[L-I] Kosovo troops tested for cancer from uranium
Johannes.Schneider at SPAMgmx.net
Wed Jan 3 15:47:26 MST 2001
The issue is now getting some attention across Europe.
On the BBC website it is the top European item at the moment.
Here in Germany it was the second international item in the main TV news
of the first channel tonight.
Alarm over Nato uranium deaths
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby
Italy has called on Nato to give a full account of its use of weapons
containing depleted uranium (DU) in the conflicts in former Yugoslavia.
It follows the death from cancer of a sixth Italian soldier who served
with the Nato peacekeeping force in the Balkans.
Italy is the latest European country to express concern about the
effects on its troops of DU weapons.
Finland, Spain, Portugal and France have already begun looking into the
Last week, Belgian Defence Minister André Flahaut called on all European
Union defence ministers to examine the issue.
In an interview published in La Repubblica newspaper, Prime Minister
Giuliano Amato said alarm in Italy over the so-called Balkan syndrome
was "more than legitimate".
"Nato must carry out all the checks that will allow us to understand the
history and the characteristics of depleted uranium," he said.
Nato troops fear DU's effects
"We've always known that it was a danger only in absolutely exceptional
circumstances like, for example, picking up a fragment with a hand on
which there was an open wound, while in normal circumstances it isn't
dangerous at all.
"But now we're starting to have a justified fear that things aren't that
simple," he added.
Nato has acknowledged that it did use some DU weapons in the Kosovo
conflict, though little more than half the quantity the Belgrade
authorities say were fired.
There is also evidence that Nato used DU in an earlier Balkan conflict,
Depleted uranium is a heavy substance, 1.7 times as dense as lead, and
used in armour-piercing munitions.
Many Gulf War veterans believe it is implicated in a range of medical
problems they are suffering from, known collectively as Gulf War
Because of its ability to punch through armour, DU is prized as a highly
effective anti-tank weapon.
In its natural state, it is only mildly radioactive, but on impact with
a solid object it turns into a burning vapour.
The US Defense Department and the UK Ministry of Defence accept that the
resulting dust can be dangerous, and say troops entering vehicles hit by
DU weapons need to take precautions.
But they say the dust soon ceases to be a significant problem, and is
unlikely to move far from the site of the explosion, though independent
experiments have found it can be blown many miles.
The US and UK military authorities say any risk from DU comes from its
toxicity as a heavy metal, and that its radioactivity is negligible.
A former US colonel, Dr Asaf Durakovic, who is now a professor of
medicine, said last year he had found a "significant presence" of DU in
two-thirds of the 17 Gulf War veterans he had tested.
He said: "Some of those particles were inhaled, and if they were too big
to be absorbed they stayed in the lungs, and there they can present a
risk of cancer."
A report by the US Army Environmental Policy Institute said: "If DU
enters the body, it has the potential to generate significant medical
"The risks associated with DU in the body are both chemical and
radiological. Personnel inside or near vehicles struck by DU penetrators
could receive significant internal exposures."
Some Gulf veterans believe birth defects in their children are
attributable to their own exposure to DU. And there is concern over
reports from Iraq of high cancer rates among civilians in parts of the
country where DU weapons were used in 1991.
That concern now extends to anyone potentially exposed to DU residues in
the former Yugoslavia, both nationals and foreigners like aid workers
Several European governments had earlier told their troops not to eat
local products, and were reported to have flown in drinking water. For
many other people, those safeguards are not available.
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