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'DU' Shell Game?
Pentagon Denies Link Between Depleted Uranium And Illness But 1999 Pentagon Document Warns Of 'Possible Health Risks' Worries Grow Across Europe For Veterans Of Balkans Operations

BRUSSELS, Jan. 9, 2001




Measuring the radioactivity of bullets made from depleted uranium

(CBS) Despite denials from the Pentagon of any link between depleted uranium ammunition and illness, a 1999 Defense Department document warned NATO allies to protect their troops against "possible health risks" from the radioactive material.

CBS News Correspondent Tom Fenton reports NATO countries - those worried about the effects of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition on troops who served in Bosnia and Kosovo - produced the document this week, even as NATO rejected an Italian plea Tuesday for a moratorium on DU weapons.

A heavy metal that is 40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium, depleted uranium was first used in combat against Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War in armor-piercing shells fired at Saddam Hussein's tanks. In the 1999 air war against the Serbs in Kosovo, A10 "tank busters" jets and other planes dropped 31,000 DU bombs on Slobodan Milosevic's armor.

The shells cut right through tank armor, and on impact may release harmful particles that can be inhaled.

Depleted uranium's main health risk has been believed to be its chemical composition, since heavy metals like DU are often toxic. But since the Gulf War, the Pentagon has denied a connection between the radioactive dust and a host of illnesses, including cancer.

And CBS Radio News Correspondent Claire Doole reports the World Health Organization doubts that depleted uranium is the cause of the illnesses suffered by veterans of NATO's operations in the Balkans.

But neither those doubts, nor NATO's decision against a moratorium, have quelled growing fears over the effect of the weapons on soldiers and civilians, following the deaths of six Italian soldiers of leukemia and the diagnosis of at least 50 Balkans veterans with leukemia or cancer.

The scare showed signs of spreading Tuesday:

At NATO's meeting, all members agreed that there is a common concern and that NATO needs to act. The results of the Political Committee discussions were to be passed on to the North Atlantic Council, NATO's top policymaking body, which meets Wednesday. It was expected that the council may develop some recommendations.

Across town at the European Union, meanwhile, the EU's executive arm asked a group of experts for a scientific opinion on whether "hundreds, if not thousands" of EU personnel who have worked in the Balkans might face health risks from exposure to depleted uranium.

A March, 2000 report by the Government Accounting Office concluded that "the scientific understanding of depleted uranium's effect on health is still evolving," and cited lapses in the Pentagon's system for training soldiers how to handle spent DU rounds.

Portuguese scientists
measure radiation in
Klina, in Western Kosovo.


"Because DOD (Department of Defense) and the services do not monitor DU training for deployments, Army and Marine Corps officials in Washington, D.C., and Europe were unable to tell us whether Army and Marine Corps troops who recently deployed to Kosovo had received DU training prior to or during the deployment," the report found. "The services, therefore, need to do more to ensure that servicemembers receive safety training on how to properly operate in a DU-contaminated battlefield."

Former U.S. Navy nurse Joyce Riley, who campaigns for American veterans allegedly suffering from the Gulf War syndrome, faults the Defense Department for not telling soldiers enough.

"We know that they had knowledge. They were failing to monitor our troops even though they were in M1-A1 tanks, even though they were exposed on a daily basis to depleted uranium in their tanks," she said.

However, a Pentagon report updated in December, 2000 claimed that, "while DU could pose a chemical hazard at high intakes, Gulf War veterans did not experience intakes high enough to affect their health."

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