MOD knew about uranium risks
Officials knew at least four years ago that depleted uranium posed a serious risk to soldiers’ health, it has been revealed.
Ministry of Defence documents show servicemen should have been warned of the potentially lethal affects of the cancer-causing dust.
Leaked reports dating back to 1997 warned Ministers of the dangers of the substance, used to make armour-piercing ammunition more effective. The documents said soldiers could suffer lung, lymph and brain cancers as a result of working inside vehicles contaminated by depleted uranium (DU). They added: ‘First and foremost, the risk of occupational exposure by inhalation must be reduced.’
Army veterans accused Armed Forces Minister John Spellar of misleading the House of Commons when he made an embarrassing U-turn this week and announced that Balkan veterans would be offered health tests.
Mr Spellar went out of his way to play down the health implications of DU, saying the Government had no evidence of any damage to our troops and that the danger was negligible. The leaked document suggests otherwise.
It says: ‘Inhalation of insoluble uranium dioxide dust will lead to accumulation in the lungs with very slow clearance – if any. Although chemical toxicity is low, there may be localised radiation damage on the lung leading to cancer. Uranium compound dust is therefore hazardous.’
It adds: ‘All personnel should be aware that uranium dust inhalation carries a long-term risk to health … [the dust] has been shown to increase the risks of developing lung, lymph and brain cancers.
‘Working inside a DU dust contaminated vehicle without adequate respiratory protection will expose the worker to up to eight times the OES [the Occupational Exposure Standard].’
The document from 1997 – The Use and Hazards of Depleted Uranium Munitions, which was based on research carried out in 1993 – adds: ‘All personnel should have a full medical history taken and be counselled appropriately.’
It says the worst exposure was likely to be for troops working involved in the recovery destroyed tanks.
And it goes on to advise that exposure can be limited by ‘careful husbandry and the use of respiratory filters or positive pressure systems when working in battle-damaged vehicles’. No such protective clothing was worn by soldiers.
An MoD spokesman said: ‘This is just one document. It is based on another document from 1993, produced by a trainee and never endorsed or finalised. It was not endorsed by superiors and does not reflect other government studies dating back several years. We believe it is scientifically flawed, misleading and incorrect. ‘
But Shaun Rusling, of the National Gulf War Veterans and Families Association, said: ‘This shows Mr Spellar misled the Commons in what he said on Tuesday.’
Ian Townsend, the British Legion’s general secretary, dismissed the Government’s response. He said: ‘If a member of the public suffered from chronic fatigue, hair loss, severe bouts of depression or cancer, they would ask for and receive assessment, answers and treatment.’
Tory defence spokesman Iain Duncan Smith, said: ‘Ministers must explain when they found the risk, what precautions they took and why they have refused to say that they knew anything about it.’
Meanwhile the MoD also admitted that DU could pose a much bigger risk to soldiers in Kosovo than previously thought. They said the dust could have been spread when weapons missed their targets and hit buildings or cars.
It was also claimed that Britons living near firing ranges could be at risk from DU. Professor Malcolm Hooper of Sunderland University said dust from exploding shells could travel 25 miles, threatening the populations of nearby towns.