Last year, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, a U.S. Navy psychiatrist during the Vietnam War, sponsored a bill to pay for a definitive study of the health effect of DU munitions and to clean up dust and fragments after their use. The bill was referred to the House Armed Services and Energy and Commerce committees and then to the committee's Health Subcommittee, where it died.
At home, the United States has spent billions of dollars cleaning up depleted uranium - at former munitions factories, military firing ranges and nuclear fuel production sites. A General Accounting Office report in 2000 put the cost of cleanup at the uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Ky., where DU is processed for use in weapons and nuclear reactors, at $1.3 billion. By December 2003, the cost of cleaning up and closing the plant, estimated to take until 2070, was up to $13 billion
In 2002 at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, Md., researchers found that even though the alpha radiation from depleted uranium is relatively low, internalized DU as a metal can induce DNA damage and carcinogenic lesions in the cells that make up bones in the human body.
Since 1991, the cancer rates in Iraq have risen sharply in areas where depleted uranium was used, according to Iraqi medical studies reviewed by scientists from other countries. In addition, more than 230,000 of the 697,000 U.S. soldiers who served in that war have filed disability claims for various maladies, the majority of which fall under the broad category of gulf war syndrome.
Great Britain, a major partner in the coalition now fighting in Iraq, has provided the U.N. with the coordinates where its forces used depleted uranium, also known as DU, in southern Iraq, but the United States has not. Britain and Germany are supplying money to train Iraqis in environmental science. The United Nations plans to survey for DU hot spots from both wars in Iraq and says it needs the coordinates for an effective survey.
Neither British nor U.S. authorities have offered to augment the $4.7 million donated mainly by Japan to the United Nations to evaluate sites of wartime contamination that health experts say threaten the well-being of Iraqi civilians.
Despite assurances from the U.S. military that depleted uranium from exploded munitions does not pose a significant health threat, Iraq's provisional government is asking the United Nations for help cleaning up the low-level radioactive, metal dust spread across local battlefields by U.S. and British forces during the Persian Gulf wars.