Current Issues - Depleted Uranium Weapons in the Gulf Wars (1991, 2003)
(last updated 1 May 2021)
"[...] Methods We searched 11 electronic databases for human observational studies published between 1990 and 2020 that measured association between exposure to weaponised uranium and health outcomes (including cancer, birth defects, immune system function and mortality) among the Iraqi population. We assessed risk of bias using the Navigation Guide's risk of bias tool and rated certainty of the evidence using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations approach (PROSPERO: CRD42018108225).
> View/Download: Weaponised uranium and adverse health outcomes in Iraq: a systematic review , by Shelby Surdyk, Moustapha Itani, Mais Al-Lobaidy, et al., in: BMJ Global Health 2021;6:e004166
Results [...] Most studies (n=30, 83%) reported a positive association between uranium exposure and adverse health outcomes. However, we found that the reviewed body of evidence suffers from a high risk of bias.
Conclusion The available evidence suggests possible associations between exposure to depleted uranium and adverse health outcomes among the Iraqi population. More primary research and the release of missing data are needed to design meaningful health and policy interventions in Iraq."
"[...] The results show that the uranium concentrations ranged from 19.1 ± 0.3 to 238.4 ± 0.4 with an average value of 94.9 ± 5.0 ng L-1 in the blood of women with breast cancer and from 5.2 ± 0.2 to 18.7 ± 0.04 with an average value of 10.5 ± 0.1 ng L-1 in the blood of women without breast cancer. In comparison with the literature data, elevated levels of uranium concentration were recorded in both groups, and significantly higher average uranium concentrations were found in the blood of women with breast cancer as compared to those in the blood samples of women without breast cancer. It is concluded that there is a correlation between the incidence of breast cancer in Iraqi women and elevated levels of uranium concentrations in their blood. Whether this is a casual relationship is unclear, because cancer can be caused by various carcinogens, including environmental pollution in the region."
Assessment of uranium concentration in blood of Iraqi females diagnosed with breast cancer, by Ahmed R S, Mohammed R S, in: Radiation and Environmental Biophysics, aheadofprint, Nov. 22, 2020
"For the sake of completeness of the surveillance process concerning the spread of depleted uranium (DU) in the Arabian Gulf region, we have applied a simple gamma spectroscopy technique to evaluate its content in Al Jolan, Nazzal and Askari districts in Al Fallujah area, Iraq for the first time and after more than one decade. The measurements were carried out along the lines of the wars that have been witnessed in Iraq last period and expected to be the region of impact of residuals of a large quantity of DU. [...]
Depleted uranium assessment and natural radioactivity monitoring in North West of Iraq over a decade since the last Gulf War, by E. Salama, S. U. El-Kameesy, R. Elrawi, in: Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Vol. 201, May 2019, p. 25-31, Epub Feb. 6, 2019
The present obtained results of DU levels show that although a large amount of DU was released in Iraq during the Gulf wars, the tested samples are DU free. This may be attributed to the reduction of DU from the soil surface by wind or sandstorms and the downward leaching process."
The United States military ignored its own guidelines for the use of depleted uranium ammunition in the 2003 Iraq War, firing the controversial weapons at unarmoured targets, buildings in populated areas and troops. These are the conclusions of an analysis of recently declassified military data.
> View Pax release Oct. 6, 2016
> Download report: Targets of opportunity
A previously classified report released by the UK's Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 Iraq War has served as a reminder that the governments that use depleted uranium (DU) weapons are still under no legal obligation to clear the contamination created by the radioactive and chemically toxic munitions.
Unlike landmines and cluster munitions, there is no treaty to ensure that affected countries receive international assistance or are themselves obligated to protect their own people. Nor is anyone required to record the impact of the weapons on individuals and communities.
Section 10-1 of the Chilcot inquiry briefly considers DU in the context of the UK's obligations as an occupying power. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) had submitted a paper to the then newly established Ad Hoc Group on Iraq Rehabilitation. In it, the clearance of unexploded ordnance and DU is considered and the MoD argues that it has: "…no long-term legal responsibility to clean up DU from Iraq", proposing that surface lying fragments only be removed on "an opportunity basis" - i.e. if they come across them in the course of other operations.
(ICBUW July 11, 2016)
US forces fired depleted uranium (DU) weapons at civilian areas and troops in Iraq in breach of official advice meant to prevent unnecessary suffering in conflicts, a report has found.
Coordinates revealing where US jets and tanks fired nearly 10,000 DU rounds in Iraq during the war in 2003 have been obtained by the Dutch peace group Pax . This is the first time that any US DU firing coordinates have been released, despite previous requests by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Iraqi government.
According to PAX's report, which is due to be published this week, the data shows that many of the DU rounds were fired in or near populated areas of Iraq, including As Samawah, Nasiriyah and Basrah. At least 1,500 rounds were also aimed at troops, the group says.
US forces gave the GPS coordinates of DU rounds, along with a list of targets and the numbers fired, to the Dutch Ministry of Defence, which was concerned about areas in which its troops were stationed last year.
The Dutch MoD then released the data to PAX in response to a request under freedom of information law. The release of the information was a "useful first step towards greater transparency", said PAX, but the firing coordinates for most DU rounds remain unknown.
More than 300,000 DU rounds are estimated to have been fired during the 2003 Iraq war, the vast majority by US forces.
The Democratic congressman, Jim McDermott , is now urging the US Department of Defence to publish all its DU firing coordinates.
(The Guardian June 19, 2014)
> View Pax release June 19, 2014
> Download report: Laid to Waste - Depleted uranium contaminated military scrap in Iraq , June 2014 (3.9MB PDF)
> Download: Summary of the Prevalence of reported Congenital Birth Defects in 18 Selected Districts in Iraq , Ministry of Health of Iraq, Sep. 11, 2013 (WHO)
The publication of this 'summary document' on the World Health Organisation's website has raised questions from independent experts and former United Nations and WHO officials, who question the validity of its findings and its anonymous authorship. They highlight the existence of abundant research demonstrating not only significant rates of congenital birth defects in many areas of Iraq, but also a plausible link to the impact of depleted uranium.
(The Guardian Oct. 13, 2013)
A report by a Dutch peace group warns that the contamination is being spread by poorly regulated scrap metal dealers, including children. It also documents evidence that DU munitions were fired at light vehicles, buildings and other civilian infrastructure including the Iraqi Ministry of Planning in Baghdad - casting doubt on official assurances that only armoured vehicles were targeted. "The use of DU in populated areas is alarming," it says, adding that many more contaminated sites are likely to be discovered, it says.
The report, founded on three investigatory trips to Iraq in 2011 and 2012, quotes the Iraqi government's Radiation Protection Centre (RPC) as having identified between 300 and 365 contaminated sites by 2006. Most of them are in the Basra region in southern Iraq.
Though some cleaning up is meant to have been done, the report says that many sites are still contaminated, and new areas of contamination continue to be found. It quotes one RPC official as saying that each site could cost between $100,000-$150,000 to decontaminate, making a total of between $30m and $45m.
(The Guardian Mar. 6, 2013)
> Download In a state of uncertainty, Impact and implicatons of the use of depleted uranium in Iraq , IKV Pax Christi, Utrecht, January 2013 (1.65MB PDF)
"An increased prevalence of birth defects was allegedly reported in Iraq in the post 1991 Gulf War period, which was largely attributed to exposure to depleted uranium used in the war. This has encouraged further research on this particular topic.
Birth defects in Iraq and the plausibility of environmental exposure: A review, by Al-Hadithi TS, Al-Diwan JK, Saleh AM, et al. in: Conflict and Health Vol. 6, No. 1, July 28, 2012, p. 3 (ahead of print)
This paper reviews the published literature and provided evidence concerning birth defects in Iraq to elucidate possible environmental exposure. In addition to published research, this review used some direct observation of birth defects data from Al-Ramadi Maternity and Paediatric Hospital in Al-Anbar Governorate in Iraq from1st July 2000 through 30th June 2002. In addition to depleted uranium other war-related environmental factors have been studied and linked directly or indirectly with the increasing prevalence of birth defects.
However, the reviewed studies and the available research evidence do not provide a clear increase in birth defects and a clear indication of a possible environmental exposure including depleted uranium although the country has been facing several environmental challenges since 1980."
"To assess the quality of the environment in southern Iraq after the Gulf War II,
a geochemical survey was carried out. The survey provided data on the chemistry
of Euphrates waters, as well as the trace element contents, U and Pb isotopic
composition, and PAH levels in soil and tree bark samples. [...]"
"The chemistry of the tree bark samples closely reflected that of the soils, with some notable exceptions. Unlike the soils, some tree bark samples had anomalous values of the 235U/238U ratio due to mixing of depleted uranium (DU) with the natural uranium pool. Moreover, the distribution of some trace elements (such as REEs, Th and Zr) and the isotopic composition of Pb in barks clearly differed from those of the nearby soils. The overall results suggested that significant external
inputs occurred implying that once formed the DU-enriched particles could travel
over long distances. [...]" (from abstract)
Trace element distribution and 235U/238U ratios in Euphrates waters and in soils and tree barks of Dhi Qar province (southern Iraq), by F. Riccobono, G. Perra, A. Pisani, G. Protano, in: Science of The Total Environment, Vol. 409, Issue 19 (1 Sep 2011), p. 3829-3838, published ahead of print July 18, 2011
"Approximately 1.9 metric tonnes of DU ammunition was expended in the 2003 Iraq War by UK forces. The MOD provided the coordinates of targets attacked using DU ammunition in 2003 to the United Nations (UN) Environmental Programme. The MOD also shared with the UN and the Government of Iraq the results of a scientific assessment carried out in June 2003 that indicated very low levels of DU even in the vicinity of vehicles struck by DU munitions. [...]"
Daily Hansard - Written Answers, 22 July 2010 : Column 459W,
Written Answers to Questions: Depleted Uranium
"This publication describes the methods, assumptions and parameters used by the IAEA during the assessment of the post-conflict radiological conditions of the environment and populations in relation to the residues of depleted uranium munitions from 2003 that exist at four selected areas in southern Iraq. The studies conducted by the IAEA used the results of measurements provided by UNEP from the 2006-2007 environmental monitoring campaigns performed by the Iraqi Ministry for the Environment. It presents the data used, the results of the assessment, the findings and conclusions in connection therewith."
"In this report, it is concluded that the radiation
doses from DU do not pose a radiological hazard to
the population at the four studied locations in
southern Iraq. The estimated annual committed
effective radiation doses that could arise from
exposure to DU residues are low, always less than
100 µSv/a and only to a few, if any, individuals, and
therefore of little radiological concern. The
estimated radiation doses are less than those
received on average by individuals from natural
sources of radiation in the environment (worldwide
average 2.4 mSv/a), below internationally
recommended dose limits for members of the public
(1 mSv/a) and below the action level of 10 mSv/a
set out in the IAEA Safety Standard on Remediation
of Areas Contaminated by Past Activities and
Accidents  to establish whether remedial actions
Radiological Conditions in Selected Areas of Southern Iraq with Residues of Depleted Uranium , Report by an international group of experts, Radiological Assessment Report Series, STI/PUB/1434, 78 pp., IAEA 2010 (2.5M PDF)
Army personnel involved in the Iraqi invasion of 2003 have not absorbed dangerous levels of depleted uranium, finds research published ahead of print in Occupational and Environmental Medicine .
The authors (from the King's centre for military health research at King's College London) tested depleted uranium levels in the urine of four different groups who would have been subject to different levels of exposure.
These comprised 199 soldiers directly involved in fighting, 96 soldiers involved in other duties, 22 medical staff, and 24 people responsible for cleaning up or repairing contaminated vehicles.
The staff were also questioned closely about the circumstances in which exposure might have occurred.
The results showed that there were no differences in depleted uranium levels among the four groups.
And the findings showed that levels were very close to those that would be expected from absorption of naturally occurring uranium.
In cases where higher levels were found, these were within the normal range for naturally occurring uranium, when re-analyzed.
(Eurekalert July 2, 2007)
Urinary isotopic analysis in the UK Armed Forces: No evidence of depleted uranium absorption in combat and other personnel in Iraq, by D J Bland, R J Rona, D Coggon, J Anderson, N Greenberg, L Hull and S Wessely, in: Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Published Online First: 3 July 2007.
British soldiers serving in Iraq do not appear to be suffering ill-health on the scale reported by veterans of the Gulf war, scientists report today.
Two studies, published online by the Lancet , suggest there may not be an Iraq war syndrome. But the research raises concerns for reservists and suggests they may need more help and support.
The research was carried out by Simon Wessely and colleagues from the King's centre for military health research at King's College London, who also did the definitive studies on the illnesses now commonly described as Gulf war syndrome. They say they are surprised by the results, which are not in line with work carried out in the United States.
One of their studies compares the mental and physical health of nearly 4,000 soldiers who went to Iraq with that of a similar number who did not. The second contrasts the results from Iraq with those from the Gulf war in 1991.
Researchers found twice as many symptoms of ill-health in Gulf war veterans compared with servicemen who had not been deployed. But the new study of 3,642 male regular armed forces personnel serving in Iraq in 2003 found that their mental and physical health was not significantly different from that of 4,295 servicemen who were not deployed.
(Guardian May 16, 2006)
Is there an Iraq war syndrome? Comparison of the health of
UK service personnel after the Gulf and Iraq wars, by O Horn, L Hull, M Jones, D Murphy, T Browne, N T Fear, M Hotopf, R J Rona, S Wessely, in: Lancet 2006, Vol. 367: 1742–1746, Published Online May 16, 2006
Bill Number H.R. 5122 for the 109th Congress:
SEC. 716. STUDY OF HEALTH EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE TO DEPLETED URANIUM
> See also: Rep. Jim McDermott release May 11, 2006
The use of armor-piercing ammunition made from depleted uranium (DU) during the war in Iraq has raised concerns about DU exposures among military personnel and civilians. Since 2003, the US Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have tested more than 2,100 Iraq war veterans for DU exposure and the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has tested approximately 350 veterans. There have reportedly been few positive test results, but these results obscure problems with selection processes and testing methods. In this paper I summarize publicly available information about the use of DU munitions in Iraq, analyze differences between DoD/VA and MoD testing processes, review the results of government testing efforts, and discuss the significance of the testing processes and results.
Summary of Depleted Uranium Test Results For Iraq War Veterans, by Dan Fahey, 17 March 2006
> Download: full paper (71k PDF - posted with permission)
A survey of the Australian area of operations in Al Muthanna province in southern Iraq has found no risk to troops from potentially harmful depleted uranium (DU) residues left over from past conflicts.
Commander of the Australian taskforce Lieutenant Colonel Roger Noble said the survey team had looked everywhere in the vast province where DU had been reported or it was thought it might be found.
"They have made a report on that. The way of summarising it is the risk from any radiation – depleted uranium is part of it – is extremely low," he said.
Defence declined to release the report.
(Australian June 8, 2005)
"Since 2003, United States and United Kingdom government agencies have tested
hundreds of servicemembers for DU exposure. There have reportedly been few positive
test results, but publicly available information indicates that, at least in the United States,
not all veterans who believe they were exposed to DU are in fact being tested." (from the Summary)
Summary of Government Data on Testing of Veterans for Depleted Uranium Exposure During Service in Iraq, by Dan Fahey, 10 February 2005
> Download full paper (162k PDF)
In a memorandum dated Sep. 10, 2004, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense William Winkenwerder, Jr., summarized first depleted uranium bioassay results from U.S. personnel involved in "Operation Iraqi Freedom".
The initial results cover the period June 3, 2003 - March 31, 2004: 14 out of the 766 persons tested were identified with total uranium levels above the upper bound of the U.S. population range of 50 ng/g creatinine, and five had indications of DU in their urine.
> Download table of bioassay results (15k PDF)
- Level I - personnel who were in, on, or near combat vehicles at the time they were struck by DU rounds (to include wounded), or who entered immediately after to attempt rescue;
- Level II - personnel who routinely entered DU-damaged vehicles as part of their military occupation or who fought fires involving DU munitions;
- Level III - personnel involved in all other exposures (incidental in nature, e.g. driving by a vehicle struck by DU.)
In a letter to Senator Jon Kyl dated Aug. 25, 2004, Glenn F. Lamartin, Director Defense Systems at the U.S. DOD, confirmed that "none of the guided bombs or cruise missiles that the U.S. used in Iraq and Afghanistan contained uranium of any type".
> Download facsimile of DOD letter (PDF, posted with permission)
Scientists will begin investigating environmental "hot spots" in Iraq as part of a long-term strategy to clean up the country after ten years of war and instability, the U.N. Environment Program said on Sep. 14, 2004.
The work will begin soon, a spokesman said.
The agency also has been asked by the Iraqi government to investigate possible pollution by depleted uranium ordnance used to pierce tank armor during the 1991 Gulf War and the latest war.
The British government has given the agency detailed information on locations where it used 1.9 tonnes of depleted uranium in the south of Iraq, but the U.S. government hasn't come forward with the same information despite requests from the United Nations.
The Japanese government has funded much of the US$4.7 million (Euro 3.8 million) project, which will be coordinated by the Nairobi-based U.N. agency and implemented by the Iraqi Ministry of the Environment.
Samples - collected by Iraqi experts - will be evaluated by the U.N. Environment Program's Post-Conflict Assessment Unit in Geneva.
The project will concentrate on at least five sites, including the Al-Mishaq Sulfur State Company, the Midland Refinery Stores, Al-Suwaira Seed Stores, sites were oil pipelines have been sabotaged and scrap metal yards where destroyed military vehicles have been taken.
(AP Sep. 14, 2004)
On June 29, 2004, Italian military authorities have announced the commissioning of a medical follow-up study of 1000 Italian soldiers deployed to Iraq, to determine the hazards from exposure to depleted uranium. The announcement was made by general Michele Donvito during a hearing before the defense commission of the deputy chamber of the Italian parliament. The study will begin in August 2004 and will last 18 months. First results are expected early in 2006.
(Le Monde July 13, 2004; La Repubblica July 26, 2004)
> Transcript of June 29, 2004, Defense Commission hearing: View HTML · Download PDF (in Italian)
Urine samples of Iraqi civilians and US military personnel in Iraq were found to contain total uranium in a range of 1.1 to 65.3 nanograms per litre, of which 0.2 to approx. 10 percent was depleted uranium.
The samples were analyzed by Dr Axel Gerdes at the Institute of Mineralogy of the University of Frankfurt am Main (Germany) using extremely sensitive multi-collector mass spectrometry. Detailed results have not been published yet.
> Download University of Frankfurt am Main release, April 2, 2004 (PDF, in German)
Some details of the data on the US military personnel were published in a conference poster:
It shows the data for 9 military persons; DU was found in 4 of these. Total uranium ranged from 1.6 - 6.2 ng/L. In the DU-positive samples, DU ranged from 0.12 - 0.87 ng/L, comprising 4.2% - 22.8% of total uranium.
Quantitative Analysis of Concentration and Ratios of Uranium Isotopes in the US Military Personnel at Samawah, Iraq During Operation Enduring Freedom, by A. Durakovic, A. Gerdes, I. Zimmerman, F. Klimaschewski; Poster presented at European Radiation Research 2004 - The 33rd Annual Meeting of the European Society for Radiation Biology - August 25-28, 2004, Budapest.
The corresponding radiation doses from inhalation of DU were very low: assuming that the samples were collected half a year after exposure, the radiation dose received can be determined as less than 0.025 mSv, even for the worst case that all material inhaled was Type S (slowly soluble).
Details of the data on Iraqi civilians are to be presented at a conference; some figures are available from the abstract: total uranium in all 15 samples was 24.3 +/- 4.6 ng/L. DU was found in 5 samples, at an average concentration of 1.2 ng/L, comprising 5% of total uranium. U-236 was found in 8 samples, at a concentration of approx. 0.74 ppm.
Uranium Isotopes Bioassay in the Civilians of Baghdad
and Al Basra after Operation Iraqi Freedom, by Asaf Durakovic, Axel Gerdes, Isaac Zimmerman; Paper to be presented at Radiological Society of North America 90th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting, Nov. 28, 2004, Chicago.
The corresponding radiation dose from single inhalation can be estimated at approx. 0.03 mSv, assuming inhalation of pure Type S material, and that the urine samples were taken half a year after exposure.
The elevated concentration of U-236 found in 8 samples, though higher than expected in natural uranium, is only about half of what would be expected if the 5% DU fraction found in the total uranium were attributed to material used by the U.S. for the manufacture of DU weapons (containing approx. 0.003% U-236).
> See here
At the occasion of a DU conference held at MIT on March 6, 2004, Michael Kilpatrick, Deputy Director of Deployment Health Support in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, presented an accounting of DU use in Iraq. He stated the Air Force (A-10) shot 103 short tons of DU, and the Army (M1A2 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles) shot 24 short tons of DU. This equates to approximately 115,000 kg/DU. He stated the Marine Corps has not yet released information about how much its forces shot (AV-8B, M1A2s, LAVs). Based on this information, it is reasonable to assume that somewhere between 120,000 and 140,000 kg/DU was shot by US forces during the war.
Fewer than 10 of the 70,000 British troops involved in operations in Iraq over the past 11 months have tested positive for signs of depleted uranium (DU) contamination, according to figures obtained by The Herald. All of those affected were hit by shrapnel from DU tank or aircraft cannon shells during "friendly fire" incidents in the advance on Basra.
Every serviceman or woman who took part in last year's Iraq campaign or has since been posted to Basra on garrison duty has been offered the chance of supplying a urine sample to determine whether there is DU in his or her body.
An MoD spokeswoman said only 275 have submitted samples. All have tested negative for contamination.
(Glasgow Herald Feb. 5, 2004)
Negligible quantities of depleted uranium have shown up in tests of Australian servicemen who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, the government said.
Veterans Affairs Minister Danna Vale said all the personnel who went to Iraq and Afghanistan had been briefed on the potential health risks of depleted uranium before deployment then tested for exposure on their return.
"All tests conducted to date have been within the normal range."
A spokeswoman for Mrs Vale said urine samples provided by returned soldiers had been analysed by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).
She said ANSTO's reference range for so-called normal urine uranium concentrations in spot samples was below 50 parts per trillion [ng/l].
"None of the currently tested defence urine samples are above that range," she said.
(The Age, Sep. 24, 2003)
See also: Question No. 2233, COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES , Votes and Proceedings, Hansard, 18 SEPTEMBER 2003, p. 19742-19743
In an answer to an inquiry by Dan Fahey, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed on July 28, 2003, that Iraq had been developing depleted uranium weapons:
"... the former government of Iraq started a programme for the development of depleted uranium weapons but only produced about 10 rounds. Two or three of which were fired in a test and the others are under the control of the Iraq Action Team."
The inquiry was based on a December 2002 fact sheet from IAEA, indicating Iraq may have been experimenting with the development of DU munitions and counterweights. Iraq was reported to have “processed uranium dioxide to produce UF4, uranium metal and UF6,” and “casted a uranium sphere of about five centimeters diameter, several hemispheres of similar size and a small number of rods weighing 1.2 kg per piece, from which to machine ‘sub-calibre munitions.’”
In a letter to Jack Cohen-Joppa, dated July 14, 2003, U.S. Senator Jon Kyl writes:
"To date, U.S. Army data shows that 2,466 depleted uranium (DU) tank rounds (M829A1) were expended during Operation Iraqi Freedom, in all of Iraq (about 24 tons). I caution that these statistics are preliminary and the operation is ongoing. The Army is currently unable to provide the number of expended 25 mm depleted uranium rounds from Bradley vehicles, nor a specific number of rounds fired in Baghdad."
> Download facsimile of Jon Kyl letter (PDF, posted with permission)
Note: 24 tons are equivalent to 21.8 metric tonnes, but with a DU weight of 4.64 kg per M829A1 round, 2,466 rounds have a weight of 11.4 metric tonnes.
The Use of Depleted Uranium in the 2003 Iraq War: An Initial Assessment of Information and Policies, by Dan Fahey, June 24, 2003
During the 2003 Iraq War, United States and United Kingdom armed forces shot
ammunition made from depleted uranium (DU) at a wide variety of targets. Although
there is little known about the actual quantities of DU released or the locations of contamination, it appears approximately 100 to 200 metric tons was shot at tanks, trucks, buildings and people in largely densely populated areas. The US and UK governments have announced they will medically test veterans who were exposed to DU, but the lack of a coherent environmental policy is likely resulting in Iraqi civilians and relief and development workers being unnecessarily exposed to DU contamination. Further policy action and additional research are needed to resolve the uncertainties regarding the use and effects of DU munitions in the 2003 Iraq War."
> Download full report (PDF 114k)
"In the first partial Pentagon disclosure of the amount of DU used in Iraq, a US Central Command spokesman told the Monitor that A-10 Warthog aircraft [...] fired 300,000 bullets. The normal combat mix for these 30-mm rounds is five DU bullets to 1 - a mix that would have left about 75 tons [68 metric tonnes] of DU in Iraq." (The Christian Science Monitor May 15, 2003)
In the unclassified report "Operation IRAQI FREEDOM – By The Numbers, Assessment and Analysis Division, 30 April 2003, by T. MICHAEL MOSELEY, Lt Gen, USAF Commander", the number of 30-mm rounds spent is more precisely given as 311,597.
> Download US Central Air Forces report (432k PDF)
"The Royal Society, the UK’s national science academy, today (24 April 2003) called on coalition forces to reveal where and how much depleted uranium was used in the conflict in Iraq, so that an effective clean-up and monitoring programme of both soldiers and civilians can begin. It also highlighted the need to obtain further data on the exposure levels that can occur on the battlefield and in residential areas."
> View Royal Society release Apr. 24, 2003
British Soldiers returning from Iraq are being offered tests for the level of depleted uranium in their bodies to assess the risks of kidney damage and lung cancer.
The UK Ministry of Defence confirmed that the urine tests are being made available after the Royal Society, Britain's foremost scientific body, warned that soldiers and civilians could have been exposed to dangerous levels.
About 45,000 British servicemen and women have been involved in the Gulf conflict, of which about 26,000 have been land forces.
The Ministry of Defence said that it would publish the test results and would release details of where depleted uranium weapons had been used.
(The Independent April 25, 2003)
On April 24, 2003, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its desk study on the environment in postwar Iraq.
"[...] Another priority activity should be conducting a scientific assessment of sites struck with weapons containing depleted uranium (DU). The report recommends that guidelines be distributed immediately to military and civilian personnel, and to the general public, on how to minimize the risk of accidental exposure to DU." (from UNEP release Apr. 24, 2003)
> Download: Desk Study on the Environment in Iraq, April 2003 (9.4MB PDF)
The UK Government says it will help to clean up depleted uranium (DU) ammunition in Iraq.
A spokeswoman for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) told BBC News Online: "Legally, we have no obligation to clean up the remains of the DU we used. It's the responsibility of the new regime in Baghdad.
But morally we do recognise an obligation, as we have in the past. We helped in the removal of DU from Kosovo.
We'll be helping in any way we can, specifically by providing money for the clean-up, and by making available records of where the ammunition was fired."
(BBC News April 23, 2003)
Hundreds of tonnes of depleted uranium used by Britain and the United States in Iraq should be removed to protect the civilian population, the Royal Society said, contradicting Pentagon claims it was not necessary.
Professor Brian Spratt, chairman of the Royal Society working group on depleted uranium: "We recommend that fragments of depleted uranium penetrators should be removed, and areas of contamination should be identified and, where necessary, made safe." He added: "We also recommend long-term sampling, particularly of water and milk, to detect any increase in uranium levels in areas where depleted uranium has been used. This provides a cost-effective method of monitoring sensitive components in the environment, and of providing information about uranium levels to concerned local populations."
(Guardian April 17, 2003)
> View Royal Society statement on use of depleted uranium munitions in Iraq, 15 April 2003
> See also: UK Royal Society releases DU report
The US says it has no plans to remove the debris left over from depleted uranium (DU) weapons it is using in Iraq. It says no clean-up is needed, because research shows DU has no long-term effects.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel David Lapan, told BBC News Online: "Since then there've been a number of studies - by the UK's Royal Society and the World Health Organisation, for example - into the health risks of DU, or the lack of them. [...] One thing we've found in these various studies is that there are no long-term effects from DU. And given that, I don't believe we have any plans for a DU clean-up in Iraq."
(BBC News April 14, 2003)
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said on April 6, 2003, that a scientific assessment of sites targeted with weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) should be conducted in Iraq.
> View UNEP release April 6, 2003
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) is calling for a halt of depleted ammunition use in the war in Iraq. Various press reports indicated that DU ammunition has been used at several occasions during the current war in Iraq. IPPNW also demands that the burden of proof for the long-term impacts of DU ammunition use should be reversed: the U.S. and British governments should present proof for the stated harmlessness of the DU ammunitions.
IPPNW release April 4, 2003 (in German)
Depleted uranium rounds were being fired on March 14, 2003, in Kuwait as British troops acclimatised their tanks to desert conditions. Tanks from the Scots Dragoon Guards were expected to carry out firing training on the tank ranges near Camp Coyote, the camp nearest to the Iraq-Kuwait border.
(Scotsman March 14, 2003)
"[...] Elevated urine U concentrations were observed in cohort members with retained depleted uranium (DU) shrapnel fragments. In addition, a measure of bone resorption, N-telopeptide, showed a statistically significant increase in those in the high DU subgroup, a finding consistent with a statistically significant decrease in bone mass also observed in this high DU subgroup compared to the low DU subgroup. [...]"
Surveillance of Depleted Uranium-exposed Gulf War Veterans: More Evidence for Bone Effects, by McDiarmid MA, Gaitens JM, Hines S, et al., in: Health Physics 2021 Jun 1; Vol. 120 No.6, p. 671-682
"[...] Methods: We applied a standard biokinetic model to predict the urinary total [U] and uranium isotopic ratios in urine 18 years after inhalation exposure. We applied high sensitivity mass spectrometry methods capable of detecting the predicted levels in 154 individuals of a population-representative sample of U.S. veterans in whom Gulf War illness [GWI] had been determined by standard case definitions and DU inhalation exposures obtained by medical history.
Results: Methods used in past studies are capable of detecting only the high urinary uranium excretion levels from retained DU shrapnel but not lower levels predicted from DU inhalation. Using high precision mass spectrometry, we found no difference in the 238U/235U ratio in veterans meeting the standard case definitions of GWI versus control veterans, and no differences by levels of DU inhalation exposure. Our bivariate analysis of 236U/238U by 235U/238U showed only the signature of natural dietary uranium, excluding DU inhalation exposures above 0.4 mg, far below the disease-causing threshold.
Conclusion: The findings by high precision mass spectrometry support the conclusion that even the highest levels of DU inhalation played no role in the development of Gulf War illness. Other factors including exposure to aerosolized organophosphate compounds (pesticides and sarin nerve agent) remain as the most likely cause(s) of GWI."
Resolving Whether Inhalation of Depleted Uranium Contributed to Gulf War Illness Using High-Sensitivity Mass Spectrometry, by Randall Parrish and Robert Haley, in: Scientific Reports (2021) 11:3218
> View/Download: full text
"A small group of Gulf War I veterans wounded in depleted uranium (DU) friendly-fire incidents have been monitored in a clinical surveillance program since 1993. During the spring of 2017, 42 members of the cohort were evaluated with a protocol which includes exposure monitoring for total and isotopic uranium concentrations in urine and a comprehensive assessment of health outcomes including measures of bone metabolism, and for participants > 50 years, bone mineral density (BMD) determination. Elevated urine U concentrations were observed in cohort members with retained DU shrapnel fragments. Only the mean serum estradiol concentration, a marker of bone metabolism, was found to be significantly different for lower-vs-higher urine U (uU) cohort sub-groups. For the first time, a significant deficit in BMD was observed in the over age 50, high uU sub-group. [...]"
Surveillance results and bone effects in the Gulf War depleted uranium-exposed cohort, by McDiarmid MA, Cloeren M, Gaitens JM, et al., in: Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Part A, Oct. 29, 2018, ahead of print
BACKGROUND: A small group of Gulf War I veterans wounded in depleted uranium (DU)
friendly-fire incidents have been monitored for health changes in a clinical
surveillance program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Baltimore since
METHODS: During the spring of 2015, an in-patient clinical surveillance
protocol was performed on 36 members of the cohort, including exposure monitoring
for total and isotopic uranium concentrations in urine and a comprehensive
assessment of health outcomes.
RESULTS: On-going mobilization of U from embedded
fragments is evidenced by elevated urine U concentrations. The DU isotopic
signature is observed principally in participants possessing embedded fragments.
Those with only an inhalation exposure have lower urine U concentration and a
natural isotopic signature.
CONCLUSIONS: At 25 years since first exposure to DU,
an aging cohort of military veterans continues to show no U-related health
effects in known target organs of U toxicity. As U body burden continues to
accrue from in-situ mobilization from metal fragment depots, and increases with
exposure duration, critical tissue-specific U concentration thresholds may be
reached, thus recommending on-going surveillance of this veteran cohort.
The U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs depleted uranium exposed cohort at 25 Years: Longitudinal surveillance results, by McDiarmid MA, Gaitens JM, Hines S, at al., in: Environmental Research Vol. 152, p. 175-184, Oct. 25, 2016
[...] This study evaluates genotoxic effects of exposure to DU by measuring chromosome damage in peripheral blood lymphocytes with fluorescence in situ hybridization whole-chromosome painting. Study participants are Gulf War-I Veterans with embedded DU fragments and/or inhalation exposure due to involvement in friendly-fire incidents [...].
No significant relationships were observed between any cytogenetic endpoint and log(urine uranium) levels, smoking, or log(lifetime X-rays). Age at the time of blood draw showed significant relationships with all endpoints except for cells with acentric fragments. Translocation frequencies in these Veterans were all well within the normal range of published values for healthy control subjects from around the world. These results indicate that chronic exposure to DU does not induce significant levels of chromosome damage in these Veterans.
Long-term exposure to depleted uranium in Gulf-War veterans does not induce chromosome aberrations in peripheral blood lymphocytes, by Bakhmutsky MV, Squibb K, McDiarmid, M, et al., in: Mutation Research, Aug. 8, 2013 (ahead of print)
"As required by law, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hereby gives notice that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs [...] has determined not to establish a presumption of service connection at this time, based on exposure to depleted uranium in the Persian Gulf during the Persian Gulf War, for any of the diseases, illnesses, or health effects discussed in the July 30, 2008, report of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), titled Gulf War and Health: Updated Literature Review of Depleted Uranium. [...]"
Federal Register: March 9, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 45) p. 10867-10871
(download full text )
> View/download report Gulf War and Health: Updated Literature Review of Depleted Uranium , Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, 2008, 264 p.
A Black Country soldier died as a result of exposure to depleted uranium during the first Gulf War, an inquest has ruled.
Stuart Dyson, of Cherwell Drive, Brownhills, formerly a Lance Corporal in the Royal Pioneer Corps, died of colon cancer in June last year aged only 39.
His family has sought to prove his belief that he was dying because of being exposed to the lethal substance while cleaning tanks in the Gulf between January and May 1991. A jury, sitting at Smethwick Council House, heard medical evidence that cancer-inducing particles from uranium in tank shells had been breathed in and swallowed by Mr Dyson and that the onset of cancer in such cases could typically take ten years to show.
(Birmingham Post, Sep 11 2009)
Gulf War and Health: Volume 4. Health Effects of Serving in the Gulf War,
Committee on Gulf War and Health: A Review of the Medical Literature Relative to the Gulf War Veterans' Health, 310 p., The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006
> Download Summary (504k PDF)
> Read full text online (NAP)
Sandia National Laboratories has completed a two-year study of the potential health effects associated with accidental exposure to depleted uranium (DU) during the 1991 Gulf War.
The study concludes that the reports of serious health risks from DU exposure are not supported by veteran medical statistics nor supported by this analysis. Only a few U.S. veterans in vehicles accidentally struck by DU munitions are predicted to have inhaled sufficient quantities of DU particulate to incur any significant health risk. For these individuals, DU-related risks include the possibility of temporary kidney damage and about a 1 percent chance of fatal cancer.
Health risks for Iraqi civilians are predicted to be very small, and claims of
observable increases in leukemia and birth defects from DU exposure are not
supported by this study. The highest health risk for civilians was for children playing in DU-contaminated vehicles. The nominal radiation-induced fatal cancer risk for these children was 0.1%.
> View Sandia release July 21, 2005
An Analysis of Uranium Dispersal and Health Effects Using a Gulf War Case Study, by Albert C. Marshall, SANDIA REPORT SAND2005-4331, July 2005
> Download full report (2M PDF)
On Nov. 12, 2004, the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses released its 2004 Report and Recommendations, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to the report, evidence supports a probable link between exposure to neurotoxins, such as the nerve agent sarin, and the development of Gulf War veterans' illnesses.
> Download Scientific Progress in Understanding Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses: Report and Recommendations, September 2004
In 2004 the independent Depleted Uranium Oversight Board (DUOB) launched a programme of voluntary retrospective testing for depleted uranium (DU) in urine for those who served in the 1990/1991 Gulf Conflict and UK military operations in the former Yugoslavia.
As of 25 October 2005, 280 samples had been tested, and none were found to contain DU. The rate of applications for the test has fallen - only nine have been received over the last three months. Consequently the DUOB have decided to end the testing programme, and have asked that any further applications are received by 31 January 2006.
(MoD Nov. 7, 2005)
According to an article in The Times of Sep. 23, 2004, Britain is to test thousands of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War who have suffered a range of unexplained ailments for the possible presence of depleted uranium in their bodies. Four clinics will undertake the tests in a fresh attempt to explain so-called Gulf War Syndrome. David Coggan, the scientist overseeing the programme, told the Times that the new tests would be able to detect any amounts of depleted uranium in veterans' urine sufficient to cause ill-health. The tests would be sufficiently "sensitive and accurate" to uncover even "tiny traces" of uranium, he told the paper.
(AFP Sep. 23, 2004)
In the course of a study among French veterans on the health impacts from the 1991 Gulf War, the urine of 110 veterans was tested for uranium. No "anomaly" was found.
> View French Ministry of Defense release July 13, 2004 (in French, includes links to full report)
In a study of 227 U.S. veterans of the 1991 Gulf War, depleted uranium in urine was only found with 3 veterans who had embedded DU shrapnel from "friendly fire" incidents. An isotopic analysis for uranium was only performed for 21 of those 22 veterans who had total uranium in urine higher than 0.05 micrograms per gram creatinine. The urine samples were collected between Jan. 2000 and Dec. 2002.
This confirms the result of an earlier study on 169 veterans.
Biologic monitoring for urinary uranium in Gulf War I veterans, by Melissa A. McDiarmid, Katherine Squibb, and Susan M. Engelhardt; in: Health Physics, Vol. 87 (2004), No. 1 (July), p. 51-56
Urinary uranium concentrations in an enlarged Gulf War veteran cohort, by Melissa A. McDiarmid, Susan M. Engelhardt, and Marc Oliver; in: Health Physics, Vol. 80 (2001), No. 3 (March), p. 270-273
An eight-year, multimillion pound legal battle by more than 2,000 veterans for compensation for Gulf war syndrome has collapsed because there is not enough scientific evidence to prove their case in court.
The Legal Services Commission (LSC), which is estimated to have spent around Ł4m on the case, is expected to withdraw legal aid this month after being told by the veterans' lawyers that the action has no real chance of success.
To succeed in their claim against the Ministry of Defence, the veterans would have to produce scientific evidence not only that their illness was caused by their service in the 1991 Gulf war, but also that the MoD had been negligent. The burden of proof would be on them as claimants to prove their case.
More than 2,000 Gulf veterans have been awarded "no fault" war pensions, granted to those whose health has been affected by war service. This week the first war pension for the effects of depleted uranium was awarded to a former soldier, Kenny Duncan, who claimed he was poisoned from inhaling DU dust from burnt-out tanks.
But winning a war pension is no pointer to success in a high court compensation claim. The burden of proof is reversed in pension cases, putting the onus on the MoD to prove the illness is not linked to Gulf service, and there is no need to prove negligence.
(The Guardian Feb. 5, 2004)
Scots ex-soldier Kenny Duncan has become the first veteran to win a pension
appeal after being diagnosed with depleted uranium (DU) poisoning during the 1991 Gulf war.
Mr Duncan's case relied on blood tests carried out by Dr Albrecht Schott, a German biochemist, which revealed chromosome aberrations caused by ionising radiation.
Dr Schott's research formed part of a study of 16 British veterans of conflicts in the Gulf, Bosnia, and Kosovo. The test results were dismissed by the MoD as "neither well thought out nor scientifically sound".
(Glasgow Herald, Feb. 4, 2004)
British veterans of the 1991 Gulf war do not have a higher risk of cancer than other soldiers. Macfarlane and colleagues analysed data from a cohort study including more than 100,000 soldiers serving in 1991, half of them Gulf war veterans. Gulf war veterans had the same overall and organ specific risk of cancer as other soldiers, even after lifestyle and alcohol consumption had been adjusted for. Adjustment for self reported exposure to multiple vaccinations, pesticides, and depleted uranium did not increase the risk of cancer in Gulf war veterans. The long latent period for cancer, however, necessitates the continued follow up of these cohorts.
Incidence of cancer among UK Gulf war veterans: cohort study, by Gary J Macfarlane, Anne-Marie Biggs, Noreen Maconochie, Matthew Hotopf, Patricia Doyle, Mark Lunt, in: British Medical Journal (BMJ) Vol. 327, No. 7428, 13 December 2003, p. 1373
An IAEA investigation in Kuwait has found that depleted uranium (DU) from munitions used in the 1991 Gulf War does not pose a radiological hazard to the people of Kuwait.
At the request of the Kuwait Government, in February 2002 the Agency sent a team of senior international experts to assess possible long-term radiological impacts of DU residues at 11 locations in Kuwait.
> View IAEA release June 13, 2003 · Download Executive Summary of Report (10k PDF)
> Download full report (1.2M PDF)
Australian Gulf War Veterans' Health Study 2003, Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs, (3 volumes)
> View Summary and download full study
Scientists at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, are studying a possible link between between depleted uranium and Gulf War Syndrome. Scientists believe nasal and respiratory irritation caused by desert sand storms and oil field fires during Operation Desert Storm, may have weakened the nose/brain barrier and allowed depleted uranium to enter the central nervous system of soldiers in the field resulting in slowly developing neurotoxic responses.
> Scientists Study Depleted Uranium link to Gulf War Syndrome (LRRI)
A small study of British, Canadian and US veterans with Gulf War illness found that just over half (14 of 27) tested positive for depleted uranium in urine.
The study did not include a control group of people who were not veterans of the Gulf War.
(Reuters Sep 10, 2002)
Horan P, Dietz L, Durakovic A:
The quantitative analysis of depleted uranium isotopes in British, Canadian, and U.S. Gulf War veterans. Military Medicine Aug 2002; vol. 167 no. 8, p. 620-627
No depleted uranium found in Canadian Forces personnel who served in the Gulf War and in Kosovo
> see here
On Nov. 29, 2001, the General Assembly of the United Nations rejected an Iraqi proposal that the UN study the effects of the depleted-uranium shells used by US-led forces in the 1991 Gulf War. The General Assembly voted down the Iraqi plan 45-54, with 45 abstentions. The assembly's committee on disarmament and international security had approved the plan earlier the same month, 49-45.
(Boston Globe Nov. 30, 2001)
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has determined that there is "no basis to establish a presumption of service connection for any disease based on service in the Persian Gulf during the Persian Gulf War".
> download Federal Register: July 6, 2001 (Vol. 66, No. 130), p. 35702-35710
On Sep. 5, 2001, the WHO team returned from Baghdad.
> View WHO release Sep. 5, 2001
On Aug. 28, 2001, a six member WHO team began investigating claims that cancer rates and birth defects in Iraq have increased due to depleted uranium in ammunition used during the 1991 Gulf War. (AP Aug. 28, 2001)
The World Health Organisation said on Aug. 23, 2001, it would meet Iraqi experts in Baghdad from August 27-31, 2001, to firm up planned research into cancers which Baghdad blames on Allied use of depleted uranium in the 1991 Gulf War. The talks follow a formal invitation received from the Iraqi government.
(Reuters Aug. 23, 2001)
> View WHO release Aug. 23, 2001
A team of World Health Organization officials will arrive in Iraq in March 2001 to analyze whether there is a link between the use of depleted uranium shells in the Gulf War and cancer or birth defect rates in this part of Iraq. (Washington Post March 15, 2001)
At Baghdad's request, the World Health Organization intends to send a team to Iraq to study the health impact of depleted uranium from munitions used during the Gulf War a decade ago, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday. The U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) and the International Atomic Energy Agency also said on Thursday they would consider requests for fact-finding missions to Iraq as well as Bosnia and Yugoslavia to study the effects of exposure to depleted uranium. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the three agencies would coordinate their activities, but no date has yet been set for the Geneva-based WHO team to go to Iraq. (Reuters, Jan. 25, 2001)
> View Environmental Exposure Report - Depleted Uranium in the Gulf (II) (December 13, 2000)