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Tests point to health damage of DU in Iraq

Originally posted at:
Sept. 6, 2005

NEW YORK -- After National Guardsman Gerard Matthew returned home from his Iraq tour a year and a half ago, he learned that members of another unit, who accepted an offer by the New York Daily News, had tested positive for depleted uranium (DU) contamination. Since he had spent much of his time lugging around DU-damaged equipment, Matthew also decided to get tested, and it turned out he was the most contaminated of them all.

According to a story by Dave Lindorff for In These Times magazine, Matthew next urged his wife to get an ultrasound check of their unborn baby. They discovered that the fetus had a condition common to those with radioactive exposure: atypical syndactyly. The right hand had only two digits. Now Matthew is angry at a government that never warned him about DUís dangers.

No one knows how many U.S. soldiers have been contaminated. Despite regulations authorizing DU tests for anyone who suspects exposure, the military avoids doing themóor delays until they are meaningless, Lindorff writes.

At the warís start, the United States refused to allow UN or other environmental inspectors to test DU levels within Iraq. Now the UN wonít go near Iraq because of security concerns. Yet the Pentagon still insists, without field evidence, that DU is safe.

To date, only about 270 returned troops have been tested for DU contamination by the military and Veterans Affairs. But those tests, mostly urine samples, are useless 30 days after exposure; by that time most of the DU has left the body or migrated into bones or organs.

The Daily News paid for costlier tests that could pinpoint uranium inside the body and identify the special isotope signature of man-made DU. Four of the nine tested positive; all had symptoms of uranium poisoning.

Even harder evidence may soon arrive. Connecticut State Representative Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, an epidemiologist, has crafted legislation that both Connecticut and Louisiana have unanimously passed, authorizing returned National Guard troops to request and receive specialized DU contamination tests at the Pentagonís expense.

Bob Smith, a veteran in Louisiana who spearheaded the push for legislation in Louisiana, claims that 14 to 20 other states are considering similar measures. If enough Guard troops test positive, reservists and active duty troops and veterans are likely to demand similar tests, which can cost upwards of $1000 per person.

Britain sets priorities for scarce bird flu drugs
LONDON -- If Britain experiences an avian flu pandemic in the coming months, there would be enough drugs to protect less than 2 percent of the population for a week. As a result, the Department of Health has drawn up a priority list of those who would be first to receive lifesaving drugs, the UK Times reports.

BBC employees are high on the list because they would have to broadcast vital information during a national disaster. They and some politicians would be given priority over sick patients, pregnant women, and the elderly.

Topping the list are health workers and those in key public sector jobs. But prominent politicians such as cabinet ministers also would be given priority to receive the scarce pills and vaccinations. Ken Livingstone, Londonís mayor, has already spent almost $1 million to make sure his personal office and employees have their own emergency supplies of 100,000 antiviral tablets.

Although senior government ministers also would be among the high-priority recipients, the department has not decided whether to include opposition politicians.

posted September 6, 2005