Pentagon Officials Say Depleted Uranium Powerful, Safe
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2003 Pentagon officials showed pictures today from the 1991 Gulf War of an Iraqi tank completely destroyed by a 105 mm round made of depleted uranium. The round had pierced the tank's thick armor, leaving only a burned out shell.
Even more impressive, they told of how a DU round had penetrated directly through a sand dune to demolish a tank hiding behind it.
"That's how much of an edge it gives us, and we don't want to give that up," Col. James Naughton of the Army Materiel Command said today at a Pentagon briefing to explain the uses and health effects of DU on the battlefield.
Naughton, flanked by Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, attempted to dispel myths about the material the military has used for the past two decades, most extensively during the Gulf War. Kilpatrick is deputy director, Deployment Health Support Directorate, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Health Protection and Readiness.
During that war, U.S. forces used about 320 tons of the substance, fired primarily from Abrams tanks that carried 105 mm rounds and A-10 close-air support aircraft with its 30 mm cannon aircraft.
However, health concerns about the use of DU have caused many to ask for a ban on its use, claiming that the material's radioactive toxicity can cause lung cancer, leukemia, kidney disorders and damage to the environment.
But, Kilpatrick, said there is no substantial evidence to suggest that DU is the source of any particular illness from the Gulf War or that it carries any environmental hazard. He cited studies by DoD, the World Health Organization, the U.N. Environmental Programme and the Agency for Toxic Substances.
Kilpatrick said that recent UNEP environmental assessments done on soil samples in Kosovo, where 13 tons of DU was used, revealed no environmental effect.
"They checked the food, water, vegetables, meat, and essentially were not able to find any evidence of depleted uranium in any of the samples . . . the bottom line is that is going to be no impact on the health of people and the environment," he said.
Kilpatrick said the Army has been studying 90 soldiers over the past 10 years who were exposed to DU, 20 of whom have small fragments containing the substance in their bodies. He noted their study has found no cancer of bone or lungs and no leukemia.
"They've no medical consequences of that depleted uranium exposure," Kilpatrick said. "Some of them, of course, do have medical problems. But as far as the consequence of the DU exposure, we are not seeing anything related to either a chemical or radiological effect."
From an environmental standpoint, Kilpatrick explained that DU is found in low levels throughout the United States, with higher concentrations in states like Florida and Colorado. He also said that DU is used in industrial settings such as ships and airplanes and that it has some medical uses.
"It's something that we eat, and drink and breathe everyday," he said.
Defense officials will continue to study the physiological and environmental effects of depleted uranium, Kilpatrick said. Data suggests the substance in other than extreme cases is rather harmless, and the military will continue using DU munitions in its arsenal.
"It is a superior armor, it a superior munitions that we will continue to use if the need is there to attack armor," he said.
Asked if DU will be used if the United States goes to war with Iraq, Naughton said, "If we use Abrams tanks, we don't have much choice."