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07 October 2002

Fact Sheet on Depleted Uranium

(Studies find no evidence linking DU to serious health risks) (880)
Following is a Department of State fact sheet on the health effects of
depleted uranium, based on U.S., U.N. and other investigative sources:
(begin fact sheet)
Fact Sheet on Depleted Uranium
World Health Organization and other scientific research studies
indicate that exposure to trace amounts of depleted uranium poses no
serious health risks.
Scientific evidence does not indicate that depleted uranium has
affected the health of Gulf War veterans. Nor has there been any
scientific research indicating depleted uranium causes birth defects.
There have been no independent studies related to depleted uranium
inside Iraq. Since 1991, Iraq has refused to allow health inspectors
to assess the alleged impact of depleted uranium.
Iraqi military use of chemical and nerve agents in the 1980s and 1990s
is a likely cause of birth defects among Iraqi children.
What is Depleted Uranium?
Depleted uranium (DU) is what is left from natural uranium when most
of the radioactive isotopes U234 and U235 have been removed. Depleted
uranium is forty percent less radioactive than the natural
"background" uranium that is prevalent in the earth's air, water and
soil. Depleted uranium is hard and dense; it is almost twice as dense
as lead.
What is DU used for?
Due to it density, depleted uranium is used in aprons to protect
patients in hospitals and dentists' offices from excessive x-rays, and
as ballast in 747 planes and in the keels of large sailboats.
Again, because of its strength and density, depleted uranium is
sometimes used in defensive plating on armored vehicles and other
platforms to deflect ammunition rounds that might otherwise kill or
wound personnel inside the vehicles. It has been a component in
munitions used against hostile tanks and other armored vehicles.
Isn't uranium highly radioactive and therefore dangerous to humans and
the environment?
No. Studies conducted through March 2002 consistently indicate the
health risks associated with radiation from exposure to depleted
uranium are low - so low as to be statistically undetectable, with one
potential exception: radiation doses for soldiers with embedded
fragments of depleted uranium.
Uranium is a naturally occurring chemical element that is mildly
radioactive. Humans and animals have always ingested particles of this
naturally occurring substance from the air, water and soil. Only when
uranium is enriched to produce material for nuclear reactors is the
radiation level hazardous, requiring very careful handling and
storage. Depleted uranium is roughly 200,000 times less radioactive
than enriched uranium.
Natural and depleted uranium have not been linked to any health risks.
There have been 16 epidemiological studies of some 30,000 workers in
U.S. radiation industries. Some of these workers, particularly in the
early days of the industry, had very significant exposures to uranium
particles. According to scientists in the field, there have been no
recorded cases of illness among these workers as a result of their
exposure to uranium.
Can exposure to DU cause leukemia?
According to environmental health experts, it is medically impossible
to contract leukemia as a result of exposure to uranium or depleted
uranium.
Can exposure to DU cause cancer?
Cancer rates in almost 19,000 highly exposed uranium industry workers
who worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory projects between 1943 and
1947 have been examined, and no excess cancers were observed through
1974. Other epidemiological studies of lung cancer in uranium mill and
metal processing plant workers have found either no excess cancers or
attributed them to known carcinogens other than uranium, such as
radon.
Can DU cause kidney damage?
Recent studies have examined possible health effects from exposure to
depleted uranium from chemical heavy-metal effects, unrelated to
radiation. The best understood of these potential health risks, as
determined by high-dose animal experiments, is kidney damage.
These studies indicate, however, that kidney damage would require an
amount of uranium in the human body well above the level present in
soldiers who have survived a direct contact with vehicles struck by DU
munitions.
Some media reports suggest that dust from depleted uranium munitions
and armor has caused health effects among soldiers and civilians in
areas where such armaments have been used.
According to a number of comprehensive studies and reviews, no health
effects have been seen in U.S. soldiers who are known to have had
substantial exposure to depleted uranium dust and fragments.
--During the Gulf War, 15 U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicles and nine
Abrams tanks were mistakenly fired on and hit by shells containing
depleted uranium. Thirty-three survivors of these incidents, roughly
half of whom have retained fragments of depleted uranium in their
bodies, have been studied in the Depleted Uranium Follow-Up Program
(DUP) of the Baltimore Veterans' Affairs Medical Center.
To date, although these individuals have an array of health problems
related to traumatic injuries resulting from their wounds, none of
those studied had any clinically significant medical problems caused
by the chemical or radiological toxicity of depleted uranium.
A survey of publicly available studies concludes the health risks to
the general population in and near a war zone are low.
Among the U.S. and international groups whose research support the
these findings are the World Health Organization; the United Nations
Environment Program (UNEP); the United States Veterans Administration;
the RAND Corporation; and Britain's Royal Society.
(end fact sheet)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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