The Devastating Impact of Depleted Uranium Weapons on Civilian and Military Personnel: After the War, Does Peace Have to Be Hell, Too?
Depleted uranium is a high density material which has become a part of several countries’ military arsenals in recent years. Its high density allows weapons made from it to pierce conventional armor, while allowing shielding made from it to withstand direct hits from conventional weaponry. Unfortunately, in addition to having a high density, depleted uranium is radioactive and highly toxic. When a depleted uranium weapon impacts a hard target such as a tank, the weapon breaks into very small pieces (called aerosols) which can be breathed in by people and animals. Once breathed in, these particles settle in the lungs and irradiate the individual from the inside out while also introducing its toxins into the bloodstream. The particles are small enough that they are continually stirred up by the wind, thus posing an ongoing respiratory hazard to living things long after any active battle is over. As a result of the hazards, the use of depleted uranium weapons is illegal under international law. Laboratory tests on animals have shown devastating health effects based on exposure to uranium aerosols. Civilian populations in Iraq and Bosnia have seen increases in cancer, miscarriage, and birth defect rates since depleted uranium was used in military conflicts in those regions. Military personnel from Great Britain, Italy, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the United States who were exposed to depleted uranium aerosols have demonstrated health problems as well, including increased rates of leukemia, birth defects, and miscarriages. This paper will review the issues above and present a detailed summary of the health effects currently being suffered by both military and civilian personnel who have been exposed to depleted uranium aerosols.
Keywords: Depleted Uranium, Respiratory Hazard, Fine Metal Powders, Pyrophoric Powder, Chemical Toxicity, Radioactivity, Aerosols, Birth Defects, Gulf War Syndrome
Dr. Russell Kincaid
Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Department of Math and Physics, Wilmington College