BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

BBC News UK Edition
 You are in: World  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
From Our Own Correspondent
Letter From America
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Monday, 7 June, 1999, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Depleted uranium: the lingering poison
A 10 tankbusters have fired DU cannisters in Kosovo
A-10 tankbusters have also fired DU cannisters in Kosovo

By Alex Kirby, News Online Environment Correspondent and presenter of BBC Radio 4's Costing the Earth

Ray Bristow used to run marathons for charity. His last was the 1990 London marathon.

Then he went off to the Gulf, as a medical theatre technician. When he came home to Hull, things were different, he told Costing the Earth.

DU was used during the Gulf War
DU was used during the Gulf War
"I gradually noticed that every time I went out for a run my distance got shorter and shorter, my recovery time longer and longer.

"Now, on my good days, I get around quite adequately with a walking stick, so long as it's short distances. Any further, and I need to be pushed in a wheelchair."

Ray Bristow says he is open-minded about the cause of his illness. But he was tested - in Canada - for depleted uranium (DU), used in tank-busting rounds by US and British forces in the Gulf.

"I remained in Saudi Arabia throughout the war. I never once went into Iraq or Kuwait, where these munitions were used.

"But the tests showed, in layman's terms, that I have been exposed to over 100 times an individual's safe annual exposure to depleted uranium."

DU poisoning fears

Doug Henderson
Doug Henderson: Doubts over poisoning
The Armed Forces Minister, Doug Henderson, says only a small number of British Gulf veterans believe DU has made them ill.

His door is open to scientists and doctors, he says. But he says he has no evidence that the dust left after a DU round has exploded can travel very far from the vehicle it has hit.

And he believes you would have to absorb unfeasibly large amounts of the dust to suffer any harm.

Yet a Canadian epidemiologist, Dr Rosalie Bertell, told the programme that DU had been detected 42km from its source in a factory accident in New York state.

Doug Henderson believes there is no case for a systematic programme to test UK service personnel for DU poisoning.

Gulf veterans hit

But an adviser to the Gulf Veterans' Association, Professor Malcolm Hooper of Sunderland University, says nobody has looked coherently at what British veterans are reporting.

"We've got people saying: 'I've got kidney problems, problems with urination'. We don't know the cause. Some have got enlarged livers.

US Gulf vets
US Gulf War veterans have reported DU-related illnesses
"But a big study of US veterans has found very severe damage to the nervous system. The level of cancers is about 2.4 times higher.

"And there've been massive birth defects in some cases. In one unit, 67% of children born to US Gulf veterans had severe illnesses or birth defects."

The Pentagon says studies of the group with the highest DU exposure show their levels are "still well below occupational exposure limits".

But it acknowledges that, of all the US troops sent to the Gulf, it has tested just 36 for DU contamination.

Ray Bristow says he is now "on death row". The study which established his DU level found contamination in about 40 people, British and US veterans, and a few Iraqis.

It was conducted by Dr Hari Sharma, of the University of Waterloo, Ontario. "Inhalation of DU occurs in 1991, and we are looking at it after eight years", he says.

"To find something after a lapse of eight years was indeed a surprise."

Dr Sharma says cancer in southern Iraq is two or three times commoner than in 1991. Around Basra some cancers are seven times as common.

He says the World Health Organisation regards the figures as "substantially correct".

The Pentagon confirmed in early May that US aircraft were firing depleted uranium rounds over Kosovo.

Costing the Earth is broadcast on BBC Radio Four at 2100 BST on 7 June.

Key stories



See also:

11 May 99 | Science/Nature
07 May 99 | Science/Nature
06 May 99 | UK Politics
28 Apr 99 | UK Politics
12 Apr 99 | Europe
Links to more World stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more World stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |