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Allies 'told in 1991 of uranium cancer risks'

Leaked documents back cover-up claim.

Exclusive, by Felicity Arbuthnott and Neil Mackay.
'Sunday Herald' Jan 7 2001

THE Pentagon scientist who briefed Britain and America on the lethal health risks to Western troops of using depleted-uranium (DU) shells claims he warned the allied powers as far back as 1991 that the explosives could cause cancer, mental illness and birth defects.

Professor Doug Rokke, ex- director of the Pentagon's Depleted-Uranium Project, says the USA and UK have covered up the hazards , despite the rising death toll among allied troops who fought in the Gulf from illnesses linked to DU exposure, including Gulf War syndrome. The UN Environment Programme has also found traces of radiation at eight sites in Kosovo hit by Nato DU shells.

The Sunday Herald has been passed a restricted MoD document dated February 25, 1991 - four days before the Gulf War ceasefire. It states that full protective clothing and respirators should be worn when close to DU shells and that human remains exposed to DU should be hosed down before disposal.

The document - coded 25/22/40/2 - says inhalation or ingestion of particles from shells is a health risk and exposure should be treated as "exposure to lead oxide". DU dust on food would result in contamination.

Rokke , a former professor of environmental science at Jacksonville University, was tasked by the US department of defence with organising the DU clean-up of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait after the Gulf War.

Rokke, a former US army colonel , also briefed the Commons Defence Select Committee on the risks of DU in 1999.

"Since 1991, numerous US department of defence reports have stated that the consequences of DU were unknown," he said. "That is a lie. They were told. They were warned."

Rokke gave military personnel briefings on the hazards of DU shells . "I can confirm that medical and tactical commanders knew all the hazards," he said.

In Saudi Arabia, Rokke and his men buried vehicles and contaminated body parts and shipped other equipment back to a nuclear decontamination facility in the US. At least 10 men died. The only man in the 50-strong team not to fall ill wore full radioactive protective clothing.

Rokke suffers reactive airway disease, neurological damage and kidney problems. "DU is the stuff of nightmares," he said. "It is toxic, radioactive and pollutes for 4500 million years. It causes lymphoma , neuro-psychotic disorders and short-term memory damage. In semen, it causes birth defects and trashes the immune system.

"The United States and British military personnel, as part of Nato, wilfully disregarded health and safety and the environment by their use of DU, resulting in severe health effects, including death. I and my colleagues warned the US and British officials that this would occur. They disregarded our warnings because to admit any correlation between exposure and health effects would make them liable for their actions wherever these weapons have been used ."

The Sunday Herald has seen a memo from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico , dated March 1, 1991. It is from a Lieutenant-Colonel M V Ziehman to a Major Larson. Headed "The Effectiveness of Depleted Uranium Penetrators", it reads: "There has been, and continues to be, a concern regarding the impact of DU on the environment. If no-one makes the case for the effectiveness of DU on the battlefields, DU rounds may become politically unacceptable and be deleted from the arsenal."

A document from the US defence nuclear agency from 1992 described DU particles as a "serious health threat".

Rokke says field measurements of DU in Iraq were around 200 millirads an hour. The US has designated a year's safety limit of just 100 millirads.

Shaun Rusling of the Gulf War Veterans' and Families' Association said 521 British servicemen have died of Gulf War syndrome to date. Bruce George, Labour chairman of the Commons defence committee, said yesterday that an MoD investigation was a matter of urgency. The committee meets on January 10, and is expected to call on defence secretary Geoff Hoon to give evidence . However, an MoD spokesman said last night: "We are unaware of anything that shows depleted uranium has caused any ill health or death."

(c) 'Sunday Herald'. Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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