In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Firedoglake on the health effects of exposure to controversial weapons that use depleted uranium, the Department of Defense sent a series of studies and agency memorandum concerning the health effects on US personnel after they were exposed to depleted uranium.

Depleted uranium (DU) weapons have become a controversial issue as claims have emerged that citizens of Iraq have suffered increased rates of cancer and birth defects due to the use of the weapons in their country.

Dr Salah Haddad of the Iraqi Society for Health Administration and Promotion told Al Jazeera that ”My colleagues and I have all noticed an increase in Fallujah of congenital malformations, sterility, and infertility,” he said. “In Fallujah, we have the problem of toxics introduced by American bombardments and the weapons they used, like DU.”

DU weapon exposure in Fallujah was the subject of a much noticed study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health which suggested the use of DU weapons led to “genetic damage.” The theory being that during bombardments of Fallujah with DU weapons toxic levels of DU polluted the city and remained for some time leading to long-term exposure to inhalation of depleted uranium particles by people in the area.

The Institute for Health at the University of Albany notes that “If DU is inhaled and lodges in the lungs, it can remain there for years and cause radiation damage to nearby cells.As it dissolves, it can be carried to and damage the lymph tissues, kidneys and developing fetuses. It can affect the function of the brain and neurological system, the bones, and the reproductive organs. ” Current federal regulations limit the allowance of DU to be emitted based on concerns for toxic inhalation that could cause cancer and water pollution that could damage the kidneys when DU polluted water is ingested.

The studies performed by the Department of Defense submitted under the Freedom of Information Act do not involve civilian populations of Iraq or other areas where exposure to DU weapons have occurred. Instead, DoD focused on their personnel who were exposed at various levels to DU weapons, primarily through accident and being in an enclosed area such as the M1 Abrams tank that fires DU weapons.

The studies range from different deployments in Iraq where DU weapons were used including the first Gulf War which includes a fire that occurred in Kuwait where some DU weapons were apparently compromised. Also included is analysis by the Veterans Administration which sought to understand the health effects of DU weapons exposure for evaluating disability categories for veterans. Much of the focus seemed to be on DoD personnel who were charged with ordinance removal.

Department of Defense image, public domain