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Uranium tests for Kosovo and Gulf troops

The Daily Telegraph

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

VETERANS of the Gulf and Kosovo conflicts are to have urine tests to measure exposure to toxic and radioactive depleted uranium (DU) used in armour-piercing shells.

The tests, part of a study of cancer, kidney damage and other potential health problems caused by DU, will produce results at the end of this year - two years after the plans were announced by the Government.

Professor Brian Spratt, chairman of a Royal Society working group that publishes an independent study of DU today, also called for soldiers in future wars to be tested for the heavy metal. Their kidney function should also be assessed and they should be warned of the long-term risks to children who live where munitions were once used.

DU munitions were first fired in the Gulf war of 1991, releasing 339 tons of the toxic metal into the environment. Although one survey said that around 17 per cent of UK soldiers believed they had Gulf war syndrome, it has been difficult to disentangle the health effects of DU from those of vaccinations, chemical warfare antidotes, insecticides,
rodenticides, solvents, lubricants and smoke from burning oil wells.

In January 2001, the Ministry of Defence said it would offer urine tests to veterans of the Gulf and Balkan conflicts. Its DU oversight board has monitored efforts to come up with a validated test using mass spectrometry. "We have get it right," said the MoD.

Scientists believe that it should still be possible to tell whether a soldier who fought in the Gulf inhaled as little as 25 milligrams of DU.

This level is linked with a small increased risk of lung cancer but no toxic effects on organs. "Just testing positive for DU is not necessarily of any consequence," said Prof Spratt.

The highest intakes are thought to have been by around 100 US servicemen who cleaned up contaminated vehicles, said Prof Spratt. Alarming but anecdotal reports of deaths and illnesses among them should be independently investigated, says the study.

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