Jason Armstrong / Tribune-Herald – 2007-08-27 22:37:54
Army: Material Doesn’t Pose a Health Danger
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DEPLETED URANIUM IN THE HUMAN BODY: Sr Rosalie Bertell, PhD
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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