Contamination of Persian Gulf War Veterans and Others by Depleted Uranium

by Leonard A. Dietz

July 19, 1996 (last updated Feb. 21, 1999)

(reproduced here with permission)


We develop background information about depleted uranium (DU) and use it to describe a physical model of how on the battlefields in Kuwait and Iraq a large number of unprotected Gulf War veterans could easily have acquired dangerous quantities of DU in their bodies.

This background information allows us to propose a plausible contamination model at a battle site. It consists of three steps: (1) a source of hundreds of kilograms of DU aerosols generated suddenly against concentrated Iraqi armor; (2) widespread rapid dispersal of DU aerosol particles by wind action; (3) inhalation and ingestion of DU particles by unprotected U.S. service personnel on the battlefield.

The U.S. military and its representatives claim that DU munitions are safe, but they have not publicly addressed health and safety issues that apply after DU munitions have been fired. Apparently the official view is that in a combat situation it is acceptable for unprotected personnel to be exposed to the combustion products of fired DU munitions and assume any health risks involved.

We mention that 22 U.S. service personnel have been reported to have suffered imbedded fragments of DU in their bodies from "friendly fire". More than 5 years after the Gulf War, few of these fragments have been removed and the long-term health situation for these veterans has not yet been determined. We note the astonishingly high incidence of serious birth defects in families of Gulf War veterans in the State of Mississippi.

Finally, we mention how commonly used DU flight control counterweights in aircraft and DU munitions can burn in intense fires and produce dangerous concentrations of airborne DU aerosol particles that can be inhaled and ingested.



It has been reported widely in the press that numerous Persian Gulf War veterans have become ill with with Gulf War Syndrome. During the war they were exposed to toxic chemicals, experimental drugs, insect repellents and depleted uranium or DU (Ref. 1). Uranium is known to be highly toxic both chemically and radiologically (Ref. 2). It has not yet been determined to what degree DU may have caused their illnesses and genetic defects in their children conceived and born after the war. Few veterans were aware that DU munitions were used until after they were exposed to uranium and became ill. Some were told about the gamma emission from DU but no one was told about the health dangers of inhaling fine particles of uranium oxide dust generated when a DU penetrator hits armor (Ref. 3). Eight days after the shooting stopped, a directive from Army Headquarters gave the first instructions to troops on how to treat radioactively contaminated vehicles (Ref. 4).

The main purpose of this paper is to develop a physical model of how easily many Gulf War veterans could have acquired dangerous quantities of DU in their bodies. To accomplish this we review the pyrophoric nature of uranium metal and its radioactivity. We show how readily uranium aerosol dust can be transported great distances by wind action in the atmosphere, pathways that DU aerosol particles can take into the body and become absorbed, and the tonnage of DU munitions fired during the Gulf War. This information is used to construct a contamination model that explains how large numbers of soldiers very likely became contaminated on the battlefields in Kuwait and Iraq. We show how the U.S. military views the safety of DU munitions, and we close by mentioning some of the known exposures of U.S. soldiers to DU and noting the high percentage of severe birth defects in children conceived and born in many families of Gulf War veterans.

The Pyrophoric Nature of Uranium Metal

The pyrophoric nature of uranium metal is well known (Ref. 2, Ref. 5). An estimate used by U.S. Army field commanders is that when a DU penetrator in a cannon round is fired at high velocity against armor, about 10% of it burns up and forms micrometer-size uranium oxide particles that can be inhaled or ingested (Ref. 6). However, a report by the Army Environmental Policy Institute (AEPI) describing research on hard target testing states "As much as 70 percent of a DU penetrator can be aerosolized when it strikes a tank..." (Ref. 7).

Uranium can burn in other ways to generate aerosol particles of uranium oxide. Because elemental uranium is pyrophoric, when DU metal is heated in air at a temperature of 500 deg. C it can oxidize rapidly and sustain slow combustion (Ref. 5). For example, the effects of fires at storage sites for DU munitions have been studied (Ref. 8). The burning of DU metal flight control counterweights at airplane crash sites and the possibility of exposing large numbers of people to kidney poisoning (nephrotoxicity) by uranium oxide particles has been studied by Parker (Ref. 9). In 1992 an El Al Boeing-747 crashed into an apartment building in Amsterdam, Holland and burned intensely. Approximately 273 kg of DU in the tail of the 747 is unaccounted for; it burned and contaminated the surrounding area (Ref. 10).

Radioactive Decay of Uranium

We look briefly at the uranium decay series. Table I summarizes the isotopic composition of natural and depleted uranium. The isotopic compositions were measured in highly sensitive and accurate mass spectrometers at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (Ref. 11).

Table I.  Isotopic composition of natural and depleted uranium
          in atom percent.

                     U-234      U-235      U-236      U-238
Natural Uranium      0.0055     0.7196     0.0000    99.2749
Depleted Uranium     0.0008     0.2015     0.0030    99.7947

A trace of U-236 from reprocessed nuclear fuel may be present in some of the DU stockpile. The alpha activity in DU is about 43% less than it is in natural uranium because there is less U-234 and U-235, but DU always occurs in highly concentrated form and this more than makes up for its lower alpha activity. In contrast, natural uranium occurs in concentrations of 1-3 parts per million by weight in soils, where it is locked up in non-metallic form in minerals and is relatively inert to chemical action there.

Only the first three isotopes in the uranium decay series or chain headed by U-238 are important in determining the radioactivity of DU (Ref. 12). Uranium-238 decays into thorium-234 (Th-234), which decays into protactinium-234 (Pa-234), which decays into U-234, etc. down the decay chain. The 246,000 year half life of U-234 is too long for it to decay much during our lifetimes and produce significant numbers of decay progeny.

The U-238 decay chain is broken during the chemical reduction of uranium hexafluoride into DU metal and is broken again during the melting and processing of the metal into a penetrator. To determine the maximum time it takes to regain equilibrium in the partial decay chain, we assume a solid sample of uranium that initially contains only the U-238 isotope, i.e. no decay progeny. Using Bateman's equations, (Ref. 13), we calculate the growth of Th-234 and Pa-234 activities as a function of elapsed time in weeks. The results are given in Table II.

Table II. Radioactivity (disintegrations/second) in 1 gram of
        U-238 with no decay progeny initially present.

        Half lives used:
          U-238  = 4.47e9 years
          Th-234 = 24.10 days
          Pa-234 = 1.17 minutes, 6.69 hours (two decay states)
          U-234  = 2.46e5 years  (Ref. 14).
        Scientific notation is used, i.e. 2.46e5 = 246000.

Weeks      U-238  --->  Th-234  --->  Pa-234  --->  U-234
   0       12,430            0             0        0.000
   1       12,430        2,270         2,150        0.000
   5       12,430        7,890         7,840        0.001
  10       12,430       10,770        10,750        0.004
  15       12,430       11,830        11,820        0.007
  20       12,430       12,210        12,210        0.010
  25       12,430       12,350        12,350        0.013
  30       12,430       12,400        12,400        0.017

After 25 weeks, Th-234 and Pa-234 have reached 99.4% of the decay rate of U-238 and for practical purposes have reached secular equilibrium with U-238, their parent isotope. Secular equilibrium means that the decay progeny of U-238 are being replaced at the same rate they are decaying; after 25 weeks all three isotopes are decaying at approximately the same rate. This is a maximum time; in reality, equilibrium will be reached much faster, since these two isotopes can never be separated totally from U-238. The isotope U-238 emits alpha particles and also emits some gamma rays. Its decay progeny Th-234 and Pa-234 each emit beta particles and gamma rays. An alpha particle is a fast helium atom with its two electrons removed, a beta particle is a high-speed electron and a gamma ray is like an X-ray.

From this analysis we conclude that in a solid sample of DU, six months at most after manufacture of a DU penetrator, or DU armor for a tank, or DU particles in a person's body, substantial additional radiation in the form of beta particles and gamma rays always will be present. In fact, most of the penetrating gamma radiation and all of the penetrating beta radiation from DU comes, not from uranium, but from the decay progeny of U-238 (Ref. 15). In a year, only one-thousandth of a gram (1 milligram or mg) of DU generates more than a billion alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays. The U.S. Army has investigated the generation of DU aerosols in armored vehicles hit by DU cannon rounds. Their investigators report "...that personnel inside DU struck vehicles could receive a dose in the `tens of milligrams' range due to inhalation" (Ref. 16). This exposure results in an acute dose of uranium.

Gamma rays become absorbed in body tissue as follows. If their energy exceeds 40 keV, part of the gamma-ray energy is transferred to an atomic electron, setting it in high-speed motion (1 keV = 1000 electron volts energy). The remaining energy is carried off by a new gamma ray. This process, called the Compton effect, repeats until the gamma ray has an energy below about 40 keV where the photoelectric effect dominates and the remaining energy can be transferred to a photoelectron. For example, using Gofman's method, (Ref. 17) one can calculate that an 850 keV gamma ray absorbed in body tissue will produce a packet of high-speed Compton electrons and a fast photoelectron that on average can traverse 137 body cells. By contrast, according to Gofman, X-rays commonly used in medical diagnosis have a peak energy of 90 keV and an average energy of 30 keV (Ref. 17) A 30 keV X-ray in body tissue can be converted into a photoelectron of this energy, which on average can traverse only 1.7 cells. Ionization along the tracks of high-speed electrons in tissue can cause damage to genetic material in the nuclei of cells. Thus, a high energy gamma ray from Pa-234 is much more penetrating than a typical medical X-ray and can damage far more living cells. The many 2.29 MeV beta particles emitted by Pa-234 are extremely penetrating in body tissue (1 MeV = 1 million electron volts energy). Referring to the experimental data given by Gofman (Ref. 17), each one of these beta particles can traverse more than 500 body cells.

Alpha, beta and gamma radiations produce the same biological effects on cells and organs, and much of their radiation damage to body tissue can accumulate over the time of exposure (Ref. 18). Therefore, it seems reasonable that not only the continuous radiation of body tissue by alpha particles from U-238, but the energetic beta particles and gamma rays from its decay progeny Th-234 and Pa-234 must also be considered when assessing possible cancer risk and genetic damage.

Airborne Transport of Uranium Particles

The fallout range of airborne DU aerosol dust is virtually unlimited. These micro-particles can be inhaled and ingested easily and that makes them dangerous to human health. Environmental assessments for sites which process DU or test fire DU munitions typically downplay the potential for widespread fallout of DU particles. For example, one such environmental impact study in 1992 by the U.S. Army Ballistics Research Laboratory (Ref. 19) states, "Because of the mass and density of the DU particle, it only travels short distances when airborne. These two factors alone preclude the off-site release of DU." This is not true for micrometer-size particles of uranium metal or its oxides. In fact, the transport of airborne DU aerosol particles was well known long before the Army Ballistics Research Laboratory environmental impact study was written, since in 1976 it had been measured up to a distance of 8 km (Ref. 20). What may not have been fully appreciated in 1976 was that DU aerosol particles could be transported by wind action over much greater distances.

In 1979 the author worked at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL) in Schenectady, New York. While trouble shooting a radiological problem, he and his colleagues in the mass spectrometer component accidentally discovered DU aerosols collected in environmental air filters exposed at the Knolls site (Ref. 21). The origin of the DU contamination proved to be the National Lead Industries plant in Colonie, 10 miles (16 km) east of the Knolls site, on the western boundary of the city of Albany, NY. A local newspaper reported that NL was fabricating DU penetrators for 30-mm cannon rounds and airplane counterweights made of DU metal (Ref. 22). A total of 16 air filters at three different locations covering 25 weeks of exposure from May through October of 1979 were analyzed; all contained trace amounts of DU. Three of these air filters were exposed for four weeks each at a site 26 miles (42 km) northwest of the NL plant. This is by no means the maximum fallout distance for DU aerosol particles.

Totally unrelated to the discovery of DU in KAPL air filters, in February 1980, a court order by NY State forced NL to cease production, because they exceeded a NY State radioactivity limit of 150 microcuries for airborne emissions in a given month (Ref. 22). The plant closed in 1983 and is now being decontaminated and dismantled. The 150 microcuries corresponds to 387 g of DU metal. For comparison, one GAU-8/A penetrator in an aircraft 30-mm cannon round contains 272 g of DU metal (Ref. 5).

Using a special fission track analysis technique, 26 uranium-bearing particles were extracted from several air filters exposed at KAPL and were analyzed separately for their uranium isotopic content (Ref. 11) Four particles contained pure DU. They were approximately 4-6 micrometers in size, three were irregularly shaped and the fourth was a 3.8 micrometer diameter sphere. Probably it solidified from a molten state as uranium dioxide. The other 22 particles were enriched uranium associated with the radiological trouble-shooting problem. This widespread trace contamination of DU in the atmosphere was less than one percent of allowable limits. Its presence in the air filters did not concern us nearly as much as the sizes of the DU particles that were born ten miles by the wind from Albany to KAPL. The four DU particles were near the upper end of the respirable size range, which is about 5 micrometers. Respirable means that particles will pass through the upper respiratory airway to the lung and become deposited in various interior regions of the lung, where many will remain for many years. A 5 micrometer uranium dioxide particle can cause a high, localized yearly radiation dose from energetic alpha particles to lung tissue; it is a radioactive hot spot in the lung (Ref. 23).

The density of uranium metal is 19 grams per cubic centimeter; for uranium dioxide it is 11 grams per cubic centimeter, equal to the density of lead. How can a uranium dioxide particle with this density, or a uranium metal particle with a density 1.7 times that of lead remain airborne long enough to be transported by wind 26 miles (42 km)? It might seem a daunting challenge to answer this question, but a complicated physical theory is unnecessary.

Just as a parachute jumper in a free fall through the lower atmosphere quickly reaches a constant terminal velocity of approximately 120 mph, so too a micrometer-size uranium particle falling under gravitational attraction through still air will reach a constant terminal velocity that is determined by its size, density, geometrical shape and air viscosity.

Stokes' law provides an accurate and convincing scientific explanation of how micrometer-size DU particles can remain airborne for many hours. This physical law is well known to scientists and engineers who study fluid dynamics. It was published in 1846 and 1851 by Sir George Stokes, and is described in introductory textbooks on fluid flow (Ref. 24). It is given by the expression

                  2 G R^2 (S-A)
              V = -------------
                      9 C


R^2 means R squared
G = 980.4 centimeters per second squared is the acceleration
      of gravity,
R = the radius of the sphere in centimeters,
S = the density of the sphere in grams per cubic centimeter,
A = 1.213e-3 grams per cubic centimeter is the density of
      air at one atmosphere and 18 deg. C,
C = 1.827e-4 poise is the viscosity of air at one atmosphere
      and 18 deg. C.

The terminal velocity V is in centimeters per second if G, R, S, A and C are in the units shown. Stokes' law allows one to calculate the terminal velocity of a microsphere of uranium metal or uranium oxide of known radius and density falling through still air.

Stokes' law is valid for fluid flow described by a Reynolds number of 0.1 or less (Ref. 24). Experiments confirm this upper limit (Ref. 25) The dimensionless Reynolds number Re for a sphere is given by

                   2 R A V
              Re = -------

where the terms are defined above. A 10 micrometer diameter uranium metal sphere falls at 5.7 cm/sec in still air and Re = 0.038, which is much less than 0.1. Therefore, Stokes' law is accurate for all respirable spherical uranium metal or oxide particles 10 micrometers or less in diameter falling through air. Table III lists the fall rates for a range of particle sizes.

Table III. Terminal (constant) velocities for
        uranium dioxide spherical particles in still air.

Diameters are in micrometers.

  dia.        cm/sec.      ft./hr.
  5.0          0.82          97
  4.0          0.52          62
  3.0          0.30          35
  2.0          0.13          15
  1.0          0.033          4
  0.5          0.0082         1

Irregularly-shaped microparticles will fall more slowly than a sphere of the same density and weight. Depleted uranium particles one micrometer or smaller are virtually floating in air and can remain airborne for a very long time. The 3.8 micrometer dia. spherical uranium dioxide particle analyzed at KAPL had a fall rate of 56 ft./hr. It had to reach a height of only 200 ft. in the warm exhaust plume from the National Lead plant for a gentle breeze averaging 3 mph to carry it 10 miles (16 km) to KAPL.

Fallout range can be increased greatly by two more natural phenomena. First, frictional forces in the air or emission of an alpha particle from a uranium atom will electrostatically charge a DU particle. For example, it is well known that a high velocity ion striking a metal oxide surface will dislodge a pulse of secondary electrons from the surface (Ref. 26). An alpha particle is a high velocity helium ion, and it will generate a large number of secondary electrons below the surface of an uranium oxide particle as it passes through the surface. Many of the momentarily-free electrons just below the surface will escape from an airborne uranium oxide particle, leaving it in a positively-charged state. Like an electrostatic precipitator collecting dust in a room, an electrically-charged uranium dioxide particle and an oppositely-charged dust particle will attract each other and join together. The average density of the two particles together will be substantially less than 11 grams per cubic centimeter and the fallout range will be greatly increased. Fallout particles of DU also can become attached to sand or dust particles on the ground and then become resuspended in the air by wind or vehicle action and transported to new locations (Ref. 27). Desert sand in the Persian Gulf region is extremely fine (Ref. 28). Second, random motions of the atmosphere of a few cm/sec are of the same order of magnitude as the terminal velocities of micrometer particles of DU oxide or metal falling through air.

Pathways of DU and Its Radiations into the Body

Routes of intake or pathways of uranium particles into the body include the respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal tract and the skin, through abrasions or wounds. The International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP) has developed a biokinetic model that describes the behavior of uranium within the human body (Ref. 29). The model takes into account aerosol particle size, chemical form, and the excretion rates of absorbed uranium from individual vital organs and bones. Radioactive particles reach the gastrointestinal tract by ingestion and by transfer from the respiratory tract. The model shows that for an acute intake of uranium aerosol particles of uranium dioxide or U3O8, urinary excretion of the inhaled uranium can continue for years.

Exposure to gamma rays emitted from DU is another pathway into the body. Crews are exposed to the equivalent of one chest X-ray for every 20-30 hours they spend in an Abrams tank armed with DU ammunition (Ref. 30). The U.S. Army measured a gamma dose rate of 250 millirems per hour at the surface of a penetrator (Ref. 31). This dose rate is consistent with the 233 millirads per hour dose rate for an unspecified mass of DU listed on a U.S. Department of Labor Material Safety Data Sheet issued to Nuclear Metals, Inc. (Ref. 32). For gamma rays, the rad and rem dose units are equal. At body contact, the 250 millirems per hour is equivalent to a dose rate of up to approximately 50 chest X-rays per hour. Whole penetrators or large fragments of penetrators fired from tank cannon and left on a battlefield have this amount of surface radioactivity.

Estimates of Tonnage of DU Munitions Fired

The actual tonnage of DU munitions fired during the Gulf War is difficult to ascertain. During the war all battlefield news was censored and the expenditure of DU by A-10 attack aircraft was classified (Ref. 33). It has been estimated that these aircraft fired about 95% of the DU munitions used during Desert Shield and Desert Storm (Ref. 34). The U.S. Army now claims (Ref. 35) that "More than 14,000 large caliber DU rounds were consumed during Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. As many as 7,000 of these rounds may have been fired in practice. Approximately 4,000 rounds were reportedly fired in combat. The remaining 3,000 rounds are losses that include a substantial loss in a fire at Doha, Kuwait." The 14,000 rounds contained about 60 metric tons of DU. William Arkin estimates from documents released under the Freedom of Information Act that approximately 300 metric tons of DU littered the battlefields of Kuwait and Iraq after the war (Ref. 34). The LAKA Foundation estimates the total as 800 tons (Ref. 36). Allowing for DU projectiles missing their targets, even if only one or two percent of the lower estimate of 300 metric tons burned up, then 3,000,000-6,000,000 grams of DU aerosol particles could have become airborne over the battlefields: a huge amount.

Contamination Model

We can now propose a plausible model of how veterans became contaminated with DU during the Gulf War. It consists of a sequence of three steps:
  1. Source: in a local area of a battlefield, hundreds of kilograms of micrometer-size DU particles were generated suddenly by cannon fire from U.S. airplanes and tanks at concentrated formations of Iraqi armor. Thermal columns from burning tanks and vehicles then carried aloft these localized plumes of DU aerosol particles.

  2. Dispersal: Clouds of DU aerosol particles were dispersed far and wide by wind action over the battlefield and, based on the KAPL measurements, the fallout range of these uranium micro-particles could be up to 26 miles (42 km) or more (Ref. 11).

  3. Inhalation and Ingestion: Unprotected U.S. service personnel could inhale and ingest huge numbers of DU particles into their lungs and bodies, where much of the DU could become absorbed in vital organs and bones. The ICRP biokinetic model explains how uranium aerosol particles can enter the body and become absorbed (Ref. 29).

The U.S. Army and the Veterans Administration have shown an unwillingness to investigate health issues associated with the toxicity and radioactivity of inhaled and ingested DU aerosol particles that have become absorbed in the body. Both have refused to test large numbers of veterans for the presence of DU in their bodies; so far only a handful have been tested. According to Laura Flanders, as of January, 1995, at least 45,000 soldiers deployed to the Persian Gulf during the war are suffering from symptoms connected with their service (Ref. 37).

Workers in DU industrial processing plants and people living in communities surrounding these plants also have been contaminated by fallout of DU particles (Ref. 22). How rapidly contamination takes place depends on the magnitude of the airborne concentration and particle size of the uranium dust. The smaller the particle, the easier it can enter the body. In written testimony prepared for a 1982 New York State hearing on NL Industries, Dr. Carl Johnson, a principal investigator of the National Cancer Institute Project, stated that some of the workers at the NL plant had concentrations of uranium in their urine as high as 30 picocuries/liter (77 micrograms of uranium/liter). He said this concentration level indicated a very heavy body burden of uranium (Ref. 38).

How the U.S. Military Views the Safety of DU Munitions

In a letter to Senator Sam Nunn, a representative of the U.S. Air Force stated, "...these projectiles are no more hazardous to store, transport, or employ than those composed of lead or copper" (Ref. 39). This view is echoed in the U.S. Army report to Congress that states, "The health risks associated with using DU in peacetime are minimal. This includes risks associated with transporting, storing and handling intact DU munitions and armor during peacetime" (Ref. 40). Neither the Air Force nor the Army has publicly presented an analysis of the health risks to soldiers and to others who inhale or ingest radioactive fallout particles of DU, or the health risks of living in an environment contaminated with DU after these munitions have been fired: these are the real safety issues they ignore. Furthermore, a General Accounting Office report to Congress states, "...Army officials believe that DU protective methods can be ignored during battle and other life-threatening situations because DU-related health risks are greatly outweighed by the risks of combat" (Ref. 41). The Army must know that it would be extremely difficult to provide breathing masks that can efficiently remove all of the respirable DU particles from air breathed by soldiers. Even if highly efficient air filters are used by troops, their surroundings will still be contaminated. The surface of the ground, vegetation, equipment, uniforms and other garments contaminated with DU particles will become secondary sources of airborne DU aerosols whenever they are disturbed or moved, thereby presenting an insurmountable radiological containment and decontamination problem on the battlefield. In the AEPI report, (Ref. 42) the Army judges it an acceptable risk if its personnel become exposed in an unprotected fashion to the combustion products of fired DU munitions on the battlefield or elsewhere. This report contains much technical information about DU, but many of the assertions and conclusions in the report are not supported by the technical and scientific data presented. A rebuttal to the AEPI report pointing out some major inconsistencies in the Army report has been published by the Military Toxics Project (Ref. 43).

The three references cited above clearly indicate that the U.S. military's concern for the safety of DU munitions ends at the muzzle of the cannon. Whatever happens becomes someone else's problem after a round is fired and its DU metal penetrator strikes armor, partially burns up and injects a huge number of chemically poisonous, radioactive DU aerosol particles into the atmosphere.

Exposure of U.S. Soldiers and Illnesses in Their Families

Thirty-six U.S. soldiers, including 22 with embedded fragments of DU in their bodies, have sought or reported for medical treatment (Ref. 44). They were in vehicles hit by DU munitions. Another report states there were 35 casualties and 72 wounded in crews of U.S. tanks and Bradley Fighting vehicles in so-called "friendly fire" incidents (Ref. 45). This includes the 36 above and is the total number of service personnel officially admitted to have been exposed to significant quantities of DU aerosol dust and DU fragments during the fighting.

On an NBC Dateline program, (Ref. 6) Sgt. Daryll Clark describes how he and twelve others were in an advanced position in the desert when someone radioed them that 20 Iraqi tanks were approaching his forward radar unit. He called for air support, and shortly a flight of A-10 Warthogs arrived and destroyed all of the tanks with DU-tipped 30-mm cannon rounds. Clark describes how he and the men with him were coughing and choking on smoke from the burning tanks, but mixed with it was DU aerosol dust, which he and the others breathed. He has had chronic respiratory problems since the war and his daughter Kennedy was born in September 1992 with purple welts called hemangioma covering not only her face and body, but some internal organs as well. Kennedy has serious breathing problems and was born without a thyroid. Clark stated that a geneticist told him that he could have ingested some radiation and that it could affect sperm cells. Almost three years after his exposure to DU, Clark's urine tested positive for uranium.

Army nurse 1st. Sgt. Carol Picou also is featured in the NBC documentary. She and seven other women in her medical team were in a forward position, ahead of the main U.S. forces and surrounded by burning Iraqi tanks and vehicles when they stopped and became exposed to DU from the burning destroyed Iraqi armor. Doctor Thomas Callender of Lafayette, Louisiana has examined Picou and said on the program that her outcome bears a striking similarity to other individuals who had exposures to ingested radioactive elements. Picou has been given a medical discharge.

The 7 medical personnel with Picou and the 12 soldiers with Clark probably became contaminated with DU. These 21 soldiers are not included in the official list of those recognized by the U.S. government as having been exposed to DU. Given the large tonnage of uranium penetrators in cannon rounds that were fired on the battlefields in Iraq and Kuwait, it is likely that many thousands of other soldiers also became contaminated with DU. The U.S. Army and the Veterans Administration balk at giving urinalysis tests and "in vivo" tests (whole-body counting of gamma rays) to measure the amount of DU in the lungs and other body organs of Gulf War veterans.

An astonishingly high rate of birth defects in the families of Gulf War veterans is especially troubling. For example, Laura Flanders reports that the Veterans Administration conducted a state-wide survey of 251 Gulf War veterans families in Mississippi (Ref. 46). Of their children conceived and born since the war, 67% have illnesses rated severe or have missing eyes, missing ears, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers. Flanders goes on to say that the birth defects are consistent with the effects of radiation from DU and infection from sand fly bites. Others blame experimental vaccines, chemical warfare pills, the insect repellent DEET and smoke from oil well fires for causing birth defects.


We have shown how easily micrometer particles of DU can spread over a large region and poison many people both radiologically and chemically. The promotion and sale of DU munitions by U.S. arms manufacturers (with U.S. government approval) and by other arms manufacturers to the armies and air forces of many nations will guarantee that in future conflicts thousands of soldiers on both sides will inhale and ingest acute doses of DU aerosols, and many in armored vehicles struck by DU penetrators will receive dangerous doses of non-removable uranium shrapnel in their bodies. The human cost of using DU munitions in conflicts is not worth the perceived short-term advantages, especially if it results in U.S. veterans and others becoming ill and in genetic defects in their offspring. A comprehensive epidemiological study should be made of all Gulf War veterans and their families, searching for evidence of residual DU in their bodies and for causes of genetic defects in their children. The health issues associated with DU munitions should be investigated and evaluated by independent medical and scientific experts separated completely from the Department of Defense, Veterans Administration, National Laboratories, U.S. military services and their contractors.


(1) Depleted uranium basically is natural uranium in which the U-235 isotopic content has been reduced from 0.7% to 0.2%. It is a waste product of uranium enrichment plants.

(2) Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, The Chemical Rubber Co., 50th ed., 1969-70, p. B-55. This has been a standard reference text for generations of scientists and engineers. It is updated every two years.

(3) "Operation Desert Storm: Army Not Adequately Prepared to Deal With Depleted Uranium Contamination," U.S. General Accounting Office Report GAO/NSIAD-93-90 external link, Jan. 29, 1993.

(4) Headquarters U.S. Army Armament, Munitions and Chemical Command memorandum on DU, March 7, 1991, to Persian Gulf commanders, photocopy in the book, Uranium Battlefields Home & Abroad: Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Department of Defense, Bukowski, G. and Lopez, D. A., March, 1993, pp. 91-94.

(5) Lowenstein, P., "Industrial Uses of Depleted Uranium," photocopy in Uranium Battlefields Home & Abroad: Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Department of Defense, Bukowski, G. and Lopez, D. A., March, 1993, pp. 135-141.

(6) Reported on National Broadcasting Co. (NBC TV) Dateline program, "Deadly Fire," Feb. 22, 1994.

(7) "Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium Use in the U.S. Army: Technical Report," Prepared by the Army Environmental Policy Institute external link at the request of the U.S. Congress, June, 1994, p. 78.

(8) Mishima, J.; Parkhurst, M. A.; and Hadlock, D. E., "Potential Behavior of Depleted Uranium Penetrators under Shipping and Bulk Storage Accident Conditions," Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory, Richland, WA, Report PNL-5415, March 1985, 138 p.

(9) Parker, R. L., "Fear of flying," Nature, Vol. 336 22/29 Dec. 1988, p. 719.

(10) van der Keur, Henk, "Uranium Pollution from the Amsterdam Plane Crash," Konfrontatie, February, 1994; translated by Wendie Kooge and Kemp Houck.

(11) L. A. Dietz, CHEM-434-LAD, "Investigation of Excess Alpha Activity Observed in Recent Air Filter Collections and Other Environmental Samples", Jan. 24, 1980; unclassified technical report, Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, Schenectady, NY 12301; obtained under Freedom of Information Act. Published in Oak Ridge National Laboratory Report DOE/OR/21950-1022, "Responsiveness Summary: Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis (EE/CA) for the Colonie Site", pp. A70-A89, Jan. 1997.
Alternatively, copies of CHEM-434-LAD are available upon request from the Military Toxics Project external link, P.O. Box 558, Lewiston, ME 04243-0588, U.S.A.; phone +1-207-783-5091; fax +1-207-783-5096; e-mail

(12) Bukowski, G. and Lopez, D. A., Uranium Battlefields Home & Abroad: Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Department of Defense external link, March, 1993, p. 59.

(13) Bateman, H., "The Solution of a System of Differential Equations Occurring in the Theory of Radioactive Transformations," Proc. Cambridge Phil. Soc. 16, p. 423 (1910).

(14) Half-lives are from Nuclides and Isotopes Fourteenth Edition Chart of the Nuclides, 1989, GE Co. Nuclear Energy Operations, 175 Curtner Ave., M/C 397, San Jose, CA 95125.

(15) Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, p. B-535, op. cit.

(16) "Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium Use in the U.S. Army: Technical Report," p. 119, op. cit.

(17) For a detailed description of the physics and method used in calculating average Compton electron and photoelectron energies, their ranges in body tissue, and estimating the number of living cells traversed by these high-speed electrons and by beta particles, see J. W. Gofman's book, Radiation-Induced Cancer from Low-Dose Exposure: an Independent Analysis external link, 1990: 1st. ed., Committee for Nuclear Responsibility, Inc. external link Book Division, P.O. Box 11207, San Francisco, CA 94101, Chapters 32 and 33.

(18) Schubert, J. and Lapp, R. E., Radiation: What It Is and How It Affects You, Compass Books Edition, Viking Press, 1958, pp. 66, 8, 16 and 18.

(19) Report No. NV-89-06, "Environmental Assessment for the Depleted Uranium Testing Program at the Nevada Test Site by the United States Army Ballistics Research Laboratory," U.S. Dept. of Energy, Nevada Field Office, Las Vegas, Nevada, March 1992, p. 12.

(20) Dahl, D. A. and Johnson, L. J., LA-UR-77-681, "Aerosolized U and Be from LASL Dynamic Experiments," Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, 1977, p. 2.

(21) Dietz, L. A., CHEM-434-LAD, op. cit.

(22) Hines, B., "Colonie Uranium Plant Closes as Radiation Continues Unchecked," Schenectady Gazette, Feb. 6, 1980, photocopy in Uranium Battlefields Home & Abroad: Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Department of Defense, by G. Bukowski and D. A. Lopez, May 24, 1991, p. 120.

(23) Dietz, L. A., "Estimate of Radiation Dose from a Depleted Uranium Oxide Particle," in Uranium Battlefields Home & Abroad: Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Department of Defense, by Bukowski, G. and Lopez, D. A., May 24, 1991, pp. 153-155.

(24) Massey, B. S., text book, Mechanics of Fluids, 6th Ed.,Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989, p. 172.

(25) Fox, R. W. and McDonald, A. T., text book, Introduction to Fluid Mechanics, 4th Ed., Wiley, 1992, p. 444.

(26) Dietz, L. A. and Sheffield, J. C., "Secondary electron emission induced by 5-30 keV monatomic ions striking thin oxide films," Journal of Applied Physics, Vol. 46. No. 10, October 1975, pp. 4361-4370.

(27) For a discussion of resuspension of radionuclides, see Enewetak Radiological Survey, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Nevada Operations Office, Las Vegas, NV, Report NVO-140, Vol. I, Oct. 1973, pp. 507-523.

(28) Korényi-Both, Col. A. L., MD, Ph.D, "Al Eskan Disease-Persian Gulf Syndrome," synopsis of a medical report.

(29) International Commission on Radiation Protection Publication 54, book, Individual Monitoring for Intakes of Radionuclides by Workers: Design and Interpretation, Pergamon Press, 1988.

(30) Bukowski, G. and Lopez, D. A., Uranium Battlefields Home & Abroad: Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Department of Defense external link, March, 1993, p. 50.

(31) Skogman, D. P., Headquarters, U.S. Army Armament, Munitions and Chemical Command, Rock Is., IL 61299, May 24, 1991, photocopy of document in Uranium Battlefields Home & Abroad: Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Department of Defense, by Bukowski, G. and Lopez, D. A., p. 98.

(32) Bukowski, G. and Lopez, D. A., see pp. 131-132 for photocopy of Material Safety Data Sheet, op. cit.

(33) Osterman, J., "Potential Hazards of Depleted Uranium Penetrators," a Pentagon report to Congressman Les Aspin, Chm. House Armed Services Comm., photocopy in Uranium Battlefields Home & Abroad: Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Department of Defense, by Bukowski, G. and Lopez, D. A., pp. 86-89.

(34) Arkin, W. M., "The desert glows: with propaganda," external link Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May, 1993, p. 12.

(35) Summary Report to Congress, "Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Army," prepared by the U.S. Army Environmental Policy Institute external link, June, 1994, p. 10.

(36) The LAKA Foundation: Dutch national center for critical documentation on nuclear energy; No. 2 in a series of fact sheets on the Gulf War, June, 1994.

(37) Flanders, L., "A Lingering Sickness," The Nation, Jan. 29, 1995, pp, 94,96.

(38) Bukowski, G. and Lopez, D. A., p. 35, op. cit.

(39) Washabaugh, Lt. Col. W. M., U.S. Air Force, Congressional Inquiry Div., Office of Legislative Liaison, letter to Sen. Sam Nunn, Chm. Senate Armed Services Comm., Nov. 8, 1990.

(40) Summary Report to Congress, p. 3, op. cit.

(41) Operation Desert Storm, p. 4, op. cit.

(42) "Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium Use in the U.S. Army: Technical Report," op. cit.

(43) "Radioactive Battlefields of the 1990s, the United States Army's use of Depleted Uranium and Its Consequences for Human Health and the Environment," by the Military Toxics Project's Depleted Uranium Citizens' Network, January 16, 1996.

(44) Summary Report to Congress, p. 2, op. cit.

(45) Helmkamp, J. C., "United States Military Casualty Comparison During the Persian Gulf War," Journal of Occupational Medicine, Vol. 36, June 6, 1994, p. 614.

(46) Flanders, L., "Mal de Guerre," The Nation (magazine), March 7, 1994, p. 292.

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