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Political Heat Rises in the US as Soldiers Test Positive for DU

Four soldiers in the US have tested positive for DU, leading to hundreds of troops referring themselves for tests and political questions being asked about troop safety and testing.

After the recent news that British troops had tested positive for DU (see CADU News 16) a newspaper in the US paid to have 9 soldiers who had been staying in a contaminated area tested for DU and were experiencing unexplained ill-health. Four of the nine, three of whom were Puerto Rican, tested positive in tests carried out by Dr. Asaf Durakovic, of the Uranium Medical Research Center. The army said that only three soldiers of a 1000 tested had returned positive results, causing doubts about the accuracy of their tests. The soldiers had repeatedly tried and failed to get DU tests through the army.

The soldiers were from the New York National Guard and had been staying in Samawah, the scene of previous heavy fighting. “There’d been a lot of fighting in Samawah before we got there,” said Staff Sgt. Ray Ramos, one of the soldiers who tested positive. “The place was dusty as hell, and the sandstorms were hitting us pretty good.” He said, “I got sick instantly in June. My health kept going downhill with daily headaches, constant numbness in my hands and rashes on my stomach.”

Since then up to 800 G.I.s have handed in their 24-hour urine samples, and hundreds more are waiting for appointments. But several independent uranium experts who reviewed one of the first official lab results that military doctors provided to a soldier last week are questioning whether the Army’s testing methods are adequate. “They are using an instrument that apparently isn’t very accurate,” said Glen Lawrence, a professor of biochemistry at Long Island University. “The instruments they used are just not sophisticated enough to give accurate readings,” agreed Leonard Dietz, who invented one of the instruments for measuring uranium isotopes.

Sen.Hillary Clinton took up the issue with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Myers vowed to upgrade uranium tests for G.I.s and to shake up the system to improve the screening and tracking of troops who may have been exposed to uranium dust in the Iraq war.“We’ve got to do a first-class job for our troops,” said Gen. Richard Myers.

However in a Pentagon memo from Army Assistant Surgeon General Richard Ursone he was found to state “performance of routine screening laboratory, radiologic and electrocardiographic tests in this setting is extremely low yield and is discouraged.” Even if giving those tests is “supported by evidence-based medicine, they may be deferred if the soldier is without symptoms and the laboratory tests will delay release from active duty.”

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Page last updated: January 28, 2003