The Iraqi Childrens Tooth Project
Following the use of depleted uranium munitions in the Gulf Wars of 1991 and 2003, many populated areas of Iraq became contaminated with fine uranium oxide dusts that are readily respirable. This contamination represents a public health concern because uranium is known to be a mutagen, a carcinogen, a teratogen, a neurotoxin and a kidney toxin.
Although substantial increases in cancer and birth defects have been reported in Iraq after the 1991 war, there are virtually no data on the extent to which Iraqi civilians have sustained internal contamination from the environmental uranium derived from depleted uranium munitions.
Everyone has trace levels of uranium in their body and most of this uranium is stored in bones and teeth. Consequently, the primary teeth or deciduous teeth, that children normally lose between ages 5 and 12 years, represent valuable biologic specimens that can be used to study a child's uranium burden. In this project, teeth will be collected from Iraqi children living in or near areas in south or central Iraq that are known to be contaminated with depleted uranium. These teeth will be analyzed for total uranium content as well as the content of four uranium isotopes: 238U, 235U, 234U and 236U; the resulting data will be compared to similar results obtained from teeth collected from children living in areas (Northern Iraq and North America) which are not contaminated with depleted uranium.
Abnormally low contents of 235U and 234U in a child's tooth and/or the
presence of detectable amounts of 236U will constitute very strong evidence
that the child has incorporated depleted uranium into his/her body. The
analytical methods to be used in this project are sufficiently sensitive
to detect the incorporation of depleted uranium levels as low as 1% of
the total uranium present in a tooth.
Many populated areas of south and central Iraq are contaminated with uranium oxide dust from depleted uranium (D.U.) munitions. This is a serious public health concern because it is clear from the medical and scientific literature that uranium is a mutagen, a carcinogen, an inducer of birth defects (a teratogen), a neurotoxin and a kidney toxin. Indeed, increases in birth defects and in cancer and leukemia (especially among children) have been reported in south and central Iraq following the use of D.U. munitions in 1991 and 2003.
Many believe that inhalational exposures to D.U. dust may have caused or contributed to these increases in cancer and birth defects. Establishing a causal link between D.U. exposure and adverse health effects will require information on how much D.U. is getting into the bodies of Iraqis who live in areas contaminated with D.U. Lamentably, no such information is currently available. These considerations have led to "The Iraqi Children's Tooth Project".
This tooth project is based on the following principles:
1.) We all have trace amounts of uranium in our bodies and most of this is stored in our bones and teeth. Consequently, the "baby teeth" which children normally loose between age 5 and 12 are very useful specimens for analyzing stored uranium; these teeth can be obtained without any invasive procedure and they are readily stored and transported.
2.) In contrast to the natural uranium which may be present at very low
levels in rocks and soil, the uranium oxide dust derived from D.U. munitions
contains much higher concentrations of uranium (at least 100,000 times
more uranium). Moreover, D.U. dust particles are quite small and much
more readily inhaled and therefore are vastly more "bioavailable".
Consequently, we anticipate that some teeth collected from children living
near heavily contaminated areas might have very high contents of DU.
3.) Uranium samples everywhere in this solar system have precisely the same composition of uranium isotopes. In contrast, depleted uranium has a distinctly abnormal composition of uranium isotopes (see TABLE below).
Although this project is based on well-established principles of physics and chemistry, it is novel in that, to date, there have been no published studies that assess exposure to depleted uranium (or enriched uranium) by analyzing uranium isotopes in teeth. This tooth project is quite distinct from standard children's tooth projects, which measure the strontium-90 content of teeth; in particular, this project will be substantially more costly.
To investigate the extent to which Iraqi children have incorporated depleted uranium into their primary teeth, Iraqi public health physicians have collected teeth from a total of 52 children living in three different areas:
a.) 16 from southern Iraq which has been contaminated for 14 years;
Detailed demographic data on these 52 Iraqi children can be found in the Table on the next page.
In addition to the "control teeth" from northern Iraq, we also will analyze 16 teeth collected from North American children and 12 "archeological teeth" that is, teeth obtained from individuals who died before 1940 and therefore could not possibly have incorporated any depleted uranium [or enriched uranium].
We hope that the results of this study will warrant publication in an elite international medical journal such as LANCET. If we find that some Iraqi children have been contaminated with DU, this will have an impact on the international public health community since uranium is documented to be a mutagen, a carcinogen, a teratogen [an inducer of birth defects], a neurotoxin and a kidney toxin.
This project, "Measurement of Uranium Isotopes in Children's Teeth",
1.) Iraqi public health physicians have collected 55 teeth from 52 Iraqi children living in different regions of Iraq. These physicians are not being identified by name at this time because of concerns for their safety.
2.) Randall R. Parrish, Ph.D.
3.) Abdulla Al-Shorman, Ph.D.
4.) Thomas M. Fasy, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Abdulla Al-Shorman is a physical anthropologist at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan. Dr. Al-Shorman is interested in environmental dynamics of prehistoric times; he has analyzed isotopes of carbon and of oxygen in prehistoric human teeth and, from the resulting data, made inferences about climate, temperature and diets prevalent in the periods involved.
Dr. Al-Shorman has access to a large number of prehistoric human teeth collected at various archeological sites in Jordan. Approximately twelve of these teeth, which could not possibly contain depleted uranium or 236U, will serve as additional controls in this study.
Dr. Tom Fasy joined a group of US academics that visited Baghdad in mid-January and late June of 2003. During those two visits, Dr. Fasy had the opportunity to meet and subsequently correspond with several Iraqi environmental scientists and public health physicians some of whom are participating in this children's tooth project. Dr. Fasy has participated in several conferences on depleted uranium weapons; he met Dr. Randy Parrish at two such conferences in June 2003 and April 2004 and most recently during a visit to Dr. Parrish's lab in June 2005.