MoD 'lied' over depleted uranium
Army advises troops in Iraq of health risk but insists Scottish firing range is safe, despite growing international concern
By NEIL MACKAY and AMY WILSON, Sunday Herald
GLASGOW (29 February 2004) -- CLAIMS by the Ministry of Defence that depleted uranium (DU) is not a risk to life have been undermined by a Sunday Herald investigation that found the British army is telling soldiers in Iraq that it can cause ill-health.
The revelation has outraged the military, scientists and politicians. Studies have shown DU leads to cancers, birth defects, memory loss, damage to the immune system and neuro-psychotic disorders. But the MoD has claimed since the first Gulf war that "DU does not pose a risk to health or the environment".
However, military sources have passed an MoD card to the Sunday Herald which is being handed to troops on active service in Iraq. It reads: "You have been deployed to a theatre where depleted uranium (DU) munitions have been used. DU is a weakly radioactive heavy metal which has the potential to cause ill-health. You may have been exposed to dust containing DU during your deployment.
"You are eligible for a urine test to measure uranium. If you wish to know more about having this test, you should consult your unit medical officer on return to your home base. Your medical officer can provide information about the health effects of DU."
The MoD had fired more than 6350 DU rounds into the Solway Firth from its testing range at Dundrennan by 1999. In the first Gulf war 320 tonnes of DU were used, in the second more than 1000 tonnes were used .
Locals in the Dundrennan area and their political leaders are angry that British troops are being warned about the risk of DU, while they are not.
A UN sub-commission has ruled that the use of DU breaches the Geneva Convention and the Genocide Convention. DU has also been blamed for the effects of Gulf war syndrome among some 200,000 US troops.
It has led to birth defects in the children of veterans and Iraqis and is believed to be the cause of the "worrying number" of anophthalmos cases – babies born without eyes – in Iraq. A study of veterans showed 67% had children with severe illnesses, missing eyes, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers.
Professor Doug Rokke, the ex-director of the Pentagon's DU project and a former US Army colonel who was tasked by the US defence department to deal with DU after the first Gulf war, said: "The MoD card acknowledges the risks. It contradicts the position it has taken publicly – that there was no risk – in order to sustain the use of DU rounds and avoid liability."
Rokke attacked the US and UK for "contaminating the world" with DU munitions and said the issuing of the card meant that they had "a moral obligation to provide care for all those affected" and to clean up the environment in Iraq.
"DU is in residential areas in Iraq, troops are going by sites contaminated with it with no protective clothing or respiratory protection, and kids are playing in the same areas."
He added: "What right does anyone have to throw radioactive poison around and then not clean it up or offer people medical care?" Rokke said that the use of DU in Iraq should be deemed a war crime.
"This war was about weapons of mass destruction, but the US and UK were the only people using WMD – in the form of DU shells."
Ray Bristow, trustee of the UK's National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said the MoD card "confirms what independent scientists have said for years". Bristow, 45, suffers from chromosomal abnormalities and conditions similar to those who survived the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima.
A former warrant officer in the medical corps in the first Gulf war, he is now only able to walk short distances with a walking frame and often has to use a wheelchair.
"While the card may have been issued to British troops we have to ask, 'what about the Iraqi people?' They are living among DU contamination. And what about the people in Dundrennan?
"The MoD line has always been that DU is safe – it has been caught out in a lie."
Bristow says some 29,000 British troops could be contaminated. He was found to have uranium in his system more than 100 times the safety limit. "I put on a uniform because I believe in democracy and freedom," he said. "Now I can't believe a word my government says."
He also believes the discovery of the DU card will help affected troops sue for compensation. "Globally, this discovery is of huge significance."
Alasdair Morgan, the SNP MSP for the Dundrennan area, called for a ban on DU. He added: "This find vindicates those who have said DU should never have been used or tested. T esting should stop in this area completely."
Chris Ballance, the Green list MSP for the area, added: "DU is a weapon of mass destruction that must be banned."
He said the MoD must remove the shells that had been fired into the Solway Firth and tell the people of Dundrennan about the risks.
Malcolm Hooper, emeritus professor of medicinal chemistry at Sunderland University and an expert on DU, said it was "administrative deception" for the MoD to claim DU was not a risk to health while issuing warnings to troops.
Hooper, who is a government adviser on DU, described the government's behaviour as "a dreadful experiment … an obscenity … and a war crime against our own troops".
He said that the issuing of the card was "a confession of failure" by the government .
Peter Kilfoyle, a former Labour defence minister, said: " I can remember similar denials about Agent Orange, but invariably we discover these substances do have long-term consequences."
Despite claims on its own website saying DU does not lead to health risks, an MoD spokesman said, when confronted with the card issued to troops: "We never said it was a safe substance. It is radioactive, but there is no evidence to link it to ill-health."
He said the cards had been issued to "reassure" troops, adding that the take-up of testing had been low as "most soldiers understand the risks are minimal".
The MoD insisted it had not changed its policy.
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