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 Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

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: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>