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Washington State to study depleted uranium
Battlefield residue from U.S. weapons spurs cancer fears
BY BRAD SHANNON
Published March 15, 2006
Washington would become the third state to study the effects of depleted uranium on returning National Guard troops under a budget proviso state legislators approved last week.
Some veterans are worried about the effect of depleted uranium on troops returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, citing anecdotal reports from Iraq and higher cancer rates in Europe’s Balkan war zones after uranium 238-enhanced munitions were used there in the early 1990s.
The budget puts $150,000 toward studying the problem of exposure to radioactive materials used in munitions, as well as to set up a registry of Washington National Guard personnel who might have been exposed to hazardous materials.
The budget awaits Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature.
Ken Schwilk of Olympia, who attended legislative hearings on the subject, said Tuesday that he and other veterans were pleased “to see that the issue is being addressed at some level by the state Legislature. We hope to be able to work as activists ourselves with the military affairs people. We plan to try to set up some meetings with them to talk about some of the concerns we have as this moves forward.”
Depleted uranium was used for munitions in the Gulf War and to improve the armor on some Abrams tanks. Gases given off by the firing of the ammunition have been said to create a mist or fog of radioactive material that can be inhaled and absorbed into the body, where bone, lymph, liver and other tissues store it, and some activists fear it could be the “Agent Orange” of this generation.
“I think everyone is trying to understand the issue,” said Col. Ron Weaver, the joint chief of staff to the general who commands the state Military Department, which is heading up the study and has no evidence yet of exposure to the materials by any state Guard troops.
“We’re going to meet in the near future; we’ll go about and request that someone do the study. We haven’t decided how we’re going to do that or where,” Weaver said.
Part of the agency’s internal discussion is how to make a registry part of the study, Weaver said. He had testified in favor of waiting until studies in Louisiana and Connecticut were finished before launching into work in Washington.
Roger Kluck, a lobbyist with Friends Committee on Washington Public Policy, a Quaker group, said activists are working with lawmakers to ask the Military Department to consult independent health experts for any study or report they produce.
“Certainly the Europeans have done some good stuff. We’re just hoping the consultant and the process are set up to bring in as much information as possible,” Kluck said, noting that the state Department of Health and the University of Washington have personnel with expertise. He said they also want to see the hearings by a joint legislative committee on veterans and military affairs, which is scheduled to receive the depleted uranium report by Oct. 1.
Democratic Reps. Brendan Williams of Olympia and Rosa Franklin of Tacoma sponsored companion bills in the House and Senate that called for the study and creation of a task force and registry, but both measures died in committee. Activists later worked through budget committees and even enlisted the help of the governor’s husband, Mike Gregoire, to secure the funding by means of the budget proviso.
“This appropriation is a tribute to the hard work of local veterans’ activists like Jerry Muchmore and Ken Schwilk. They deserve thanks for bringing attention to health issues surrounding depleted uranium use in war,” Williams said this week by e-mail.