Radiation pollution in Gulf

Issue 

Radiation pollution in Gulf

Construction companies and military clean-up personnel in the Persian Gulf are concerned about health risks from depleted uranium scattered by anti-tank shells.

According to reports in the London Independent, soldiers and other personnel have not been informed of International Atomic Energy Authority reports on health risks posed by depleted uranium (DU) ammunition. Nor, presumably, have Arab residents of the former battle zones.

While many of the anti-tank shells used in the war have left large lumps of uranium lying around the battlefields, the main danger comes from heavy metal dust created by shells broken up when they hit their targets. This dust could be inhaled, causing serious health problems.

Depleted uranium (U-238) is used in armour-piercing shells because of its extreme density and hardness. For the same reason, it is also used in the armour of some US tanks.

When DU shells explode, they give off a dust which sometimes catches fire, and which contaminates surrounding areas. Depleted uranium shells are standard ammunition for US A-10 fighters during wartime. Each A-10 carries about 750 rounds, though not all DU type. US tanks and artillery were also supplied with DU shells.

The poison could have been spread widely over Iraq and Kuwait because the shells were used in air as well as ground battles.