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DU Munitions Health Hazard to Soldiers & Civilians

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release April 26, 2004

Depleted Uranium Munitions: A Health Hazard to Soldiers and Civilians

- Interview with Tara Thornton, executive director of the Military Toxics Project, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:

Concern is growing over the health impact of depleted uranium (or DU) used in recent wars including Iraq, both on troops and on civilian populations in conflict zones. Despite little media attention devoted to the issue, the Military Toxics Project has been compiling data for many years about the affect of DU on civilian communities.

The Project works with people who suffer from elevated cancer rates and other health problems attributed to the DU production or contamination in their communities. The organization collaborates with veterans groups who are extremely concerned about the health effects on soldiers serving in areas where DU is used. Four of nine soldiers from a New York Army National Guard Unit recently returning from Iraq tested positive for DU contamination. The Toxics Project is working as part of an international effort to ban depleted uranium, which is currently used by 23 nations.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Tara Thornton, executive director of the Military Toxics Project, based in Lewiston, Maine. She discusses some of the health effects ascribed to DU, how communities are fighting back, and the efforts now underway in Congress and internationally to monitor its effects and halt production.

Tara Thornton: We actually work with some folks that did a report called, “Depleted Uranium Weapons at Home and Abroad," which really kind of highlighted the fact that these weapons, throughout their whole lifecycle, when the uranium is mined, which is primarily done in the Southwest, in indigenous communities, to the enrichment of uranium for use in nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons, to the production and manufacturing where they actually make DU bullets and shielding for tanks, to the test sites in the US where DU weapons are tested that the whole life cycle has impacted the environment. There’s been a lot of contamination around these sites, that still has not been cleaned up in many areas, there’s been a lot of illness among workers and former workers at those facilities, and in the neighborhoods that are adjoining those facilities. Depleted uranium is one of those issues we’ve worked on since ’93 with communities here in the U.S. that have been impacted by the effects of depleted uranium weapons.

Between The Lines: What health impacts have been found among these workers or their families?

Tara Thornton: In a lot of these communities, we are finding higher incidences of cancer, thyroid diseases, problems with kidneys, kidney damage, effects of neurological systems, and we also know it is a neurotoxin and a genotoxin. It can affect future generations as well.

I’ll give you one example, around the Concord, Massachusetts facility called Star-Met, it was an area where DU bullets were made for use in the first Gulf War. There’s been extensive contamination around that site; in fact, it’s now listed as on the National Priorities List. Some of the worst toxic sites in the U.S. are on this list. Some people know it as the Superfund sites. Now this has gotten into the groundwater in that community.

There’s a cancer registry in Massachusetts, they’ve found increased rates of cancer around the Star-Met facility. And this is something that’s going on, like I said, throughout the whole lifecycle of this depleted uranium munitions. It’s affected the health of the workers and also the area residents.

Between The Lines: Can you talk about if any lawsuits have been filed, or if those affected are seeking compensation, or do they just want the contamination cleaned up?

Tara Thornton: Different communities have different strategies. But there are around the facilities where the uranium is enriched, there are three uranium enrichment facilities in the U.S.: in Portsmouth, Ohio, Paducah, Kentucky, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which has recently shut down. But those three facilities, they enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. And that’s where DU is actually created and stored. There’s over a billion pounds of DU outside these facilities. And the former workers in those facilities have gotten involved in looking for compensation under the Department of Energy. It’s called RICA, Radiation Employment Compensation Act. It started with compensating some of the uranium miners in the Southwest, and then was extended just a few years ago to include former workers at nuclear weapons facilities. So the folks at those enrichment facilities now are eligible, if they’re sick and they can attribute their illness to their work in these factories, they’re eligible for compensation under RICA. However, there’s a lot of drawbacks with RICA and I think there’s a very limited amount of workers who have actually seen any compensation, because of incredible amounts of bureaucratic red tape they have to go through to get compensation.

There are also a couple of things that are happening right now in Congress. There’s a bill that Congressman Jim McDermott from the state of Washington has introduced, called the Depleted Uranium Munitions Study Act. And he’s looking at doing a much more investigation and studies on areas in the U.S. where DU weapons have been manufac-tured and tested, and also looking at doing epidemiological studies for the people not only in Iraq and the soldiers, but also civilians that have been impacted around these facilities.

Contact the Military Toxics Project by calling (207) 783-5091 or visit their website at

Visit our website at for more related links:

"G.I.'s: Dust Made Us Ill"
"Poisoned? Shocking report reveals local troops may be victims of America's high-tech weapons"
"Inside camp of troubles"


Melinda Tuhus, is a producer with Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( for the week ending April 30, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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