Monday, 4 September, 2000Uranium 'threat' to Gulf veterans
The health of many Gulf War veterans may be at risk from radioactive dust from their own ammunition, says a scientist.
Former US colonel Dr Asaf Durakovic, now a professor of medicine, has done extensive research into the Gulf War Syndrome.
He told the European Associations of Nuclear Medicine conference in Paris on Sunday that he had found a "significant presence" of depleted uranium (DU) in two-thirds of the 17 veterans he has tested.
He said: "Some of those particles were inhaled, and if they were too big to be absorbed they stayed in the lungs, and there they can present a risk of cancer."
Tens of thousands of shells made from DU were fired by US and British servicemen during the Gulf War.
The metal is used because it is so heavy, easily puncturing the amour of tanks.
On impact it vapourises, and can be breathed in by anybody on the battlefield.
It is claimed that medical staff and engineers were most at risk as they worked in close quarters with the wounded and machinery.
More than 100,000 Gulf War veterans have suffered unexplained medical problems since they returned from the conflict.
Some experts have blamed the cocktail of vaccinations given to servicemen to guard against disease and the effects of nerve gas.
But doctors in Iraq have long believed that DU is causing cancer in thousands of children born after the war.
Dr Serge Askienazy, an expert in nuclear medicine, warned against assuming uranium contamination was responsible for Gulf War syndrome.
He said: "The study is not complete and does not allow us to make any conclusion."
The Ministry of Defence has admitted the (DU) ammunition was "still under development" when it was issued.
But it does not provide medical support for the potential thousands who may be affected.
The MoD said the evidence they had seen so far had not been "adequate" to link DU to Gulf War syndrome.
A spokesman said: "We are keen to ensure that Gulf War veterans receive as much care as they can.
"But the evidence has not been adequate and the symptoms so far of over 3,000 individuals are not likely to have been caused by DU exposure.
"We are not closed to any new evidence, indeed we have consistently requested it.
"If Dr Durakovic has got the evidence we should be delighted to see it."
The MoD admitted in a letter in 1993 that it had not sufficiently warned the troops about the dangers of DU evident in the tank ammunition.
JE Stainton, assistant private secretary to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, wrote: "At the start of Gulf crisis, depleted uranium tank ammunition was still under development.
"The issuing of safety instructions was in some cases overlooked in the effort to bring this important capability into operation... The omission was regrettable."
In 1998 Dr Durakovic started taking veterans' urine and body tissue to produce scientific evidence.
Gulf War veteran Shaun Rusling, who worked as medical staff, said: "They knew, they have known all along and they haven't wanted to admit it.
"We have lads dying who have lost their homes, their marriages, their jobs and these people have got to know what is happening to them."
The National Gulf Veterans and Families Association is demanding appropriate medical care and support and proper testing for DU by the Ministry of Defence.