'Safe' uranium that left a town contaminated

All this after a town that produced it for many years is seeing the effects on it's residence. Some think this might consider DU a war crime to use it.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world...

Maybe now the military will finally stop using DU. It's not exactly a suprise that DU isn't safe, as the article says, the leftovers from the 1st Gulf War are "suspected" (read, known, but not admitted to) to be a big factor is the high rate of birth defects in Iraq. I find it rather unbelievable that the residents of the town were suprised to find out it wasn't safe to play in a stream that was "sluggish, a weird yellow-green color". What did they think was causing all of their health problems? Teeth cumbling away, a very high rate of cancer and birth defects, you'd think they could put two and two together. I feel pretty bad for the people of the town, and hope to hell that the residents get all their medical bills paid for by either the company that owned the plant, or the Government who told them everything was safe.

The government will never admit that DU is harmful until everyone that's ever come into contact with it is dead. It will never stop using it until they have something better to replace it with.

See: Agent Orange.

To the government's credit, DU is pretty much safe unless it's powdered and airborne, which rarely happens when you slam it into an armored vehicle at high speeds in a wind-swept desert. There is also a procedure to cover, secure and decontaminate vehicles that have been destroyed by DU. It's just not often practical to stop and cover things with tarps during a tank battle.

That's a fine how-do-you-do.

As if stealing North America and murdering hundreds of thousands of native peoples weren't enough, the U.S. disposed of depleted uranium where the Western Shoshone people live, ensuring the spread of cancer among people whose lives were already tenuous.

DU is not radioactive enough to care about - that's why is called depleted. It could theoretically cause cancer if it's ingested, in the same way that all heavy metals can monkey with DNA cohesion if they get into the bloodstream, but you can't get cancer from being around depleted uranium. You have to drink it, or breathe in the dust.

As I understand it, the main problems with using DU in combat is that the shells are not cleaned up, and that when they hit some portion of their mass powders, settling to the ground. Both of these can lead, with rainfall, to trace amounts of DU in the water table, if the placement is especially unfortunate. This would seem to be in line with the original article - if there was a leak (or intentional dumping) of DU into the river, the fish would be the first to show signs of tumors. If it were radiation, humans would show tumors, while the fish would most likely just die. Fish have a notoriously low tolerance for dangerous radiation.

With proper precautions, the disposal of DU material should not be dangerous to anyone around the disposal site. IF proper precautions are taken.

I don't see how that can be after looking at these photos. NSFW

The photos are by Takashi Morizumi.

Takashi Morizumi is a photojournalist who covers topics in Japan and overseas such as the effects of US military bases and environmental problems. In particular, since the later half of the 90s, he has covered the damages caused by nuclear mining, testing, power plants, and the use of depleteted uranium and other nuclear weapons.

Takashi has been documenting the children of Iraq since 1998. He has observed the effects of the U.S. government blockade: no medical supplies, malnourished children, weakened children dying in large numbers, and the alarming increase in leukemia, cancer, and physical deformities.

Takashi has combined approximately 50 of his photos of Iraq into an exhibition that is being shown around the world.

"I hope to show to many people a view of the things happening around the world that I have been investigating. In the 21st century, where is the world heading? Can mankind's intelligence lead us to a bright future? I want you to keep thinking positively."

Theres more here.

Edwin wrote:

I don't see how that can be after looking at these photos.

Anybody can take pictures of something bad, and claim that DU was the cause of it. The question is not whether people get cancer and odd mutations. The question is whether they get them more often around DU than they do everywhere else. It's like that old lady who got lung cancer, and became the symbol of the anti-smoking campaign. Now, there was absolutely nothing to show that her lung cancer was the result of second-hand smoke, but because she was around a lot of it, and got lung cancer, the link was assumed.

He claims an alarming increase in leukemia, but a) I've only heard of such a thing from rabid anti-war people who make sweeping, unsubstantiated claims about DU and b) I acknowledged that DU could possibly cause cancer, just not through radiation. Again, DU does not give off noteworthy levels of radiation - sitting in a chopper filled with DU shells is like sitting next to toaster. I've seen a lot of things attributed to DU that just simply can not be the result of DU contamination in the environment. Every genetic defect under the sun is being blamed on radiation from DU, ignoring the fact that it's NOT radioactive enough to be harmful (which is why it's safe for the soldiers who carry it,) and that all these things were happening before DU was even invented, let alone being used.

Here is an abstract for a Harvard study that found a definite link between heavy-metal toxicity (in this case tungsten) and leukemia.

If there does indeed end up being a link between DU shells and cancer, the crime will probably come from the US military's failure to clean up spent DU shells before the next rain.

I specifically posted the photographer's name with a brief bio to show that the photos above are his and are indeed his and about DU. Google his work and his history and you can see it for yourself.

The anti-smoking campaign is something else entirely so let's leave that to another thread.

Morrolan wrote:

Again, DU does not give off noteworthy levels of radiation - sitting in a chopper filled with DU shells is like sitting next to toaster. I've seen a lot of things attributed to DU that just simply can not be the result of DU contamination in the environment. Every genetic defect under the sun is being blamed on radiation from DU, ignoring the fact that it's NOT radioactive enough to be harmful (which is why it's safe for the soldiers who carry it,) and that all these things were happening before DU was even invented, let alone being used.

DU primarily emits alpha radiation, which can be stopped by human skin and is harmless outside of the body. If an alpha radiation source is inhaled or ingested of the other hand, it's another matter entirely. And that's of course in addition to the chemical toxicity of DU, which is not inconsiderable, as you noted. I don't find it hard to believe at all that the aerosol form DU munitions have the potential to f*ck things up significantly. The spike in cancer rates in Southern Iraq had to be caused by *something*. That it was also the first time DU was used in combat is hardly conclusive evidence, but it should be enough to give you pause.

If an alpha radiation source is inhaled or ingested of the other hand, it's another matter entirely.

While this is technically true, DU contamination of the air or water would be on the order of parts per billion. At that concentration, and I could simply be wrong, but it seems unlikely to me that radiation would be a huge factor in its toxicity, given how weakly radioactive it is in the first place.

I'm hardly an expert either, but I'm guessing there's probably some double-whammy going on between the radiation and the toxicity. Plus, usually these things don't wash out of your system too well. And embryos are a lot more sensitive to radiation than children, who are in turn more sensitive than adults. Birth defects went skyrocketing as well.

I just ran this question past a friend of mine who's doing grad studies in nuclear chemistry. Friends in nerdy places.

According to him, your body is likely to simply eliminate any uranium you ingest, and it's only really breathing it in that would be dangerous. For the fish in the main article, this would include squirting DU-contaminated water past their gills, I imagine. As far as its radioactivity, it's apparently just what ALG said. A large part of its toxicity comes from its tendency to break disulphide bonds in DNA, but its radioactive qualities can also perform simple one-letter deletions if it gets lodged in the body long enough, specifically in the lungs.

I'm counting this one as a win for me. Why? Because.

Also, I learned something new: alpha particles will only travel about 1cm in air, but will actually cause radiation burns if you put the alpha emitter right against your skin (hold it, etc) for long enough. I hadn't known that. I guess I'll not be putting any DU shells in my undies for good luck, then.

I agree that depleted uranium is clearly not as dangerous as non-depleted uranium. I agree that taking pictures of monstrous deformities and birth defects, while moving, does little to highlight the cause (unless we see the same kind of deformity again and again and can link it to a specific cause).

However, I feel it's at best premature and at worst negligent to dismiss a low concentration of radiation or dangerous material as insignificant.

So Morrolan, you can call it a win for yourself if you like, but I don't think it's as simple as that. Depleted uranium is only dangerous as a powder but both of the US's primary applications for it (as ammunition and as armor) result in some of it turning to powder and getting flung about at high velocity. While Iraq isn't quite the barren windy desert it looks like in movies, it is a climate where dust storms are common and the civilians there don't exactly have any electricity to be running air filters right now.

So Morrolan, you can call it a win for yourself if you like, but I don't think it's as simple as that.

Which is why I was joking.

And I never once said that DU can't be dangerous. In fact, I believe I said the exact opposite, multiple times. What I said was that there no need for it to be so dangerous that it's considered a "war crime." Given the ways in which it can have its effects, it ought to be fairly simple (though perhaps not inexpensive,) matter to implement measures to keep any DU ammunition from becoming a pollutant. Both when it's used, and when it's made. Whether those measures are being taken right now, I have no idea. Probably they aren't, in fact.

Is that not the definition of negligence? Is negligence not a crime?

Perhaps it is, if negligence turns out to be what is going on. But that's an argument for using DU properly, not for banning its use entirely. There's a difference between saying that the US's use of DU has been criminal (for which you would need to show that they didn't make the proper attempts to see how safe DU is,) and saying that its use, generally, is a war crime automatically.

Some people would argue that there is no "proper" way to use nuclear waste as a weapon (or defense).

Edwin wrote:

Is that not the definition of negligence? Is negligence not a crime?

Negligence can be a crime, but sometimes it's just a civil offense.

Morrolan wrote:

Perhaps it is, if negligence turns out to be what is going on. But that's an argument for using DU properly, not for banning its use entirely. There's a difference between saying that the US's use of DU has been criminal (for which you would need to show that they didn't make the proper attempts to see how safe DU is,) and saying that its use, generally, is a war crime automatically.

If it's conclusively shown that DU requires extensive cleanup to be used "safely", I'd argue that using it is automatically dubious. I just can't see anyone actually tracking use and putting up the money for a proper cleanup.