpatient visits. About 8,000 were MEDEVAC'd out of theater and their records went with them, and are well scattered throughout the system. We're still looking for those in the major receiving hospitals and in their records. The Army had catalogued about 10,000 and we've been able to add to that about 7,000. So we think we're getting close to having all of the records accounted for, and we hope we can be of service to the veterans by facilitating the process with which they would be able to get those records.

I'll be happy to take questions. I'm joined here today by folks from the VA and from my medical department, as well as the analysts who did the actual work on Czech-French, An Nasiriyah and the depleted uranium papers, so I think we can have quite a useful dialogue. At times, I'll ask some of those folks to come up to the microphone and fill in whatever answers you need.

Q: It's my understanding that DU causes very specific kinds of kidney problems.

Dr. Rostker: Yes.

Q: Could you, in non-technical terms, could you tell us what those are?

Dr. Rostker: I think I'm going to ask Dr. Kilpatrick to...

Dr. Kilpatrick: As with all the heavy metals, the toxicity in the kidney is, as it comes through the kidney and is filtered from the blood and the urine, it hits the acidity of the urine, and then that heavy metal has a toxic effect on the cells in that area. That's in the collecting tube where the urine is first formed, so it's a very specific area.

There are several other diseases that can affect that same area of the kidney, so just having kidney affect of that type does not necessarily infer that it's due to DU. So that's why it's important to monitor people if their urine levels of DU are higher than normal.

Q: Are you seeing this specific problem?

Dr. Kilpatrick: In the 33 individuals being followed in Baltimore, that has not been seen. In all the veterans who have undiagnosed illness they have no kidney problem that's identified. So we're just not seeing it.

Looking very carefully through all of the studies that have been done, some 45,000 people that have been evaluated, we see only 25 that have any kind of kidney damage that possibly could be related to depleted uranium, but as I said, there are multiple other diagnoses possible for them having that kidney disease.

Dr. Rostker: Your question is really quite important because depleted uranium really leaves very specific footprints. And, as Dr. Kilpatrick said, we really are not seeing those, but we want to make sure. That's why the next group, which again, we know has the potential of being exposed to higher than normal levels of depleted uranium, we want to bring them in and see if we can identify any abnormal kidney functions.

Q: This is two part. One is, you talk about the level of radioactivity exposure, but you don't seem to address whether there's been any unusual rate of cancers, for example, among those. Do you have any information on that? That's the first one. And tied to that is, there have been these reports out of Iraq about high levels of cancer. Does this say anything about that?

Dr. Rostker: I'm not a physician so I'll tell you what they tell me is that first of all, there would be a latent period between an exposure like this and when cancers would develop and we're well before we would expect to see cancers develop.

Second, the Iraqi reports... First of all, the tank battles in which depleted uranium would have been expended did not occur near Basrah. They occurred well to the west, literally a hundred or so more kilometers to the west of there, even west of Talil and An Nasiriyah.

We had an interesting discussion about this with Dr. Haley of the University of Texas. Bob sent me several studies that he had noted in the literature that were written by Iranians who attribute the higher levels of cancer that they were seeing in the same rough vicinity to the chemical weapons used during the Iran/Iraq War. And, we know mustard is a known carcinogenic. In fact, there was a recent piece on television about cancers among the Kurd tribesmen who had been exposed to mustard agent by the Iraqis. So, there are alternative explanations that fit the profile better than depleted uranium. But again, I'd reiterate that the place where we would have expected to see anything, the battles were well to the west.

We have been monitoring the environment in Kuwait, looking explicitly for contamination in air and water samples and soil samples as recently as this January and as early as 1994, and we are not seeing a contaminated environment. On GulfLINK there is a 1994 report in which CHIPM went into the boneyard in Kuwait and noticed that at the entry hole where the depleted uranium round went into the tank there is fusing of the depleted uranium to the metal from the tank, that there were recordings of 24 times background. But all of their wipe tests where they took samples around the tank and in the soil were at background.

When we deployed in January I asked CHIPM to send another team back in to take samples. Those samples have been sent back to the U.S. I haven't seen the final report, but I've been told informally that they were normal tests.

So we don't see an exposed environment that either our troops or the Iraqis would have been exposed to radiation. Depleted uranium, itself, is less radioactive than natural uranium, and the kinds of things they're reporting are just inconsistent with radiological exposure from depleted uranium. Our major concern all along is with metal toxicity, and that's why we look at this. But, we have one of the Army's experts in radiological affairs, Colonel Daxon, do you want to come up and add, detract, correct me? Whatever.

Col. Daxon: That's basically correct. The other thing that I'd like to say is we've been studying uranium, since about 1940, intensively with the advent of the Manhattan Project, and we've been studying workers that have been exposed to airborne concentrations that are higher than the concentrations that most folks have seen, and we've yet to see a statistically significant increase in the cancer rates for these populations and they've been studied for several years now.

Q: The kinds of exposures that you've studied in the past, though, are more sort of long term exposures to very low, or what we would call relatively low level, by people who work in plants and so on; whereas the worst case scenario you're talking about here is still a low level, but it's not a long term, it's... I guess it's long term if you've got it in your body, but it's a brief exposure, right? Aren't they two different kinds of exposures? Colonel Daxon: When you talk about the levels, no, because the levels are still low. The total dose is still one REM, regardless of how it's delivered. And, that's the dose calculated over 50 years. The stuff is internalized. Take the dose rate out for about 50 years and the total dose is less than one REM for the most highly exposed case, and that's a DU penetrator penetrating an Abrams tank with DU armor, which did not happen during the Gulf, correct.

Dr. Rostker: But, one REM is still below reporting levels that we'd expect workers who were involved around DU or uranium.

This is not an extraordinary nuclear event. We were much and are much more concerned about any heavy metal toxicity. It does not appear that there is any long-term impact in terms of heavy metals.

Now, let me reiterate these are veterans who are not in good shape. They survived an event that was designed to kill them. I mean you don't expect somebody who was in a confined area of a tank that is penetrated by a sabot round to survive. So they are not necessarily well, either. Some of them are traumatized; many of them have very significant injuries. But, what we're talking about here is associating those injuries or their health with depleted uranium. That's where the marker of the kidney becomes important, and we're just not seeing what science would expect to be the fallout from depleted uranium contamination. And these are the most heavily involved people with depleted uranium.

Q: Are you pretty much, now, through with the chemical incident investigation, and are shifting really into the environmental exposures, or...

Dr. Rostker: No, we're running both teams at the same time. This is a relative, not an absolute shift.

Let me talk a bit about what we're doing, for example, in pesticides.

Q: Is that a new direction for you now?

Dr. Rostker: Yes, yes. We've been at it several months. Depleted uranium was the first. Pesticide... we're very concerned about what people may have been exposed to. We're looking at both authorized and unauthorized pesticides. We've been able to identify some unauthorized pesticides that we know were used in the Gulf. In fact, we've even been to Saudi Arabia and procured some of the pesticides that we know were used in the Gulf.

We've talked to something like 400 soldiers to develop a series of scenarios on how pesticides were used. So, we are not accepting... it's only used according to the instructions on the bottle and we only use the approved bottles. We know that's not the case.

So we're trying to understand what are some of the scenarios that we think pesticides were used or potentially abused, and then we'll do a random sample, about 2,000 to 3,000, to try to understand the validity of those scenarios and the prevalence of those scenarios. We're never going to get to, I think, a situation where we can say your exposure was caused by pesticides, but we will be in a position to better understand how we used pesticides and whether or not those uses could have exposed our troops to levels that were greater than we would consider to be safe. We don't know that. That's the purpose of the inquiry.

Q: I think you said you completed 16 of the chemical and biological inquiries. How many more are left to be completed?

Dr. Rostker: It's a good question. When's enough, enough? We're not in the best position to answer that. To some extent you are, the American people, the Congress. It is an explicit discussion we've had with Senator Rudman and his new oversight panel as to at what point do we issue a final report on this.

There are still a number of issues that have been raised by veterans groups and by the President's Advisory Committee that we still have to report on. The 256 kits... they charged us with reporting on every time we heard of a positive 256 kit, to investigate that.

What we have done in that regard is if we can identify the unit and roughly the time where there was a reported positive 256 kit, we have sent postcards to every person in that unit asking their help in providing information that could help us better understand what that incident was. To date, we've sent out something like 2600 postcards, and as a result of that we have defined one new case which is under investigation. So we still have that whole effort to report on.

We have tapes, Fox tapes, that were turned over to the PAC, which are now up at Edgewood, and they're being assessed by several laboratories. There's a report there.

We still have a few more things to do with the Marines in Kuwait, and we'll republish Khamisiyah. We still are redoing the bombing campaign. So we still have a ways to go, but ultimately some other folks are going to have to say all of the pieces seem to come together.

We do have the UN's testimony, which sort of sets a stage, and their testimony is that nothing was shipped south of Khamisiyah. In that, they're talking about mustard rounds and sarin rounds, which were in the arsenal.

We have seen nothing that would contradict the UN. We don't take the UN as gospel and say we're finished with the work, but so far everything we have been able to show is consistent with the UN.

Q: The report seems to say that you're ruling out exposure to DU as a cause of the undiagnosed illnesses. If there is still a potential latent period for causing cancer from that, how can you rule out....

Dr. Rostker: The medical science does not support even a latent period causing cancer. The issue would be kidney. This is our preliminary analysis and we're extending the survey group to be several hundred more. If any of that is positive, we obviously will expand the sampling group and we will revise that conclusion, but at this point there is nothing in the work that we have, the work with the 33 or with the scientific literature, that would point to depleted uranium as being a cause of long term cancers -- it's never been seen -- or permanent kidney damage at the dosages that we're talking about.

Q: You recently had one of those town hall meetings at Campbell was it?

Dr. Rostker: Fort Campbell. We've had Fort Sill, Fort Campbell, and Fort Riley recently.

Q: How was your reception from the troops? Is it getting better, or is it...

Dr. Rostker: Well, if you had asked me at the end of the Fort Riley visit, I'd say it was terrific. We had a wonderful town hall meeting at Fort Riley. Fort Campbell was a little raucous.

But, it's very interesting. When we started, the issue was what you guys in the Department of Defense are not telling us. The issue at Fort Campbell was we don't care about what happened in the Gulf, we want to know why we're sick and help us get better. And, that's the focus of our medical research programs and the VA's medical research program as well as our treatment program. While I'm party to it as we all are in the government, those are not my unique responsibilities.

So if the question really is has the tenor of the town halls changed over time as we have done our investigations and brought that forward, the answer is yes. Are we satisfying people who are hurting? For those who we have no answers and are still hurting, we're trying everything we can.

At Fort Riley we were dealing more with the former and it was a very orderly meeting. At Fort Campbell it was a very passionate meeting. I usually stay from 7:00 to 9:00. We were dialogueing from 7:00 to 11:00. We're there for them and we're trying to give them the information, even though there are people who are unhappy with the information we're providing.

Q: When was that?

Dr. Rostker: June.

We have switched our focus. The first year we did town hall meetings that were sponsored by veteran service organizations. We've moved that to now go out and talk to our active duty troops. Here we're carrying several messages, not only the work of my office in terms of Gulf War, but also the commitment of this department in terms of medical force protection.

So if you were to be at the next base visit which will be in September at Camp Pendleton, you'll see that one of the displays we will have up will deal strictly with medical force protection: new doctrine, new chemical suits, new alarms, new gas masks, anthrax, new hospital procedures, medical dog tag, changes in our record procedures. These are all things this department has learned over the last six or seven years. We are a focal point for that learning, but ultimately the development of those programs are spread throughout the department.

As I go to these meetings, I like to tell people that I'm the historian here. I'm the guy who's going to give you the historical what's wrong and how we can fix it, but ultimately it's the JCS, it's OSD, it's the services that have to implement the program.

One example is in depleted uranium. We were woefully inadequate in our training for depleted uranium. We've said that time and again. I've said in writing that we had unnecessary exposures. I can say that and also say we don't think people's health has been compromised because an exposure is not a dose, is not a reaction. An exposure is just you were exposed.

If I asked any one of you whether you've been exposed to uranium, the answer you'd have to give me is yes because you're exposed every day to uranium.

If I asked you in your experience whether you'd ever been exposed to asbestos, I daresay you'd all have to say yes. But that doesn't mean that exposure gave you a dose that is going to mean you're going to have lung cancer from asbestos. So you've got to remember the exposures, the dose, and the like.

We had unnecessary exposures. We have a commitment to minimize that. We'll do that through training. The Army has already published their training syllabus for soldiers for next year, and the first item on that is depleted uranium. My office will monitor for the Deputy Secretary all of the depleted uranium training that we have plans for, and will be going forward, heavily, in the next fiscal year.

Q: On the environmental exposures that you're still looking at that you mentioned, I think oilfield fires was the big one.

Dr. Rostker: Yes.

Q: Can you describe for us your progress on that?

Dr. Rostker: Sure.

Q: And how many people... I would think a very large number of people would have been exposed to that.

Dr. Rostker: I don't really have that, but let me describe what we've been able to determine. There will be a paper from my office and a paper from RAND on oilfield fires.

We started monitoring the environment almost immediately after the war, but we did not capture the first days of the oilfield fires. But when we started monitoring, over 90 percent of the wells were burning. So we have most of the time, and certainly from the most intense time when the maximum wells were burning.

There were two things to be concerned about. One is toxicity from the hydrocarbons at ground level that could be ingested. In fact, the environmental readings at the time were that that was not a problem. The hydrocarbons stayed up in the atmosphere by the heat, by their volatility. But what was a problem was the soot, the particulates, and the levels were unacceptably high. We confirmed this in our visit to Kuwait where they reported to us, informally, higher levels of asthma and more intense levels of asthma, longer asthma attacks. That seems to be theoretically consistent with our observations. So we would have expected to see some respiratory problems. Mike?

Dr. Kilpatrick: I think it's important to understand that the EPA was very involved in March of '91 in setting up monitoring systems that were measuring all the different toxins that were present in the air. Basically what they found, that Kuwait, in spite of the darkness from the clouds, the air was probably healthier than many major cities in the United States as far as pollutants in the air. What was in the air were the particulates that Dr. Rostker is talking about -- the soot and the sand, and those are irritants that can cause people with reactive airway disease to have asthma attacks.

The long term of that is still being discussed. That's what these papers are about, looking at the medical evidence and the science behind that to say are we perhaps looking at a long term event on that, and it's too early to say, yet.

The Iowa group is doing some study on veterans from Iowa with asthma. That information, hopefully, will be ready in the next year to let us know whether they're seeing any increased incidents in Iowa. I think, certainly, the VA is looking at this very closely with their long history and expertise in respiratory illnesses.

Q: The numbers on the incident survey, those are the most recent numbers you've got? Or those are just brand new numbers all together?

Dr. Rostker: They're certainly the most recent. Team, have they changed much?

Mr. Williams: No, sir. They haven't changed.

Q: Is there any overlap among the personnel in the different categories?

Mr. Williams: There is a possibility that some of the people could overlap from one area to another, depending on their situation.

For instance, you see Doha up there. Some of the people that were involved in the cleanup at Doha that are part of that 600 in Level 2 could also have been there on the 11th of July 1991 when the fire occurred.

Dr. Rostker: There are claims that have been published about some of these incidents and the contamination on the battlefield and contamination at Doha and the like. I think as you read the case narrative, we would strongly question those numbers.

For example, it's often cited that we used so many depleted uranium rounds, and that those rounds vaporized and created the oxide that's all over the battlefield. One, we can't find the oxide on the battlefield. One nice thing about depleted uranium is it is more radioactive than sand, so when you go looking for it, you should be able to find it. We're not finding it.

Another is if you look at the pictures of the destroyed combat vehicles, and many in the team including myself have crawled all over those vehicles. There's an entry hole and an exit hole. Obviously, there was something large enough to create a large exit hole right through the tank, which is really the depleted uranium round. So the amount that was vaporized we believe to be much smaller than other people's estimates, and disbursed on the battlefield in ways that are insignificant to even find.

When we take samples, we look for levels that would be sufficient that we would violate our own procedures, and there are standards in which land can be, that's thought to be radioactive would be turned over to the general public. We're seeing nothing that comes to that level. This area, we would say, is free for any agriculture or industrial use, any personal use. So we're not seeing any contaminations.

You'll see calculations of thousands of pounds of material at Doha. Again, highly unrealistic given that most of the rounds were retrieved, and those that were not were in enclosed areas, namely the tank bodies that were burning.

So our estimates, and it's covered in our case narrative as to these events being critical events, are much less than what some other people have claimed.

Jim Schlesinger, when he was Secretary here, used to say that everybody's entitled to his opinion, but not everybody's entitled to his facts. We're dealing with facts here and not opinion. Our calculations are for anybody to see and we're happy to enter into a dialogue with anybody, with the press, with any group that thinks these numbers are wrong. We believe we have the facts on our side.

Q: Let me just ask you what happens to one of these depleted uranium rounds, because all these numbers have suggested well, you've got X number of pounds, they were expended, they're turned into dust or something, and somehow that can expose someone to it. What you're saying is it doesn't turn into dust, or you can't find it. Does it become a deformed fragment? What happens to it?

Col. Daxon: We've done a lot of study on this. We've actually started the study of the health and environmental hazards of depleted uranium in 1974. That's one of the things that we looked at.

The 1974 report asked us to basically focus on combat scenarios, environmental hazards, and that's what we've been doing since 1974.

One of the things we've looked at is percentage of the round that is oxidized when it strikes a hard target -- a tank, a Bradley. It turns out it's dependent upon the type of target that it strikes... Bradley not very much because the armor isn't very effective at stopping it. That's why Dr. Rostker talked about an entry hole and an exit hole. But some of the other harder targets like an Abrams, anywhere from 10 to 30, 40 percent of the round will be aerosolized and make it up in the air and be disbursed, basically as particulates are disbursed in the atmosphere.

The testing that we've done, we've actually taken M-1 Abrams heavy tanks, other hard targets, impacted these things with DU penetrators, set up air samplers all around the penetrators, and none of the levels that we've found well around it impacting are above the standards that the NRC allows. The stuff basically falls on the dirt. When we measure the dirt, the soil contamination in the dirt is below the EPA and NRC standards for DU contamination in the dirt. These standards are basically based upon what are the risks to somebody living on the ground, eating the food grown on the ground, breathing the air, drinking the water. So that's how the EPA and the NRC numbers come up.

Q: That's firing at an M-1 Abrams, but at a T-80 or a T-72?

Dr. Rostker: A T-78, it went right out the backside and kept on going. They're a couple of others.

If it's going to burn inside the tank you've got a controlled environment and that's where CHIPM's calculation of the one REM for 15 minutes in the most intense of those environments comes to play.

Then there's a further issue of what about this now expended rod that's out there in the desert. What do we know about it?

Col. Daxon: What we've found, and we do testing at two or three ranges in the United States. What we've found is the expended rod will oxidize. Underneath the expended rod you will find oxides of depleted uranium. But these things don't migrate very far. So the stuff is basically local. The typical battlefield cleanups, if you clean up the battlefield and you pick up the rounds and dispose of them, that part is basically gone.

Dr. Rostker: What about radiological burns...

Col Daxon: Us, or them? (Laughter)

Dr. Rostker: You can pick up one of these rounds. Would you pick it up with your bare hand?

Col Daxon: No, I would not. That's basically an ALARA thing. The dose rate upon contact with one of these rounds...

Q: You're now talking about the expended, just the rod...

Col Daxon: Yes. By expended round I mean just basically the depleted uranium dart. When it's in the shell, and there are pictures of this, when it's in the shell it's almost completely shielded. The only thing you get is very weak gamma rays out. But when you contact it, the beta radiations that are emitted are strong enough to give you about .24 REM per hour dose to just the portions of the skin that you're holding. I would be concerned with that, and I would be concerned with just the fact that you're holding a heavy metal, like lead. The way to protect yourself is put a glove on, and that's basically what you tell people that handle lead bricks. Put a glove on.

Dr. Rostker: One of the things that's very confusing is that in some of our manuals we refer to approaching this in MOPP-4. This is a total overkill. We also talk about approaching it with a bandanna over your nose. Now how do you equate MOPP-4 and a bandanna?

We have to redo, based upon what medical science tells us, what is the appropriate way. Remember, in the Gulf we were talking about people working in the desert and put them in MOPP-4? That doesn't make very much sense. Moreover, we're more concerned in these situations with unexploded ordnance that comes flying out of tanks and the like, or were in the tank. So we think we need to make sure that we send the right message which is what's the right level of protection, and that appears to cover your skin, wear thin gloves and a dust mask. It will be more than adequate to handle this. And even if you didn't do this, this gets back to the principle of [inaudible]. Even if you didn't so this, the dosages that we're able to calculate are not sufficient to be a concern, and the empirical work with the people who have been exposed does not point to concern.

We need to make sure we've got our act together and make sure people are well trained, but this has not proven to be a long term or a short term, and it is not a substance... I mean we've been knowledgeable about this and have worked with this for a long time.

There's one other part, if I may. Why do this at all? You just have to read any account of the Gulf War to know what an advantage depleted uranium sabot rounds gave to our gunners. There are accounts of one tank, for example, that was broken down, was ambushed by three Iraqi tanks, and it took all three out. There are accounts, and we can show you the pictures of where tankers shot at concealed Iraqi tanks that were behind sand berms, and the depleted uranium round went through the sand, went through the tank, came out the other side, and went through the sand on the other side and kept going. So this was a tremendous advantage to our gunners. It gave them a first shot, true flight, first kill capability. On the other hand, as protective armor, we have no incident where an Iraqi round penetrated an Abrams tank at the point where the tank was protected by depleted uranium.

What are we going to see in the future and why are we doing this? We do not have a monopoly on depleted uranium, and we know that other countries now have depleted uranium rounds in their inventories, so that we will see in the future. The worst case, we will see Abrams tanks penetrated by depleted uranium, and it's important that we understand the health impacts of that and that's why we're doing what we're doing now.

Q: Can you give us kind of a summary of where your investigation stands? If I understand it, 750,000 people served; 100,000 complained of some sort of health problem; 20,000 or thereabouts have unexplained symptoms. Can you just kind of walk us through that?

Dr. Rostker: You have the right numbers. On the health side, there still are less than five percent but a significant number of people who have undiagnosed illnesses that we are not able to provide good answers for.

I would just say that these are not the only undiagnosed, if you will, illnesses in this regard. Dr. Nicholson's home page on the Web talks about Gulf War illnesses, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia in the same sentence. So obviously there are other diagnoses of similar symptoms that the medical community is dealing with of people who were not in the Gulf. In fact, we in defense are even supporting some of that research to better understand chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

In terms of what we can say about the experience in the Gulf, I would say on the negative side that we did not do a good job of being sensitive to people's concerns about what they may or may not have been exposed to. We didn't adequately monitor the environment. We clearly did not communicate well with people.

I think the girls school case, which we released several months ago, is a perfect example, and we see exactly the same situation in the helicopter case at An Nasiriyah. People came in effectively in the middle of an operation; they didn't understand the dimensions of the operation; and, they got no feedback about what the results were. The act itself seemed suspicious.

I gave a speech recently at the Worldwide Chemical Conference, and I said the Chemical Corps needed to move from a point where it was talking about protecting soldiers from death and incapacitation to a point where it was fully accounting for the environment on the battlefield. I put it in very graphic terms. I said the honor of the Army is at stake. Too many people will remember Kuwait as a place where they thought they were gassed and not as a place where we had a magnificent victory. The problem here is that we did not fully account for what happened on the battlefield. It's a shame that I have to do this seven years later with all of the holes that it is, and that's what we've been intensely engaged in for the last year and a half.

At this point, and I said this in the yearly report, we do not see anything that would contradict the UN's conclusion. We've traced the Marines up through the breach all the way to the orchard and despite first-hand accounts that there were chemicals there, there are other first-hand accounts that say there were no chemicals there. We can't support any of those claims and none of the corroborating information supports that there were chemicals. We've called those unlikely. The girls school case we've called definitely not, and I think we've put that one to bed.

There are still reports on the battlefield that deserve an accounting and that's what we're engaged in.

One of the key stories here is a paragraph in a 1992 NBC report by Captain Manley who said he couldn't find any offensive use by the Iraqis of chemical weapons, but there were so many reports in the Marine sector that we couldn't take that conclusion categorically. We'd have to deal with it specifically, and that's what we've been trying to do, dealing with it specifically. With the exception of the Fisher case where we called it likely, and Khamisiyah where we know there was an exposure and we've been able to get some handle on the size of that exposure, we do not see chemicals being present on the battlefield. Subject to more analysis, new information, more information that may come forward. That's why we're looking at some of the environmental factors that also have been a concern to veterans.

Press: Thank you.