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Study Finds Little Risk From Depleted-Uranium Particles

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2004 – A new study finds the health risks from inhaling airborne particles of depleted uranium are very low.

The Capstone Study found that even soldiers in armored vehicles hit by depleted-uranium munitions would still not suffer health risks from inhaling the particles. Of course, officials said, soldiers would certainly have other problems if their tank or armored personnel carrier was hit by a depleted- uranium round.

The U.S. military uses depleted uranium as armor and in munitions. The five- year, $6 million study, analyzed for the Army and the DoD Deployment Health Support Directorate by Batelle Memorial Institute, found that even in extreme cases exposure to "aerosolized" depleted uranium did not pose a health risk.

The study looked at the health risks faced by servicemembers who had been in an armored vehicle that was breached by a depleted-uranium round. It also looked at the exposures mechanics or other maintenance personnel would get from working in such a vehicle. "What we found in this study is the highest-exposed individuals are those that are in, on or near vehicles when they were struck," said Army Lt. Col. Mark Melanson.

"What we found is the radiation doses for people in that situation are below peacetime safety standards," he continued. "We also found that the chemical risks of breathing in uranium dust is so low that it won't cause any long-term health risks."

Melanson, who holds a doctorate in radiation health sciences, is the program manager of the Health Physics Program at the Army's Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

DoD has been assessing the safety of depleted uranium for more than 30 years. The radiation risk from the rounds and armor is negligible. Melanson pointed out that uranium is a common element. Depleted uranium has most of the U-235 isotope -- the type used to make atomic bombs -- taken out of it, leaving the more stable U-238.

But uranium is a heavy metal and, like lead or mercury, can pose problems if enough is ingested.

Specialists at Aberdeen fired depleted-uranium rounds at the turrets of M-1 tanks and at Bradley fighting vehicles. They measured the concentration of DU inside the turrets and passenger compartments and compared those rates with allowable peacetime standards. The levels were below the standards set for peacetime civilian workers.

"If it's safe for workers in the States to receive these exposures during peacetime, it's definitely safe for our troops to receive them in combat when there are other more dangerous risks out there on the battlefield," Melanson said.

The study is further proof that DU poses little danger. Since 1993, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been assessing the health of American soldiers wounded in 1991's Operation Desert Storm by depleted-uranium rounds. These individuals have particles of depleted uranium remaining inside them.

"There are no health affects attributable to DU," Melanson said. "There are health problems from their wounding, but nothing from depleted uranium."

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Related Sites:
DoD Deployment Health Support Directorate
Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine
Health Physics Program

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