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NZ Investigation Into DU Completed

Defence Minister Mark Burton today released details of an investigation into the possible risk to New Zealand defence personnel from exposure to expended depleted uranium munitions (DU).

"The New Zealand Defence Force investigation has concluded that the possibility that any NZDF personnel were exposed to a DU-related health risk is negligible," Mark Burton said.

"However, a database will be maintained indefinitely and any current or former service personnel with health concerns will have access to full medical assistance."

The NZDF has sent 1557 questionnaires to current and former service men and women who were deployed in the Gulf and the Balkans, of which 733 to date have been returned.

"With an incomplete response, there remains a possibility that someone may have had DU exposure and remains unrecognised," Mark Burton said. "However, I am advised that knowledge of the exposure areas and movement of NZDF personnel in those areas make it reasonable to conclude the risk is negligible."

The possible health risk from any exposure to DU expended munitions has been the subject of intense investigation in Europe. Last month NATO medical experts announced their finding that there was no increase in morbidity and mortality rates for Balkans veterans, compared with non-deployed forces and general populations.

"In summary, based on the available information, the NZDF investigation has concluded that it is unlikely that any New Zealand personnel were exposed to residue from expended DU munitions, and that if any exposure had occurred, it is unlikely to have presented a health risk," Mark Burton said.

"There are, however, gaps in knowledge about DU, particularly the long-term effects.

"Even the smallest doubt justifies caution and a future investment to protect our personnel," Mark Burton said.

"Therefore, the Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Carey Adamson, is taking the following actions:

- The database for NZDF personnel who by virtue of location and activity may have been exposed to DU will be maintained indefinitely;
- The questionnaires returned and future returns will be maintained indefinitely as archives for future studies;
- Formal links with expert groups on DU, including the COMEDS organisation, will be maintained;
- The NZDF will include in its pre-deployment training, when applicable, DU awareness and a warning against picking up "souvenirs"; and
- Future research efforts with NZDF veterans will include those who have been identified as potentially exposed to DU.

"New Zealand civilians may have been involved with government and non-governmental organisations and share similar concerns regarding DU exposure," Mark Burton said. "I have discussed the matter with the Minister of Health and public health authorities will manage the issue. Non-service personnel with concerns should contact their GP, in the first instance.

"The outcome of the investigation is reassuring for New Zealand personnel who served in the Balkans and the Gulf," Mark Burton said.

"But I want to re-emphasise my earlier message about the importance of any defence personnel or veterans making full use of their entitlement to seek assistance for any health or injury concerns which they believe may result from any part of their military service."

Ends

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