Jason Armstrong / Tribune-Herald & Erin Miller / Stephens Media – 2007-08-24 00:42:04
Depleted Uranium Found at PTA:
Army says Material doesn’t pose a health danger
HAWAI’I (August 21, 2007) — Radioactive depleted uranium has been found at the US Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area, the Army announced Monday.
Military contractor Cabrera Services has also determined that a formerly classified weapon capable of firing DU rounds was used at the Big Island military base, the Army said in a two-page news release.
“The depleted uranium (DU) that was found does not pose a health danger,” said Army spokeswoman Stefanie Gardin.
The material, the same as previously discovered at the Army’s Schofield Barracks on Oahu, was found in an area where there is no public access. The PTA training range covers about 55,000 acres, Gardin said.
The contractor collected soil samples that have been sent to an independent laboratory for analysis, the Army said in its written statement.
“Now that DU has been confirmed at Pohakuloa, the Army will coordinate with the State of Hawaii and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to determine the next steps,” the statement added.
That plan will include an “extensive” survey and monitoring of PTA, Schofield and Oahu’s Makua Military Reservation. The Army said it also will partner with state officials “in the planning and execution of a mutually agreed upon response.”
“This is obviously going to be the first step in the process,” Gardin said of the aerial testing Cabrera Services conducted Thursday through Saturday.
She did not immediately know the cost of the survey, or why the Army had to hire a contractor to determine what was used on its firing range.
Gardin said she’d seek answers to those and other questions.
“(I’m) not surprised in the least,” Jim Albertini, a Big Island peace activist and co-author of a book that examined the military’s nuclear activity in Hawaii, said when told that DU has been confirmed at PTA.
Albertini said the announcement verifies radiation tests he and others conducted downwind of the PTA firing range on May 29. The unverified readings showed high levels of DU radiation, he said.
“I think this is a major issue that’s going to make Agent Orange dwarf in comparison,” Albertini said of the chemical defoliant the U.S. used during the Vietnam War. “It’s going to be a nightmare.”
The Army has said it has not used weapons containing DU at PTA. It said Monday that the material is not currently used in training ammunition.
“I question everything that the military said,” Albertini said in response to the claim. “They originally said they never used DU in Hawaii.”
Albertini suggested that if the Army used DU rounds in its 1960s-era “Davy Crockett” recoilless gun, then it likely also fired the material from other weapons.
“I think it’s very reasonable to at least suggest that,” he said.
Albertini called for citizen involvement “to ensure the transparency of the overall process.”
Offering his own services, Albertini suggested enlisting the help of Dr. Lorrin Pang, who serves as the state Health Department’s district health officer for Maui County.
Pang has volunteered his own time to oversee civilian monitoring for depleted uranium. He gave a presentation in Hilo on Saturday to announce no DU-produced radiation was observed during testing done in Kona during June and July.
Unaware of the Army’s findings at the time, Pang called for follow-up testing closer to the PTA firing range.
Army spokeswoman Gardin said she would look into the possibility of civilian oversight of any cleanup efforts.
DU is the byproduct of producing nuclear energy. The military uses it in armor-piercing munitions because the material has about twice the density of lead and can ignite on impact.
Breathing the “weakly radioactive” material allows it to be absorbed into the blood faster than by ingestion, according to the World Health Organization’s Web site. People exposed to DU would have to breathe grams of the material to trigger the risk of lung cancer, according to the WHO.
DU is considered to be a “chemical health hazard” that has not been known to cause “observable health or reproductive effects,” according to the Army’s news release.
Jason Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
Citizens: Persistence Led to DU Discovery:
Critics forced probe that revealed depleted uranium at training area
Erin Miller / Stephens Media
HAWAI’I (August 22, 2007) — Citizens who persisted in asking the Army to test for depleted uranium at Pohakuloa Training Area say their efforts led to confirmation of the presence of the radioactive material.
The Army, however, says the discovery of depleted uranium, or DU, on Oahu military facilities prompted further investigation on the Big Island.
“I knew it was there,” resident Shannon Rudolph said Tuesday morning. “If it was on other training ranges, it had to be here.”
The Army on Monday announced that a government contractor had confirmed the use of a formerly classified weapons system, the Davy Crockett recoilless gun, in Hawaii, along with the presence of depleted uranium at the training area.
Rudolph credited county residents who purchased monitors to measure radiation levels, and who repeatedly questioned Army and state officials about the likelihood of depleted uranium having been used on the PTA firing range.
“If people wouldn’t have howled, they never would have tested,” she said. “It shows that a few people can make a difference.”
She said she’d like to see the Army test Big Island residents for possible side effects from the depleted uranium.
Stefanie Gardin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Garrison in Hawaii, said the 2006 discovery of depleted uranium at Schofield Barracks on Oahu led to the Aug. 16-18 aerial survey of Pohakuloa Training Area. In response to a question about testing for members of the public concerned about the discovery, she said it was unlikely that the general public would have come into contact with the depleted uranium.
So far, the Department of Health doesn’t consider the Army’s announcement a reason to declare any emergency or health hazard, said Russell Takata, program manager for the state Health Department’s Noise, Radiation and Indoor Air Quality Branch.
“There is no immediate hazard to the public,” Takata said Tuesday afternoon. “As far as we’re concerned, the background levels are within the normal limits.”
Takata said air samples taken around Pohakuloa show readings of three to nine micro roentgens per hour; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s acceptable background reading is three to 12 micro roentgens per hour. Takata will review each step the Army and its contractor, Cabrera Services, takes to determine how much depleted uranium is at Pohakuloa.
“The soil studies and air studies will tell us if any depleted uranium has become airborne,” he said.
He anticipated those answers by the end of this year.
Big Island peace activist Jim Albertini disagreed with assessments that depleted uranium doesn’t constitute a health threat for residents. Albertini also called on the Army to stop all live firing at PTA until tests show how much depleted uranium is in the soil.
Additional rounds hitting the ground blows depleted uranium particles into the air, he said, which could allow them to be blown into populated areas.
Albertini, who co-authored a book in the early 1980s about the military’s presence in Hawaii, questioned the Army’s record-keeping, which required the use of an outside contractor to determine that Davy Crockett spotter rounds were used at the Army’s own facility.
Gardin said the Army wasn’t intentionally withholding information about the use of depleted uranium. Training with the Davy Crockett system ended in 1968, and the classified nature of tests meant that a “minimal” number of people knew the system was being used in Hawaii. The Army is no longer authorized to fire systems that use depleted uranium, she said.
Just how much depleted uranium is at Pohakuloa is unknown, Gardin said, adding that the survey done last week was to identify the presence of spotter rounds that contained the depleted uranium.
Island residents shouldn’t be affected by the presence of depleted uranium, she said.
“The impact area where the depleted uranium was found is a remote area that is not open to public access,” she said. “It is highly unlikely that any members of the general population would come into contact with depleted uranium there.”
No Radioactive Residue in Kona
Jason Armstrong / Tribune-Herald
HAWAI’I (August 19, 2007) — No radiation was found in Kona during recent testing by citizens attempting to prove the military used depleted uranium munitions on Hawaii Island, a state Department of Health official said Saturday.
“We didn’t see anything,” said Dr. Lorrin Pang, the DOH’s district health officer for Maui County.
But Pang stressed he was acting as a private citizen in summarizing the radiation-monitoring data. Thirteen people were at his presentation on the subject at the Hilo Betsuin Buddhist Mission.
No military officials were present.
“I don’t really need the weight of the Department of Health,” said Pang, an author and distinguished doctor who spent 24 years in the U.S. Army.
He has served as a World Health Organization consultant since 1985.
“This is not chasing an agenda,” he added. “This is just looking at the data fairly.”
Concerns over the Army’s use of Stryker armored vehicles at Pohakuloa Training Area and the decades of live-fire training at the Army base have led to allegations that depleted uranium has been used there.
DU is what’s left over when uranium is used as a fuel in nuclear power plants. While retaining most of its radioactivity, the material is very dense, making it popular in armor-piercing rockets and other weaponry. It also explodes on impact.
The Army maintains it doesn’t use DU at PTA.
Public skepticism rose when Stryker opponents said they measured high levels of radiation during a May 29 opening ceremony for a nearby section of Saddle Road.
Another unofficial reading of 93 counts per minute — the amount is more than double what is considered to be safe — from Kona prompted follow-up testing that two Kona volunteers conducted between June 26 and July 24.
“They tried to repeat it. They couldn’t repeat it,” Pang said of that first reading.
The two monitors were subjected to a series of tests that verified both could read low and high levels of alpha radiation, and were properly calibrated, Pang said. The degree of reading variations between each also was determined.
More than 20,000 readings failed to produce a single recording of a dangerous level of radiation, he said. Pang said he’d would want to see at least 20 readings above the hazard level before determining a health risk exists.
Still, the testing was productive, Pang added, because it established a “control” or baseline for normal radiation levels in Kona. It also identified something called a confidence interval that shows the monitors’ level of detection.
He noted, however, that elevation, wind speed and other conditions all affect the findings.
The next step is for the volunteers — some complained of having to buy the $400 machines themselves — to do testing at Waikii Ranch, Pang said. The subdivision off of Saddle Road is much closer to the PTA firing range than Kona and is near where higher radiation levels were allegedly detected.
The Army also has announced plans to do radiological testing at PTA.
Attending Pang’s presentation was Delbert Nishimoto, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye’s Hilo field representative, who is also a U.S. military veteran.
Allegations of DU use and radiation monitoring have Inouye concerned about possible health risks, Nishimoto said.
“We’re on top of it,” he added.
Jason Armstrong can be reached at
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