The Department of Defense announced today the release of a RAND scientific literature review that indicates no evidence of harmful health effects directly linked to depleted uranium exposures at levels experienced by Gulf War veterans.
The report, "A Review of the Scientific Literature as it Pertains to Gulf War Illnesses: Volume 7 Depleted Uranium," is the latest report commissioned by the office of the special assistant for Gulf War illnesses. The report responds to veterans' concerns that depleted uranium might be the cause of some of their illnesses.
The report states that there are no peer reviewed published reports of detectable increases of cancer or other negative health effects from radiation exposure to inhaled or ingested natural uranium at levels far exceeding those likely in the Gulf. This is mainly because the body is very effective at eliminating ingested and inhaled uranium and because the low radioactivity of natural or depleted uranium means that the mass of uranium needed for significant internal exposure is virtually impossible to obtain. Large variations in exposure to radioactivity from natural uranium in the normal environment have not been associated with negative health effects.
Exposure to uranium at high doses can cause kidney problems. However, no increase in kidney disease has been observed in relatively large occupational populations chronically exposed to natural uranium at concentrations above normal ambient levels.
Researchers at the Baltimore VA Medical Center are following the group of Gulf War Veterans with the greatest exposure to depleted uranium, veterans with embedded fragments. Although these individuals have an array of health problems, many of which are related to their combat injuries, researchers say "To date no manifestations of kidney disease attributable to the chemical toxicity of depleted uranium have been found; neither do these individuals appear to have manifestations attributable to radiation effects."
RAND is a nonprofit institution with a long history of independent research. RAND had experts review the literature, including Dr. Naomi Harley, an authority on radiation physics, Dr. Ernest Foulkes, a heavy metal toxicologist, and Dr. Lee Hilborne, a pathologist. Their review encompassed literature relating to both radiation and heavy metal toxicity risks published or accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals, books, government publications and conference proceedings.
This paper, as well as the RAND literature review on oil well fires and the Defense Department's environmental exposure report on depleted uranium are posted on the GulfLINK web site, at http//www.gulflink.osd.mil.