Dr. Rostker hosts VSOs and MSOs

to discuss Depleted Uranium issues


WASHINGTON, DC.- April 28, 1997 (GulfLINK) - Representatives from veterans service organizations (VSOs) and military service organizations (MSOs) met recently in Dr. Bernard Rostker’s office at the Pentagon. The focus of this workshop was to discuss information given to service members regarding exposures and hazards from depleted uranium (DU) on the battlefield. Dr. Rostker, Special Assistant for Gulf War illness, also invited a subject matter expert to this workshop. Colonel H. E. Wolfe, as the assistant for occupational health policy environment, Safety and Occupational Health Office, Assistant Secretary of the Army Installations, Logistics and Environment, was able to provide his incisive comments on depleted uranium to the workshop participants.

Depleted uranium is the metal residue left when natural uranium is refined to remove the fissionable isotopes used in nuclear reactors and weapons. Because it is 1.6 times heavier than lead, steel-encased DU is used in the armor of the M1A1 tank. The level of radiation for a person in or on the M1A1 is less than the level one receives on a transatlantic flight or from wearing a radium-coated wrist watch. Ammunition made from alloys containing depleted uranium can penetrate armor better than that made up of less dense materials. This DU munitions technology was used by the US for the first time during Operation Desert Storm. DU has also been used in the civilian industry for stabilizers in airplanes and boats, where durability is important.

VSO and MSO concerns have developed around the possibility that expended DU projectiles, or dust and fragments from them, posed a residual hazard to troops on the battlefield. Careful radiological monitoring of a group of maintenance workers who had cleaned out a US tank struck by enemy fire and burned while carrying DU ammunition, during and after their exposure, led to the conclusion by a 1994 Defense Science Board study that the residual DU particles posed a minimal health hazard to personnel wearing appropriate protection, while working around contaminated vehicles. DoD continues to monitor this group, and this issue is still being examined by the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI). To date, no new information has been discovered that contradicts the 1994 conclusions, but OSAGWI is soliciting further information concerning scientific studies that would provide further details on our inquiry into the DU issue.

Anyone having further information can call our DoD Incident Reporting Hot Line at (800) 472-6719, or send e-mail comments and information to: brostker@gwillnesses.osd.mil.

Regarding specific DU issues, the human kidney is the most sensitive organ affected by exposure to uranium. So, for the past three years, the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Hospital has been monitoring the health of about 30 Gulf War veterans who were wounded by depleted uranium fragments in friendly fire episodes, which cannot be surgically removed, paying particular attention to kidney illnesses. To date, the VA has not detected any kidney damage among these soldiers, but continued monitoring for several years is planned.

Organizations attending the workshop included: Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, National Military Family Association, American Legion, Association of the US Army, Vietnam Veterans Association, Swords to Plowshares, and the Gulf War Resource Center.