ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Lethal Dust

Effects of Depleted Uranium Ammunition

For the past few months, there has been growing evidence of the hazards posed to soldiers and citizens of war-afflicted zones by the use of depleted uranium in anti-tank weapons. Increased cases of cancer and other health disorders have been reported from Iraq and from the Balkans. It is now clear that the US was aware of the potential dangers of depleted uranium, but its efforts at cover-up are, however, under increasing international scrutiny.

Efforts by NATO to suppress information about the hazards of depleted uranium – a substance that NATO troops used in shells fired during the Gulf war in 1991 and in the Balkans war in 1998 – have received a serious jolt. In early January this year Russia demanded a summit on the dangers of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition. Growing alarm over the residual toxicity of depleted uranium, that many believe has affected hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq and later in the Balkans and may have left its scars on troops serving in these wars, has prompted Greece to tell its troops to leave the Balkans if they feared for their health. NATO, however, still insists there is no proven link between depleted uranium and cancer.

But at least nine deaths from leukaemia among Italian troops and illness among servicemen from France, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Portugal have been blamed on depleted uranium, and driven rifts through the alliance. In Belgium, five cases of cancer have been diagnosed among soldiers who were on duty in the Balkans. In Spain, two soldiers have also been affected; one of whom died in October 2000. The Spanish government has launched a study of the health of the 32,000 Spanish soldiers who have been in the Balkans and the Portuguese government will examine 900 of its country’s troops. In mid-December 2000, the Italian government also launched an inquiry into why some of their military personnel have recently died of leukaemia.

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