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Tuesday, February 2, 1999 Published at 23:00 GMT


Uranium blamed for Gulf War Syndrome

Exploding missiles tipped with uranium exposed servicemen to the toxic metal

By the BBC's John McIntyre

Sixteen British Gulf War veterans say they have proof they are suffering from radiation poisoning, caused by materials in the weapons used by the Allies.

The BBC's John McIntyre investigates the latest claims
The men believe this could be a factor in Gulf War Syndrome, the condition which thousands of soldiers say they developed after serving in the region.

In Iraq, doctors also say children have been deformed by the same radiation.

[ image: Shaun Rusling says he is
Shaun Rusling says he is "devastated" by his diagnosis
Shaun Rusling served in the Gulf War and today, he takes a dozen different drugs to treat a catalogue of illnesses, from chronic fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder to problems with the nervous system and depression.

Doctors have diagnosed him as suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.

The Ministry of Defence says the syndrome as such does not exist, so Mr Rusling and two of his fellow Gulf veterans, Mike Kirkby and Mike Burrows, have been desperately seeking reasons for the illnesses since their return from the war zone.

They say independent tests carried out in Canada revealing they and 13 other veterans have uranium radiation poisoning may at last provide some answers.

Independent diagnosis

Mr Rusling says: "Basically we have just been diagnosed with a bone disease...that is where depleted uranium finishes - in your bones.

[ image: Veterans have been doing their own research]
Veterans have been doing their own research
"I'm saddened by our treatment by the Ministry of Defence because we went out to do our job.

"I treated Iraqi casualties with more care and compassion than this government has treated me," he adds.

Mr Rusling believes it was while serving with a field hospital unit that he was exposed to depleted uranium in dust form.

Exposure to toxic metal

A by-product of weapons grade uranium, which in most forms is perfectly safe to handle, depleted uranium was used by British and American forces on the tips of missiles to devastating effect.

Controversially, the veterans say they ingested tiny particles of the toxic metal after the missiles burned up in the atmosphere.

Mr Kirkby says: "They were blowing locations up and we were driving through bodies and blown -up tanks. You were breathing all the smoke and the dust off the sand."

More than coincidence

In Iraq, there is no shortage of tragic stories about families whose children have a wide range of birth deformities.

Professor Selma Al-Tah, a paediatrician in Baghdad, believes her studies demonstrate a link with depleted uranium and the many terrible genetic defects.

[ image: One of thousands of Iraqi children born with physical abnormalities]
One of thousands of Iraqi children born with physical abnormalities
"A lot of cases are really monsters. Some of them have no necks, their appearance or their facial appearance is completely distorted", she says.

No matter how many examples there are of terrible deformities or leukemia, Iraq's hospitals are so badly off that proving a link with depleted uranium will be difficult, if not impossible, without the proper resources.

But the fact that similar cases have also been identified among the families of British and American soldiers who served during the Gulf War, is regarded as too much of a coincidence.

The Ministry of Defence's medical team is highly sceptical about these latest reports.

However, a spokesman said it would be happy to study any new tests which may shed light on the many and varied conditions affecting Gulf War veterans.

Fury over denial

On Tuesday, families of veterans also criticised a government report, released last week, which said Gulf War Syndrome did not exist in the form of one condition.

The report, by doctors working in the Ministry of Defence's Medical Assessment Programme and released last Thursday, said soldiers who fought in the 1991 war had developed illnesses, but no single psychological or physiological cause was found.

The National Gulf Veterans and Families Association said the report was "an outrageous attempt to cover up Gulf War illness".

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