soldiers from a New York Army National Guard
company serving in Iraq are contaminated with
radiation likely caused by dust from depleted
uranium shells fired by U.S. troops, a Daily
News investigation has found.
are among several members of the same company,
the 442nd Military Police, who say they have
been battling persistent physical ailments
that began last summer in the Iraqi town of
got sick instantly in June," said Staff Sgt.
Ray Ramos, a Brooklyn housing cop. "My health
kept going downhill with daily headaches,
constant numbness in my hands and rashes on
nuclear medicine expert who examined and tested
nine soldiers from the company says that four
"almost certainly" inhaled radioactive dust
from exploded American shells manufactured
with depleted uranium.
tests conducted at the request of The News
revealed traces of two manmade forms of uranium
in urine samples from four of the soldiers.
so, the men - Sgt. Hector Vega, Sgt. Ray Ramos,
Sgt. Agustin Matos and Cpl. Anthony Yonnone
- are the first confirmed cases of inhaled
depleted uranium exposure from the current
442nd, made up for the most part of New York
cops, firefighters and correction officers,
is based in Orangeburg, Rockland County. Dispatched
to Iraq last Easter, the unit's members have
been providing guard duty for convoys, running
jails and training Iraqi police. The entire
company is due to return home later this month.
are amazing results, especially since these
soldiers were military police not exposed
to the heat of battle," said Dr. Asaf Duracovic,
who examined the G.I.s and performed the testing
that was funded by The News.
American soldiers who were in combat must
have more depleted uranium exposure," said
Duracovic, a colonel in the Army Reserves
who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
working at a military hospital in Delaware,
he was one of the first doctors to discover
unusual radiation levels in Gulf War veterans.
He has since become a leading critic of the
use of depleted uranium in warfare.
uranium, a waste product of the uranium enrichment
process, has been used by the U.S. and British
military for more than 15 years in some artillery
shells and as armor plating for tanks. It
is twice as heavy as lead.
of its density, "It is the superior heavy
metal for armor to protect tanks and to penetrate
armor," Pentagon spokesman Michael Kilpatrick
Army and Air Force fired at least 127 tons
of depleted uranium shells in Iraq last year,
Kilpatrick said. No figures have yet been
released for how much the Marines fired.
said about 1,000 G.I.s back from the war have
been tested by the Pentagon for depleted uranium
and only three have come up positive - all
as a result of shrapnel from DU shells.
the test results for the New York guardsmen
- four of nine positives for DU - suggest
the potential for more extensive radiation
exposure among coalition troops and Iraqi
Army studies in recent years have concluded
that the low-level radiation emitted when
shells containing DU explode poses no significant
dangers. But some independent scientists and
a few of the -Army's own reports indicate
a result, depleted uranium weapons have sparked
increasing controversy around the world. In
January 2003, the - European Parliament called
for a moratorium on their use after reports
of an unusual number of leukemia deaths among
Italian soldiers who served in Kosovo, where
DU weapons were used.
keep getting weaker. What is happening to
Army says that only soldiers wounded by depleted
uranium shrapnel or who are inside tanks during
an explosion face measurable radiation exposure.
as far back as 1979, Leonard Dietz, a physicist
at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory upstate,
discovered that DU-contaminated dust could
travel for long distances.
who pioneered the technology to isolate uranium
isotopes, accidentally discovered that air
filters with which he was experimenting had
collected radioactive dust from a National
Lead Industries Plant that was producing DU
26 miles away. His discovery led to a shutdown
of the plant.
contamination was so heavy that they had to
remove the topsoil from 52 properties around
the plant," Dietz said.
humans have at least tiny amounts of natural
uranium in their bodies because it is found
in water and in the food supply, Dietz said.
But natural uranium is quickly and harmlessly
excreted by the body. Uranium oxide dust,
which lodges in the lungs once inhaled and
is not very soluble, can emit radiation to
the body for years.
civilian or soldier, who breathes these particles
has a permanent dose, and it's not going to
decrease very much over time," said Dietz,
who retired in 1983 after 33 years as nuclear
physicist. "In the long run ... veterans exposed
to ceramic uranium oxide have a major problem."
of DU have noted that the Army's view of its
dangers has changed over time.
the 1991 Persian Gulf War, a 1990 Army report
noted that depleted uranium is "linked to
cancer when exposures are internal, [and]
chemical toxicity causing kidney damage."
was during the Gulf War that U.S. A-10 Warthog
"tank buster" planes and Abrams tanks first
used DU artillery on a mass scale. The Pentagon
says it fired about 320 tons of DU in that
war and that smaller amounts were also used
in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
the Gulf War, Army brass did not warn soldiers
about any risks from exploding DU shells.
An unknown number of G.I.s were exposed by
shrapnel, inhalation or handling battlefield
veterans groups blame DU contamination as
a factor in Gulf War syndrome, the term for
a host of ailments that afflicted thousands
of vets from that war.
pressure from veterans groups, the Pentagon
commissioned several new studies. One of those,
published in 2000, concluded that DU, as a
heavy metal, "could pose a chemical hazard"
but that Gulf War veterans "did not experience
intakes high enough to affect their health."
spokesman Michael Kilpatrick said Army followup
studies of 70 DU-contaminated Gulf War veterans
have not shown serious health effects.
any heavy metal, there is no such thing as
safe," Kilpatrick said. "There is an issue
of chemical toxicity, and for DU it is raised
as radiological toxicity as well."
he said "the overwhelming conclusion" from
studies of those who work with uranium "show
it has not produced any increase in cancers."
European studies, however, have linked DU
to chromosome damage and birth defects in
mice. Many scientists say we still don't know
enough about the long-range effects of low-level
radiation on the body to say any amount is
national science academy, the Royal Society,
has called for identifying where DU was used
and is urging a cleanup of all contaminated
large number of American soldiers [in Iraq]
may have had significant exposure to uranium
oxide dust," said Dr. Thomas Fasey, a pathologist
at Mount Sinai Medical Center and an expert
on depleted uranium. "And the health impact
is worrisome for the future."
for the soldiers of the 442nd, they're sick,
frustrated and confused. They say when they
arrived in Iraq no one warned them about depleted
uranium and no one gave them dust masks.
behind News probe
part of the investigation by the Daily News,
Dr. Asaf Duracovic, a nuclear medicine expert
who has conducted extensive research on depleted
uranium, examined the nine soldiers from the
442nd Military Police in late December and
collected urine specimens from each.
member of his team, Prof. Axel Gerdes, a geologist
at Goethe University in Frankfurt who specializes
in analyzing uranium isotopes, performed repeated
tests on the samples over a week-long -period.
He used a state-of-the art procedure called
multiple collector inductively coupled plasma-mass
about 100 laboratories worldwide have the
same capability to identify and measure various
uranium isotopes in minute quantities, Gerdes
concluded that four of the men had depleted
uranium in their bodies. Depleted uranium,
which does not occur in nature, is created
as a waste product of uranium enrichment when
some of the highly radioactive isotopes in
natural uranium, U-235 and U-234, are extracted.
of the men, according to Duracovic, also had
minute traces of another uranium isotope,
U-236, that is produced only in a nuclear
men were almost certainly exposed to radioactive
weapons on the battlefield," Duracovic said.
and Gerdes plan to issue a scientific paper
on their study of the soldiers at the annual
meeting of the European Association of Nuclear
Medicine in Finland this year.
DU shells explode, they permanently contaminate
their target and the area immediately around
it with low-level radioactivity. Originally
published on April 3, 2004.
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