In the wake of finding out that my sweetheart had stage 3a colon cancer it was brought to our attention that if you were active military during the Gulf War chances are you may have been exposed to Depleted Uranium. Information is to be shared amiright, amiright! A collection of current information below related to DU and what you should do to find out if you have been exposed and what you should do next
The U.S. military uses tank armor and some bullets made with depleted uranium (DU) to penetrate enemy armored vehicles, and began using DU on a large scale during the Gulf War.
The process of manufacturing enriched uranium from natural uranium used in nuclear reactors or weapons leaves “depleted” uranium. DU has 40 percent less radioactivity, but the same chemical toxicity as natural uranium.
If you think you were exposed to depleted uranium during your service, talk to your local VA Environmental Health Coordinator. Ask to be screened for depleted uranium exposure, and ask about the Depleted Uranium Follow-up Program. READ MORE
What is Depleted Uranium (DU)
According to the Department of Veterans affairs Federal Benefits for Veterans, dependents, and Survivors 2014 edition on pg. 38 reads:
Gulf war Veterans with Chronic Disabilities: Some Veterans may receive disability compensation for chronic disabilities resulting from undiagnosed illnesses and/or medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illnesses defined by a cluster of signs or symptoms. A disability is considered chronic if it has existed for at least six months.
The undiagnosed illness must have appeared either during active service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Gulf War period August 2, to July 31, 1991, or to a degree of at least 10 percent at any time since then through December 31, 2016. This theater of operations includes Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and the airspace above these locations.
Examples of symptoms of an undiagnosed illness and medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness defined by a cluster of signs and symptoms include:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Functional gastrointestinal disorders
- Signs or symptoms involving the skin, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, neurologicalsigns or symptoms, neuropsychological signs or symptoms, signs or sysytems involving the respiratory system (upper or lower), sleepdisturbances, gastrointestinal signs or symptoms, cardiovascular signs or symptoms, abnormal weight loss, and menstrual disorders.
Medical Testing for Depleted Uranium Contamination:
Potential testing includes:
- chemical analysis of uranium in urine, feces, blood and hair;
- tests of damage to kidneys, including analysis for protein, glucose and non-protein nitrogen in urine;
- radioactivity counting; or
- more invasive tests such as surgical biopsy of lung or bone marrow.
Experience with Gulf War veterans indicates that a 24 hour urine collection analysis shows the most promise of detecting depleted uranium contamination seven or eight years after exposure. However, since this test only measures the amount of depleted uranium which has been circulating in the blood or kidneys within one or two weeks prior to the testing time, rather than testing the true body burden, it cannot be directly used to reconstruct the veteran’s dose received during the Gulf War. However, this seems to be the best diagnostic tool at this time, eight years after the exposure.
Feces tests for uranium are used for rapid detection of intake in an emergency situation, and in order to be useful for dose reconstruction, must be undertaken within hours or days of the exposure. Blood and fecal analysis are not advised except immediately after a known large intake of uranium.
Whole body counting for uranium, using the sodium iodide or hyper pure germanium detectors, is designed to detect the isotope uranium 235, the isotope of uranium partially removed from depleted uranium. For lung counting, again it is the uranium 235 which is detected, and the minimum detection limit is about 7.4 Bq or 200 pCi. Since normally humans take in only 5 Bq per year, this is not a very sensitive measure. Seven or eight years after the Gulf War exposure, this method of detection is most likely useless for veterans.
Routine blood counts shortly after exposure, or during a chelating process for decontamination of the body are useful. This is not a search for uranium in blood, but rather a complete blood count with differential. This is done to discover potentially abnormal blood counts, since the stem cells which produce the circulating lymphocytes and erythrocytes are in the bone marrow, near to where uranium is normally stored in the body. The monocyte stem cells in bone marrow are known to be among the most radiosensitive cells. Their depletion can lead to both iron deficient anemia, since they recycle heme from discarded red blood cells, and to depressed cellular immune system, since monocytes activate the lymphocyte immune system after they detect foreign bodies.
Hair tests need to be done very carefully since they tend to reflect the hair products used: shampoos, conditioners, hair coloring or permanent waves. Pubic hair would likely be the best material for analysis. I am not aware of good standards against which to test the Uranium content of hair, or how the analysis would differentiate between the various uranium isotopes.
Testing of lymph nodes or bone on autopsy would be helpful. However, invasive biopsies on live patients carry no benefit for the patient and are usually not recommended because of ethical considerations about experimentation on humans. If a veteran is recommended for bronchoscopy for medical reasons, it would be advisable to also take tissue samples for analysis for depleted uranium.
When chelation processes have been initiated the rate of excretion of uranium in urine will be increased and there is a risk of damage to kidney tubules. Therefore careful urine analysis for protein, glucose and non-protein nitrogen in important. Some researchers have also reported specifically finding B-2-microglobulinuria and aminoaciduria in urine due to uranium damage. READ MORE
Relating Depleted Uranium Contamination
with Observed Health Effects in Veterans:
There are two ways of documenting the radiological health effects of a veteran’s exposure to depleted uranium. The first, and the one usually attempted in a compensation argument, would be to reconstruct the original dose and then appeal to regulatory limits or dose-response estimates available in the scientific literature. This methodology is not recommended for the Gulf War veterans, because the uranium excretion rate seven or eight years after exposure cannot be used to estimate the original lung and body burden of depleted uranium. Moreover, no dose-response estimates for the chronic health effects of such exposure are available from the literature, as will be seen later in this paper. Recognized dose-response estimates for radioactive materials are unique to fatal cancers (and even these are disputed). It is not clear whether regulatory limits for exposure to ionizing radiation apply in a war situation, or, if they do, whether the veteran should be considered to have been “general public” or a “nuclear worker”. Beyond this, the question of whether international or US standards should be used for a multinational situation needs to be addressed.
The second methodology would require ranking veterans on an ordinal scale for their original exposure, based on their current excretion rate of depleted uranium. This involves the reasonable assumption that the original contamination, although not precisely measurable, was proportional to the current excretion rate. The analysis of a 24 hour urine sample, for example, could be rated on a specific research scale as having “high”, “medium” or “low” quantities of the contaminate. By collecting detailed health and exposure data on each veteran, one can use biostatistical methods to determine firstly, whether any medical problems show an increase with the ordinal scale increase in exposure, determined through urine analysis; and secondly, whether there is a correlation between the descriptive accounts of potential depleted uranium exposure and the assigned ordinal scale determined on the basis of the urine analysis.
Using Non-Parametric Statistics one could determine the statistical significance of various medical problems being depleted uranium exposure related. This would undoubtedly eliminate some medical problems from consideration and highlight others. It could point to future research questions. It could also provide a fair method of dealing with the current suffering of the veterans using the best scientific methodology available at this time. Risk estimates based on radiation related cancer death are obviously unable to provide a reasonable response to current veteran medical problems. READ MORE
What has the Defense Department done to protect future generations of service members from accidental exposure to depleted uranium?
The Department of Defense is fully aware of its responsibility for the safe use of depleted uranium. Since the Gulf War, the DoD has dramatically stepped up its emphasis on increasing soldier and leader awareness of the hazards associated with the battlefield use of depleted uranium. The U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command published Training Support Packages for respective training schools in September 1997. The Deputy Secretary of Defense has ordered the Service Chiefs to ensure that DU awareness training is incorporated into the general military training program. Implementation of the various training programs is underway. The Office of the Special Assistant will continue to monitor the status of the Services’ depleted uranium training efforts. READ MORE
If you have any more questions or concern
shoot send us an email below.