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Ministry of Defence Admits DU May Damage Health

In an abrupt turnaround from its previous position, the Ministry of Defence is to carry out an inquiry into the potential effects on the health of the Armed Forces handling DU ammunition.
The Ministry of Defence has always refused to accept any conclusive link between cancer and the use of DU ammunition. However, after recommendations from the Royal Society (see below), the Ministry has now decided to conduct a study "to identify any links between exposure to depleted uranium and ill health", including a review of the "effects of depleted uranium inhalation on the pulmonary lymph nodes". The Ministry of Defence inquiry will cover the effects of used DU shells on soil and marine environments. A key development is that the inquiry will also investigate safer alternatives to the use of DU.
The MoD was still keen to stress that it believed "DU munitions to pose an actual health risk under only the most extreme of conditions". However given that is was only last October that Geoffrey Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence said "that recent hysteria over the impact of firing DU on health and the environment was without factual foundation" it is clear that their hand has been forced to at least give the appearance of concern.
Anti-DU campaigners are advised not to get too excited however. As many recent reports, including those of the Royal Society and UNEP, have shown the data used is often inadequate or biased and have the tendency to find only what those commissioning them want to find. The MoD makes it clear that is has no intention of stopping the use of DU munitions whatever the outcome of the research but instead states that "DU will remain in the UK inventory for the foreseeable future" and indeed that there"is a need…to extend the capability of those DU munitions currently available to the UK Armed Forces."
As Ray Bristow, of The Gulf War Veterans and Families Association, points out internal studies have been available to the military since 1990 that concluded that DU was harmful to the health of combatants of both sides in addition to the local civilian population and the environment. The MoD has always chosen to ignore such reports in the past as well as mounting evidence of ill health in soldiers who served in the Gulf and Balkan wars and the Iraqi population. While campaigners should be proud of the fact that through their efforts the ill effects and environmental contamination of DU are being exposed we must always be vigilant for attempts at official whitewashing of facts and sidelining of public concerns.
The Ministry of Defence press release and research proposal can be found at:

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From CADU News 10: Spring 2002

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Page last updated: January 28, 2003