Depleted Uranium Exposure Notification


WASHINGTON, August 5, 1998 (GulfLINK) - The Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs are contacting veterans of the Gulf War that may have come in contact with depleted uranium. The program is designed to ensure that veterans with higher than normal uranium levels in their bodies as a result of DU exposure are identified and offered examinations.

The Pentagon's Gulf War illnesses office recently released their report on depleted uranium exposures during the Gulf War. The report points out that it was during the Gulf War that depleted uranium, in the form of armor-piercing munitions and reinforced tank armor, was first used on the battlefield. Many experts agree that depleted uranium played a key role in the overwhelming success of U.S. forces during the Gulf War. However, its chemical and radiological properties gave rise to concerns about possible combat and non-combat health risks associated with depleted uranium use. Therefore, Defense officials have decided to locate and evaluate veterans who may have had been exposed to depleted uranium.

The program that was developed is an expansion of the ongoing work of Dr. Melissa McDiarmid of the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Since 1993, she has performed evaluations and follow-up of 33 service members wounded by depleted uranium during friendly fire incidents during the war. McDiarmid's program is set up to screen individuals for elevated levels of urine uranium.

Using Dr. McDiarmid's work as the blueprint for the new program, Bernard Rostker, the DoD's special assistant for Gulf War illnesses, says his team will launch the new program by contacting those veterans with the highest exposures to depleted uranium.

"We'll be calling all the vets that were involved in friendly fire incidents, both those on the vehicles when the were struck by depleted uranium and those who entered the vehicles immediately afterward to rescue their fellow soldiers," he said.

"Those service members," Rostker explained, "are considered to be Level I exposures. Soldiers who worked around the contaminated vehicles have been classified as Level II exposures and they will also be contacted under this program."

He added that Level II would include explosive ordnance disposal personnel who removed unexploded munitions from the stricken vehicles and battle damage assessment teams that evaluated the vehicles after they were transported back to bases in Saudi Arabia.

Also included in the Level II category are the maintenance recovery personnel who salvaged parts and removed the contaminated vehicles from the battlefield, as well as service members from the 144th Service and Supply Company who ran the salvage yard at King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia, and the Radiation Control workers who processed the vehicles for return to the United States.

Officials say the program will start with the telephone call, confirming with the veteran the exposure that occurred. If it's determined that an exposure did occur, the contact manger will describe the depleted uranium medical evaluation and encourage the member to participate.

"We will follow the telephone conversation with a letter describing the DU medical evaluation program and the DoD or the VA will then call the individual to schedule the examination," Rostker says.

"Besides the physical examination and a questionnaire on DU exposure, the evaluation will include a 24 hour collection of urine for measurement of uranium."

He says Dr. McDiarmid's work in Baltimore has shown that the 24-hour urine collection for urine uranium level is more sensitive than the total body scanning because of the lowest measurable threshold of each system.

Officials anticipate that it will take approximately one year to locate and notify people, complete the physical examinations and get the laboratory results back for the program analysis.

He says OSAGWI will look to Dr. McDiarmid in Baltimore to decide how far the program is extended.