Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Depleted uranium soils battlefields

12.03.2002


Depleted uranium left from US air strikes on Sarajevo.
© AP/Hidajet delic


Report assesses chemical effects of Gulf war weapon.

Depleted uranium in weapons may have left some soldiers with kidney damage and could cause long-term environmental contamination, say British scientists. Their independent review calls for accurate exposure tests and long-term environmental monitoring in combat zones.

Depleted uranium (DU) is a dense radioactive substance. It was used in weapons to punch through heavily armoured vehicles during the Gulf War and Kosovo conflicts.



This created controversy: exploding missiles scatter radioactive and chemically toxic dust that war veterans claim has left them ill.

The majority of soldiers have not been exposed to sufficient levels of the heavy metal to be at risk from its toxic effects, the report by the UK’s Royal Society concludes1. "For the majority of soldiers on the battlefield we consider it unlikely that there will be any adverse effects," said group leader Brian Spratt, of Imperial College in London.

This implies that DU is unlikely to explain Gulf War Syndrome, although the report does not tackle this question explicitly.

However, around 200, mainly US, Gulf War soldiers who were hit by friendly fire or spent time cleaning contaminated vehicles may have inhaled enough dust to cause kidney damage, says the report. Unknown numbers of Iraqis may also have been affected.

The report’s main recommendation is that accurate, validated tests for low levels of DU in urine should be developed, and that those who are identified as exposed should undergo long-term health studies. "You want to use a battery of modern tests," says group member and metabolism researcher Barbara Clayton of the University of Southampton, UK, to identify subtle biochemical changes. Sensitive DU urine tests are expected to be available in the UK by the end of this year.

There may also be enduring environmental consequences: 70-80% of all DU weapons - around 250 tonnes in the Gulf War region alone - are thought to remain buried in soil. Children playing at the sites could be at particular risk. And decades on, corroding weapons may release DU into the soil, to be taken up by plants and animals or leached into human water supplies.

Long-term monitoring of such sites is required to assess future consequences, the panel say. Removing the weapon debris is virtually impossible because its exact location is unknown. "It’s a knowledge gap," says Barry Smith, who studies pollution at the British Geological Survey in Nottingham, UK.

Uranium blitz

DU weapons were first used by Allied forces in the 1991 Gulf War: an estimated 340 tonnes were used then, and a further 11 tonnes in Bosnia and Kosovo in the late 1990s. Opinions differ on whether DU weapons are currently being used in Afghanistan.

In the first part of the Royal Society’s report, which was published last year, the committee examined the health effects of radiation exposure from DU - and concluded that there is virtually no increased risk of death from lung cancer. The chemical toxic effects of DU and its environmental impact are dealt with in the second part, published today.

The panel of experts had little evidence to work with - few human scientific studies have assessed the long-term toxic effects of DU. Anecdotal accounts report that members of a Gulf clean-up team have become seriously ill. The panel based its conclusions on the available scientific evidence and the estimated DU intakes of soldiers based on battlefield scenarios.

References

  1. The health hazards of depleted uranium munitions Part II. The Royal Society, (2002)

HELEN PEARSON | © Nature News Service

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht How does the loss of species alter ecosystems?
18.05.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

nachricht Excess diesel emissions bring global health & environmental impacts
16.05.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>