Friday, June 03, 2005
Courtesy of our distinguished colleagues at BlondeSense and the Heretik: Over two weeks ago Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, along with 21 Democratic co-sponsors, introduced legislation calling for "medical and scientific studies on the health and environmental impacts from the U.S. Military’s use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions in combat zones, including Iraq." We mention it now because the story went virtually unreported by the mainstream press; we did not know about it until we saw the article below, from the Lone Star Iconoclast, the independent Texas weekly that bills itself as George W. Bush's hometown paper:
“The need is urgent and imperative for full, fair and impartial studies,” McDermott said. “We may be endangering the health and lives of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians. All we’ve gotten so far from the Pentagon are assurances. We need facts backed by science. We don’t have that today.”Regular readers are no doubt familiar with the hazards of DU. David Rose published some interesting statistics last fall in Vanity Fair:
Because of its density, the military uses DU as a protective shield around tanks, and in munitions like armor piercing bullets and tank shells. DU tends to spontaneously ignite upon impact, disintegrating into a micro-fine residue that hangs suspended in the air where it can be inhaled and falls to the ground to leach into the soil.
DU is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process; it is chemically toxic. and DU has low-level radioactivity. About 300 metric tons of DU munitions were fired during the first Gulf War, and about half that amount has been used to date in the Iraq War.
“I’ve been concerned about DU since veterans of the first Gulf War began to experience unexplained illnesses, commonly called ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ that remain mysterious,” McDermott said.
McDermott added that there are reports from Iraqi doctors and others today of seemingly unexplained serious illnesses including higher rates of cancer and leukemia, and even birth defects.
The U.S. suffered only 167 fatal combat casualties in the first Gulf War. Since then, veterans have claimed pensions and health-care benefits at a record rate. The Veterans Administration reported this year that it was paying service-related disability pensions to 181,996 Gulf War veterans-almost a third of the total still living. Of these, 3,248 were being compensated for "undiagnosed illnesses." The Pentagon's spokesman, Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of its Deployment Health section, says that Gulf War veterans are no less healthy than soldiers who were stationed elsewhere.Rose also described the case of Terry Riordan, who came home from the first Gulf War in 1991 and died in 1999. An autopsy revealed accumulations of D.U. in his bones and lungs:
Those returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom are also beginning to report illnesses in significant numbers. In July 2004, the V.A. disclosed that 27,571 of them-16.4 percent of the total-had sought health care. Of that group, 8,134 suffered muscular and skeletal ailments; 3,505 had respiratory problems; and 5,674 had "symptoms, signs and ill-defined conditions." An additional 153 had developed cancers. The V.A. claims that such figures are "typical of young, active, healthcare-seeking populations," but does not offer figures for comparison.
There is also evidence of a large rise in birth defects and unprecedented cancer rates among civilians following the first Gulf War in the Basra region of southern Iraq, where the heaviest fighting took place. Dr. Kilpatrick says, "I think it's very important to try to understand what are the causes of that high rate of cancer and birth defects. There has to be a good look at that, but if you go to the M. D. Anderson hospital, in Houston, Texas, you're going to find a very high rate of cancer. That's because people from all over the country with cancer go there, because it's one of the premier care centers. Basra was the only major hospital in southern Iraq. Are the people there with these different problems people who lived their entire lives in Basra, or are they people who've come to Basra for care?" It is possible, he says, that some other environmental factor is responsible for the illnesses, such as Saddam's chemical weapons or poor nutrition. "I don't think anything should be taken off the table."
At first, Terry merely had the usual headaches, body pain, oozing rash, and other symptoms. But later he began to suffer from another symptom which afflicts some of those exposed to D.U.: burning semen. "If he leaked a little lubrication from his penis, it would feel like sunburn on your skin. If you got to the point where you did have intercourse, you were up and out of that bed so fast-it actually causes vaginal blisters that burst and bleed." Terry's medical records support her description. In England, Malcolm Hooper, professor emeritus of medicinal chemistry at the University of Sunderland, is aware of 4,000 such cases. He hypothesizes that the presence of D.U. may be associated with the transformation of semen into a caustic alkali.And finally -- courtesy of our venerated colleague Sukabi at the All Spin Zone -- an alarming interview with Yucca Mountain whistleblower Leuren Moret, who claims that the lethal effects of DU may extend far beyond the borders of Iraq.
"It hurt [Terry] too. He said it was like forcing it through barbed wire," Riordon says. "It seemed to burn through condoms; if he got any on his thighs or his testicles, he was in hell." In a last, desperate attempt to save their sex life, says Riordon, "I used to fill condoms with frozen peas and insert them [after sex] with a lubricant." That, she says, made her pain just about bearable. Perhaps inevitably, he became impotent. "And that was like our last little intimacy gone."
By late 1995, Terry was seriously deteriorating. Susan shows me her journal-she titled it "The Twilight Zone"-and his medical record. It makes harrowing reading. He lost his fine motor control to the point where he could not button his shirt or zip his fly. While walking, he would fall without warning. At night, he shook so violently that the bed would move across the floor. He became unpredictably violent: one terrible day in 1997 he attacked their 16-year-old son and started choking him. By the time armed police arrived to pull him off, the boy's bottom lip had turned blue. After such rages, he would fall into a deep sleep for as long as 24 hours, and awake with no memory of what had happened. That year, Terry and Susan stopped sleeping in the same bedroom. Then "he began to barricade himself in his room for days, surviving on granola bars and cartons of juice."
As he went downhill, Terry was assessed as completely disabled, but there was no diagnosis as to why. His records contain references to "somatization disorder," post-traumatic stress, and depression. In 1995 the army doctors even suggested that he had become ill only after reading of Gulf War syndrome. Through 1998 and 1999, he began to lose all cognitive functions and was sometimes lucid for just a few hours each week.
Even after he died, on April 29, 1999, Terry's Canadian doctors remained unable to explain his illness. "This patient has a history [of] 'Gulf War Syndrome' with multiple motor, sensory and emotional problems," the autopsy report by pathologist Dr. B. Jollymore, of Yarmouth, begins. "During extensive investigation, no definitive diagnosis has been determined.... Essentially it appears that this gentleman remains an enigma in death as he was in life."