USIS Washington 

03 May 1999


(Element useful to blunt anti-tank weapons) (1050)

Washington -- A number of questions have surfaced recently regarding
the use of depleted uranium against military targets in the Former
Republic of Yugoslavia as part of NATO's ongoing air campaign
"Operation Allied Force."

Last year the Department of Defense (DOD) issued a fact sheet
explaining its use of depleted uranium (DU) to answer questions about
what it is and to respond to associated health concerns because the
U.S. military used depleted uranium munitions and armor during the
Persian Gulf war for the first time. DU is particularly effective as a
weapon to penetrate armored tanks and vehicles.

This fact sheet ran originally on the Washington File on the day it
was issued by the Pentagon: August 4, 1998.

(begin text)

What is uranium?

Uranium is a weakly radioactive element that occurs naturally in the
environment. Each of us ingests and inhales natural uranium every day
from the natural uranium in our air, water, and soil. The amount
varies depending upon the natural levels found in the area in which
you live and the levels found in the areas where the food you eat and
the water you drink are produced. Consequently, each of us has some
level of uranium in our body, which is eliminated in the urine. In
areas where the natural uranium level in the soil or water is high,
these levels can be substantially higher.

Enriched uranium (uranium that is more radioactive than natural
uranium) is used in nuclear power reactors and very highly enriched
uranium is used in some nuclear weapons.

What is depleted uranium?

Depleted uranium (sometimes known as DU) is uranium that is 40 percent
less radioactive than natural uranium, while retaining identical
chemical properties.

The United States Armed Forces used depleted uranium munitions and
armor for the first time during the Gulf War. Depleted uranium's
ability to protect our soldiers' lives was clearly demonstrated.
Depleted uranium is the most effective material for these uses because
of its high density and the metallic properties that allow it to
"self-sharpen" as it penetrates armor. In contrast, anti-tank
munitions made from other materials (tungsten compounds) tend to
mushroom and become blunt as they penetrate. Armor containing depleted
uranium is very effective at blunting antitank weapons.

What are the health effects of depleted uranium?

The major health concerns about DU relate to its chemical properties
as a heavy metal rather than to its radioactivity, which is very low.
As with all chemicals, the hazard depends mainly upon the amount taken
into the body. It has been recognized that natural uranium at high
doses has caused kidney damage. The greatest potential for medically
significant DU exposure occurred with those veterans who were in or on
tanks and other armored vehicles when the vehicles were hit by DU
munitions and in veterans who worked in or on U.S. vehicles or sites
contaminated with DU.

Since 1993, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been
monitoring 33 vets who were seriously injured in friendly fire
incidents involving depleted uranium. These veterans are being
monitored at the Baltimore VA Medical Center. Many of these veterans
continue to have medical problems, especially problems relating to the
physical injuries they received during friendly fire incidents. About
half of this group still have depleted uranium metal fragments in
their bodies. Those with retained metal fragments have shown higher
than normal levels of uranium in their urine since monitoring began in
1993. These veterans are being followed very carefully and a number of
different medical tests are being done to determine if the depleted
uranium fragments are causing any health problems.

The veterans being followed who were in friendly fire incidents but
who do not have retained depleted uranium fragments, generally
speaking, have not shown higher than normal levels of uranium in their

For the 33 veterans in the program, tests for kidney function have all
been normal. In addition, the reproductive health of this group
appears to be normal in that all babies fathered by these veterans
between 1991 and 1997 had no birth defects.

What new program on DU is available?

As part of follow-up efforts to ensure that Gulf War veterans who may
have had the highest exposure to DU receive appropriate evaluation and
follow-up, DOD and VA have instituted a new program to identify,
contact, and evaluate the veterans who are believed to have had the
greatest risk of coming into contact with DU. This would include
veterans who were riding in or on a vehicle that was struck by DU
munitions or veterans who entered a struck vehicle immediately after
it was hit by DU munitions.

What does this involve if I agree to participate?

If you are on active duty and not enrolled in the Comprehensive
Clinical Evaluation Program (CCEP) or if your CCEP examination is over
one year old, you will receive the standard CCEP evaluation. If your
CCEP evaluation is less than one year old, your physician will decide
what evaluations are clinically required.

All participants will be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire
relating to possible exposure to depleted uranium during the Gulf War.
In addition, all participants will be asked to provide a 24-hour urine
sample -- you will be provided a container in which you will collect
all of your urine for one day. This urine sample will be analyzed for
the presence of uranium.

If you are no longer on active duty, you may enroll in the Gulf War
Registry Examination Program at any VA Medical Center. You will be
asked to fill out a brief DU questionnaire and provide a 24-hour urine
sample for uranium and get a medical examination if you have not
alreadyhad one or wish to be re-examined.

What does a negative-urine mean?

It is good news. It means that the level of uranium in your body now
is no higher than would be expected from normal intake from natural
sources (food, water, and air). It does not mean you were never
exposed to DU. It simply means that you have a normal level of uranium
in your body now.

(end text)