Daily News's Depleted (Uranium) Integrity.

January 01, 2004  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Scripps Howard News Service  ·  Military

DU has become associated with U.S. military might, hence this book co-authored by such America-haters as Helen Caldicott and Ramsey Clark.

Like the "Whack-a-Mole" carnival game, alleged causes of Gulf War Syndrome keep popping up in the media, are knocked down by scientific studies, then pop right back up. Never mind telling our veterans the truth; what counts is selling papers and raising ratings. Consider a recent series in the New York Daily News, which is still among the nation’s highest-circulation newspapers but has been losing the readership war to the rival New York Post.

The six-parter was penned by Juan Gonzales, an opinion columnist who decided to play reporter. The first installment headlined "POISONED?" declared "Four soldiers from a New York Army National Guard company serving in Iraq are contaminated with radiation likely caused by dust from depleted uranium shells." Two, it said, were sick, providing the usual laundry list of unrelated symptoms associated with GWS – and by coincidence psychosomatic illness. These included insomnia, frequent urination, constant headaches, shortness of breath, rashes, and numbness in the hands.

This gave New York politicians a great opportunity for scoring compassion points, as howls of indignation and demands for widespread radiation exposure testing arose from Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, congressional representatives, and Gov. George Pataki. All relied entirely on the reporting of the Daily News.

Depleted uranium is the remnant of naturally-occurring uranium that’s processed in nuclear plants or for making weapons. About 40 percent less radioactive than the original uranium, it’s extremely dense and thus ideal for armor-penetrating shells. It performed spectacularly in both Gulf Wars and in the Balkans.

DU has been politicized by GWS victim groups, environmentalists who loathe anything related to man-made radioactivity, and those to whom it represents U.S. military actions. DU disinformation has been spread by Saddam apologists and groups with names like "Workers World Party." But ten years of study have found the only real injuries to non-enemy troops from DU is that when people hear the word "radiation" their brains turn to mush.

Thus the Daily News declared, "In January 2003, the European Parliament called for a moratorium on [using DU shells] after reports of an unusual number of leukemia [a blood cancer] deaths among Italian soldiers who served in Kosovo, where DU weapons were used." Actually, it was January 2001, less than two years after the Kosovo bombing began. Yet Japanese data going back to 1945 show it takes an average of 15 years for even massive radiation exposure to cause leukemia and 40 years to cause solid tumors, with "massive" meaning an A-bomb exploding over your head.

"Because of the latency period," noted a 2001 Australasian Radiation Protection Society report, "it is not credible that any cases of radiation-induced cancer could yet be attributed to the Kosovo conflict." Further, "There is no evidence to suggest that DU exposure could cause leukemias under any circumstances."

DU shells were definitely bad for the health of Iraqi tankers — but as a result saved countless allied troops’ lives.

In addition to cancer, the Daily News claimed DU causes kidney damage. So doing it ignored a study published just two months ago in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health of soldiers who suffered DU shrapnel wounds from "friendly fire" in 1991. Conclusion: Their "renal (kidney) function is normal."

Britain’s Royal Society found "a small number of soldiers might suffer kidney damage" if "substantial amounts of" DU are inhaled, "for instance inside an armored vehicle hit by a depleted uranium penetrator." But this applies to none of the Daily News’s vets. Anyway, if your vehicle is hit by a DU penetrator then you should be so lucky as to worry about long-term illness.

Let’s not stop at the kidneys and cancer, though. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry finds no radiological health hazard from long-term inhalation, dermal or oral exposure to even natural uranium, much less short-term exposure to the depleted variety. A 1999 Rand Corporation report concluded, "Negative effects from the exposure to the ionizing radiation from depleted or natural uranium have not been observed in humans."

So where did Gonzales get his information?

He relied on what he labeled four "experts" that unbeknownst to his readers (but readily revealed by Web searches) are all established anti-DU activists allied with GWS activists, environmentalists, and those "peace" groups. Three have backgrounds only in measuring radiation exposure, not in disease pathology. The fourth is an obscure pathologist who has never published in any medical or science journal – though he did address an anti-DU conference in Sweden.

Gonzales and the Daily News ignored the scientific literature and the true experts because to do otherwise would have meant no story, no controversy, and no shot at a Pulitzer. True, they sold lots of papers – while selling out our troops as well.