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Danger From Depleted Uranium Is Found Low In Pentagon Study

New York Times

October 19, 2004 

Danger From Depleted Uranium Is Found Low In Pentagon Study

By Matthew L. Wald

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 - A Pentagon-sponsored study of weapons made from

depleted uranium, a substance whose use has attracted environmental protests

around the world, has concluded that it is neither toxic enough nor

radioactive enough to be a health threat to soldiers in the doses they are

likely to receive.

In a five-year, $6 million study, researchers fired depleted uranium

projectiles into Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks, in a steel

chamber at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, and measured the levels

of uranium in the air and how quickly the particles settled.

The conclusion, said Dr. Michael E. Kilpatrick, deputy director of the

Deployment Health Support Directorate of the Defense Department, is that

"this is a lethal but safe weapons system."

The new study did not seek to measure how depleted uranium traveled through

the environment or its potential for entering drinking water or crops.

But it did measure how quickly uranium that is inhaled was passed through

the body. Lt. Col. Mark A. Melanson, the program manager for health physics

at the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, said that

the aerosolized particles of depleted uranium were "moderately soluble," and

that inhaled particles would dissolve in lung fluids and eventually pass

through the kidneys and enter the urine, with half the uranium being

excreted in 10 to 100 days. Uranium that is eaten would pass through far

faster and with little absorption, Colonel Melanson said.

He said the long-term risks were tiny compared with the risk of being killed

outright by the weapon.

The study, conducted by contractors led by the Battelle Memorial Institute,

is scheduled to be released Tuesday. Dr. Kilpatrick said the test results

and the findings would be publicly posted for peer review.

But opponents of using depleted uranium, who have not yet seen the study,

were skeptical of the findings.

"We do know that depleted uranium is radioactive and toxic," said Tara

Thornton, of the Military Toxics Project, a nonprofit group in Lewiston,

Me., which seeks to clean up military pollution. "Studies have shown health

impacts on rats and other things." Depleted uranium is a byproduct of

nuclear weapons production. It is almost entirely a form called Uranium 238,

which is left after the more valuable Uranium 235, the kind useful in bombs

and reactors, has been removed. Depleted uranium is 1.7 times more dense

than lead and penetrates armor easily.

The United States military has never confronted an opponent that used

depleted uranium. Most exposure to American military personnel has been a

result of fire from their own forces.