New War Raises Concerns over US Use of Radiological Weapons in Iraq
September 28, 2014
John Keyser / The Hill & The Center for Constitutional Rights & The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons
As the US launches new attacks in the Middle East, detailsabout the military's use of DU in weaponry and its long-term effects remains more urgent as ever. According to a report by PAX, Iraq has suffered the largest use of DU munitions of all areas of conflict -- conservatively estimated to be at least 440 metric tons while the UN estimates are five times that amount. Iraqi civilians exposed to DU have suffered high rates of cancer and birth defects and US veterans report unexplained illnesses.
Veteran Seeks Answers on Depleted Uranium
John Keyser / The Hill
(September 25, 2014) -- I served as a Hospital Corpsman with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines in Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, Iraq. The fighting was heavy, and it was the bloodiest Marine battle since Iwo Jima. The city itself was left as a wasteland worse than anything you'd see in a Mad Max film.
There was enough loss of life, both civilian and military, to deal with without worrying about being exposed to toxic airborne chemicals. We never wore gas masks and our day-to-day clothing was barely enough to protect us from the sand, much less any chemical contamination. Fallujah, Najaf, and Basra account for almost a fourth of the chemical contamination that has been found across Iraq.
One of the war's toxic legacies was our use of depleted uranium (DU), used to pierce through armor in different battles across Iraq. DU creates a fine dust upon impact that, when inhaled, settles into people's bones and internal organs. I know veterans who are unexplainably ill and have been refused testing for exposure to depleted uranium.
When veterans who have been in the line of fire come home with failing health and the cause cannot be pinpointed, psychiatrists often ascribe it to mental problems. We need to know what we were exposed to in Iraq to better understand our health problems and get the necessary treatment.
That is why my organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the Center for Constitutional Rights today filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defense to get more information about where and when DU was fired in Iraq. With this information, I and other veterans can make better conclusions and decisions about our health.
This information is not only critical for veterans but for Iraqi civilians as well. It's no secret that large numbers of birth defects have been reported across the country, and recent studies suggest that DU leads to interference with the development of a fetus during pregnancy.
Reports from Basra -- another site of heavy fighting where, by experts' estimation, DU was used on a large scale -- are stark. Childhood leukemia rates in Basra more than doubled between 1993 and 2007. Local authorities estimate that in the Basra area alone, 46,000 tons of weapons debris remains, which the wind picks up and blows into people's homes, food, and lungs.
DU is also believed to be a carcinogen, and cancer rates in Iraq are spiking. We still don't know everything about the effects of DU, but without knowing where it was used, there is no scientific way to study them.
Our government cannot expect us to accept unexplained sickness as part of the job or to let Iraqis continue to be exposed to depleted uranium remnants. The only thing the government has to do is own up to the locations where depleted uranium was fired in Iraq so that it can be cleaned up and we can have more information about whether or not we were exposed.
They are not the ones who have to live with mysterious illnesses, PTSD, amputated limbs, crippling addictions, and a distrust of the very people we risked our lives for. With new military actions in Iraq, questions about the use of weaponized depleted uranium become even more urgent.
I, and many veterans like me, would like to see Iraq cleaned up for the current and future citizens who live there. My brothers and sisters (even two biological sisters) have bled to ensure that the country was stable at the urging of the past and present administrations, to say nothing of the fact that it didn't remain that way. It says a lot about this country's veterans that we are committed to getting the necessary information to help humanitarian organizations clean up the toxic sites that continue to sicken Iraqis.
Keyser is a combat veteran, writer, and character designer for 11Bit studios and is currently working on a game called This War of Mine, which explores the effects of war on civilians. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Depleted Uranium Coordinates Needed for
Clean-up of Dangerous Sites in Iraq
The Center for Constitutional Rights
(September 25, 2014) - As the US launches new military actions in the Middle East, the groups say getting information about the military's use of DU in weaponry and its long-term effects is as urgent as ever. According to "In a State of Uncertainty," a report by the Netherlands-based organization PAX, Iraq has been subject to the largest use of DU munitions of all areas of conflict and test sites, conservatively estimated to be at least 440 metric tons, though the United Nations Environment Programme has estimated an amount up to five times that based on satellite imagery. Iraqi civilians thought to have been exposed to DU and remaining debris have suffered high rates of cancer and birth defects and US veterans report unexplained illnesses.
"DU is but one example of the toxic legacy left by our wars in Iraq," said CCR Attorney Jeena Shah. "Veterans who served in Iraq are suffering side effects, while many Iraqis still live surrounded by piles of metal debris left over from the war and with soil and ground water potentially contaminated by DU. The only way to deal with its effects and to ensure it is cleaned up is to have a full accounting of where weapons containing DU were deployed."
DU is a byproduct of enriched uranium and is used in armor-piercing weapons due to its high density. When DU hits a target, its fragments burn and vaporize into a fine dust. If a person inhales, ingests, or is exposed by radiation to DU, radioactive material can be absorbed into the lungs, bone, kidney, skeletal tissue, reproductive system, brain, and other organs.
A report recently published by the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons concluded after reviewing approximately fifty peer-reviewed studies on DU that it is clearly a genotoxic agent, known to be involved in the development of cancer and potentially responsible for genetic damage.
Some of the wreckage left behind from the war has entered the unregulated trade in scrap metal, sometimes even made into cooking pots. No safe levels of exposure to DU have been established, and researchers advise that all exposure should be avoided. Iraq and other UN member states have called for the banning of DU and the issue will be before the United Nations in October.
Said Maggie Martin, Organizing Director of IVAW, "Veterans have been fighting for decades to have our injuries recognized by the US government -- from Agent Orange to Military Sexual Trauma. We were promised healthcare in return for our service, and we deserve to know if we've been exposed to depleted uranium. This is an important matter of health for over two million veterans and for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan who are experiencing the worst of the toxic legacy of war."
Laid to Waste, a report by Wim Zwijnenburg of PAX, details the difficulty of limiting civilian exposure to DU in the absence of reliable information about locations where it was used and the limited efforts to address the issue.
"In addition to regular bombardment, our country and our communities have been left with a toxic legacy from decades of US war in Iraq," said Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. "If the US is truly concerned about civilian well-being, it should assist in a full accounting of DU contamination and rigorous study of its health effects by making public the locations where weapons containing DU were deployed."
CCR and IVAW are seeking this information as part of the Right to Heal Initiative, which they launched together with the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq. Visit the website to learn more about the Right to Heal Initiative.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.
US Urged to Clarify Depleted Uranium Policy
As A-10 Gunships Deploy to the Middle East
Ban Depleted Uranium / ICBUW
(September 23, 2014) -- The Pentagon has announced plans to send 12 A-10 gunships from the 122nd Fighter Wing to an unspecified location in the Middle East as part of its wider campaign against Islamic State (IS) fighters. The aircraft, which can fire 30mm DU cannon rounds, are designed for use in close air support of grounds troops. However President Obama has given assurances that US troops will not be involved in ground combat operations during the conflict.
In June, Iraq called for a global treaty ban on DU, highlighting the need for technical assistance for clearance and urging the UN and member states to act with more urgency on the issue. The renewed use of DU on its territory when contamination from 1991 and 2003 remains unresolved would be politically problematic. ICBUW strongly urges the US not to use DU and to state publicly that it will not do so. The arrival of the A-10s in the Middle East will coincide with debate over a fifth UN General Assembly resolution expressing concern over DU weapons.
With the aircraft not due in the Middle East until mid-October, there is an opportunity for US campaigners to seek clarification on whether DU will be used. Those in countries forming part of the new coalition, such as France and the UK, should ask their governments whether they endorse any use of DU by US forces in the conflict.
US DU Usage Policy Unclear
The deployment may provide a new test for US policy on DU use -- namely when does it view its use acceptable or unacceptable. Following the short-lived use of A-10s in Libya in 2011, the US claimed that no DU had been used -- although reserved the right to use it in future.
Concern over the potential use of DU in Libya had been raised by parliamentarians in a number of NATO countries, including the UK [http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/british-mp-questions-prime-ministers-apparent-poli] and Belgium [http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/belgian-defence-minister-wont-question-us-on-deple]. Analysts expressed surprise at the US decision, as tackling Libya's armored vehicles seemed like a logical use for the A-10, a role for which the US claims DU ammunition is critically important. This remains the political line although information revealed [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/19/us-depleted-uranium-weapons-civilian-areas-iraq] earlier this year demonstrated that DU was also used against non-armored targets, unmounted troops and buildings in Iraq in 2003.
A-10 aircraft fire 30mm PGU-14 armor-piercing incendiary DU ammunition from a cannon fitted beneath the cockpit. The GAU-8 cannon normally fires a standard combat mixture of PGU-14 and PGU-13 high explosive rounds, which are pre-loaded on an ammunition belt before the plane takes off. The A-10 has been responsible for more DU contamination than any other platform. In the case of Libya, and if the US statement was correct, then it was the first public acknowledgement by the US that A-10s were being loaded only with the high explosive PGU-13 rounds during combat of this type, although the practice has previously been identified in photographs of A-10 units in Afghanistan.
At issue is therefore whether the US has set itself a voluntary code of conduct that determines whether DU use is acceptable or not in any given conflict. Perhaps it is cost/benefit analysis of perceived military necessity versus impact on public relations? The calculation underlines the continuing global stigmatization of the weapons, which is also reflected in the increasingly large majorities voting in favor of DU resolutions at the UN General Assembly. It is highly likely that, given the level of concern about the weapons in the region, any use of DU by the US would be a propaganda victory for IS.
New Report: Evidence that Depleted Uranium
Can Cause Cancer Now Overwhelming
Ban Depleted Uranium / ICBUW
(August 29, 2014) -- A new analysis of nearly 50 peer-reviewed studies has concluded that the chemically toxic and radioactive weapons constituent depleted uranium (DU) can damage DNA and cause cancer, the report calls for urgent studies into the extent to which civilians are being exposed to the substance.
The report, Malignant Effects, finds that little was known about the risks to civilians posed by DU weapons prior to their first major use in the 1991 Gulf War, with significant uncertainties persisting until the present day. The majority of the studies analysed in the report were undertaken after reviews by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UK Royal Society so the new findings are not properly represented in these historic risk assessments.
All radioactive substances that emit alpha radiation, including DU, have already been classified by the WHO's specialist International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 1 carcinogens if they get inside the human body. Studies show that DU can also damage DNA and cellular processes in a number of different ways, such as by triggering oxidative damage, breaking DNA strands and binding directly to the DNA itself. Other papers have documented that DU can cause mutations in DNA, change the structure of chromosomes, make cells become cancerous and destabilise the genome.
"These studies contain irrefutable evidence of the damage that DU can do," said David Cullen, one of the report's authors. "It is completely unacceptable that this material was used in weapons before the effects were properly understood. We urgently need research to find out how much DU is getting into people who are forced to live, work and play in areas contaminated by DU weapons so that we can make a full assessment of the risks".
While new weapons are supposed to be reviewed to ensure their compliance with international law, the precise risks from radioactive or toxic substances in weapons may take many years of studies to fully emerge. This delay places civilians at risk. Studies into DU's impact in the field have been severely hampered in Iraq by the refusal of the United States to release data on where the weapons were fired and in what quantity.
The chance release of a handful of coordinates earlier this year indicated that DU had been used against a far wider range of targets in Iraq than was legal and in populated areas, increasing the risks that civilians would be exposed.
The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) has called for DU weapons to be banned, just as anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs have been. ICBUW argues that the weapons are inherently indiscriminate and that their legacy persists long after the end of conflict.
"The rush to develop and deploy these weapons resulted in the dispersal of a substance with little understanding of the risks to civilians, risks that continue to this day because the states that have used these weapons in Iraq and elsewhere have never seriously tried to clean up their mess," said ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir. "The use of DU breaches the most fundamental radiation protection norms and the irresponsible behaviur of users has demonstrated that only a global ban would end their use."
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