The Queen's 'Death Star' Depleted Uranium Measured in
British Atmosphere from Battlefields in the Middle East
The remains of an
Iraqi tank abandoned in the demilitarized zone near the Kuwaiti border.
The two holes in the side of the tank were made by DU penetrators.
(January 2000, near Safwan, Iraq)
By: Leuren Moret
"Did the use of Uranium weapons in Gulf War II result in
contamination of Europe? Evidence from the measurements of the Atomic
Weapons Establishment (AWE), Aldermaston, Berkshire, UK," reported
the Sunday Times Online (February 19, 2006) in a shocking scientific
study authored by British scientists Dr. Chris Busby and Saoirse
The highest levels of depleted uranium ever measured in the
atmosphere in Britain, were transported on air currents from the Middle
East and Central Asia; of special significance were those from the Tora
Bora bombing in Afghanistan in 2001, and the "Shock & Awe"
bombing during Gulf War II in Iraq in 2003.
Out of concern for the public, the official British government air
monitoring facility, known as the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), at
Aldermaston, was established years ago to measure radioactive emissions
from British nuclear power plants and atomic weapons facilities.
The British government facility (AWE) was taken over 3 years ago by
Halliburton, which refused at first to release air monitoring data to
Dr. Busby, as required by law.
An international expert on low level radiation, Busby serves as an
official advisor on several British government committees, and
co-authored an independent report on low level radiation with 45
scientists, the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR), for the
European Parliament. He was able to get Aldermaston air monitoring data
from Halliburton /AWE by filing a Freedom of Information request using a
new British law which became effective January 1, 2005; but the data for
2003 was missing. He obtained the 2003 data from the Defence Procurement
The fact that the air monitoring data was circulated by Halliburton/
AWE to the Defence Procurement Agency, implies that it was considered to
be relevant, and that Dr. Busby was stonewalled because Halliburton/ AWE
clearly recognized that it was a serious enough matter to justify a
government interpretation of the results, and official decisions had to
be made about what the data would show and its political implications
for the military.
In a similar circumstance, in 1992, Major Doug Rokke, the Director of
the U.S. Army Depleted Uranium Cleanup Project after Gulf War I, was
ordered by a U.S. Army General officer to write a no-bid contract
"Depleted Uranium, Contaminated Equipment, and Facilities Recovery
Plan Outline" for the procedures for cleaning up Kuwait, including
depleted uranium, for Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of
The contract/proposal was passed through Madeleine Albright, the
Secretary of State, to the Emirate of Kuwait, who considered the terms
and then hired KBR for the cleanup.
Aldermaston is one of many nuclear facilities throughout Europe that
regularly monitor atmospheric radiation levels, transported by
atmospheric sand and dust storms, or air currents, from radiation
sources in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
After the "Shock and Awe" campaign in Iraq in 2003, very
fine particles of depleted uranium were captured with larger sand and
dust particles in filters in Britain. These particles traveled in 7-9
days from Iraqi battlefields as far as 2400 miles away.
The radiation measured in the atmosphere quadrupled within a few
weeks after the beginning of the 2003 campaign, and at one of the 5
monitoring locations, the levels twice required an official alert to the
British Environment Agency.
In addition to depleted uranium data gathered in previous studies on
Kosovo and Bosnia by Dr. Busby, the Aldermaston air monitoring data
provided a continuous record of depleted uranium levels in Britain from
the other recent wars.
Extensive video news footage of the 2003 Iraq war, including Fallujah
in 2004, provided irrefutable documented evidence that the US has
unethically and illegally used depleted uranium munitions on cities and
other civilian populations.
These military actions are in direct violation of not only the
international conventions, but also violate US military law because the
US is a signatory to The Hague and Geneva Conventions and the 1925
Geneva Gas Protocol.
TITLE 50 > CHAPTER 40 > § 2302§ 2302. Definitions Release
date: 2005-03-17 In this chapter: (1) The term “weapon of mass
destruction” means any weapon or device that is intended, or has the
capability, to cause death or serious bodily injury to a significant
number of people through the release, dissemination, or impact of— (A)
toxic or poisonous chemicals or their precursors; (B) a disease
organism; or (C) radiation or radioactivity. (2) The term “independent
states of the former Soviet Union” has the meaning given that term in
section 5801 of title 22. (3) The term “highly enriched uranium”
means uranium enriched to 20 percent or more in the isotope U–235. source
After action mandates have also been violated such as US Army
Regulation AR 700-48 and TB 9-1300-278 which requires treatment of
radiation poisoning for all casualties, including enemy soldiers and
civilians, and remediation.
Dr. Busby's request for this data through Halliburton from AWE, and
subsequently provided by the Defence Procurement Agency, was necessary
to establish verification of Iraq's 2003 depleted uranium levels in the
These facts demonstrate why Halliburton (AWE) refused to release the
2003 data to him, and it obviously establishes that weaponized depleted
uranium is an indiscriminate weapon being distributed all over the world
in a very short period of time, immediately after its use.
The recent documentary film BEYOND TREASON details the horrific
effects of depleted uranium exposure on American troops and Iraqi
civilians in the Gulf region in 1991; not to speak of those civilians
continuing to live in permanently contaminated and thus uninhabitable
Global increases since 1991 of melanoma, infant mortality, and frog
die-offs can only be explained by an environmental contaminant. Alarming
global increases in diabetes, with high correlation to depleted uranium
wars in Iraq, Bosnia/Kosovo, and Afghanistan, demonstrate that diabetes
is a sensitive indicator and a rapid response to internal depleted
Americans in 2003 reported visiting Iraqi relatives in Baghdad who
were suffering from an epidemic of diabetes.
After returning to the US following 2-3 weeks in Iraq, they
discovered within a few months that they too had diabetes.
Japanese human shields and journalists who worked in Iraq during the
2003 war are sick and now have symptoms typical of depleted uranium
Likewise, after the US Navy, several years ago, moved depleted
uranium bombing and gunnery ranges from Vieques Island in Puerto Rico to
Australia, health effects there are already being reported.
The documentary film BLOWIN'
IN THE WIND, has an interview with a family with two normal teenage
daughters, living near the bombing range where depleted uranium weaponry
is now being used.
The parents showed photos of their baby born recently with severe
birth defects. The baby looked like Iraqi deformed babies, and like many
of the Iraqi babies, died 5 days after birth.
Other than anonymous British government officials denying that Iraq
was the source of the depleted uranium measured at Aldermaston by AWE,
and some unnamed 'establishment scientists' blaming it on local sources
or natural uranium in the Iraq environment, there is no one, as of this
writing, willing to lend their name or office to refuting this damning
evidence reported by Dr. Busby.
All of the anonymous statements used by the media thus far are
contradicted by the factual evidence found in the filters, which was all
transported from the same region.
The natural abundance of uranium in the crust of the earth is 2.4
parts per million, which would not become concentrated to the high
levels measured in Britain during a long journey from the Middle East.
These particles traveling over thousands of miles would dilute the
concentration rather than increase it.
There are no known natural uranium deposits in Iraq which make it
impossible for these anonymous claims to have scientific credibility.
Unnamed government sources blamed local sources in Britain such as
nuclear power plants; however that would also leave evidence of fission
products in the filters which were not in evidence.
The lowest levels measured at monitoring stations around Aldermaston
were at the facility, which means it could not be a possible source.
Atomic weapons facilities would be more likely to produce plutonium
contamination, also not reported as a co-contaminant at Aldermaston.
In other words, all factual evidence considered, the question must be
asked, what were the media's anonymous experts and government officials
basing their claims on?
Dr. Keith Baverstock exposed a World Health Organization (WHO)
cover-up on depleted uranium in an Aljazeera article, "Washington's
Secret Nuclear War" posted on September 14, 2004. It was the most
popular article ever posted on the Aljazeera English language website.
toxicity of DU K. BAVERSTOCK, C. MOTHERSILL & M. THORNE
Repressed WHO Document 5nov01
Baverstock leaked an official WHO report that he wrote, to the media
several years ago after the WHO refused to publish it. He warned in the
report about the mobility of, and environmental contamination from, tiny
depleted uranium particles formed from US munitions.
Busby's ECRR report challenged the International Committee on
Radiation Protection (ICRP) standards for radiation risk, and reported
that the mutagenic effects of radiation determined by Chernobyl studies
are actually 1000 times higher than the ICRP risk model predicts.
The ECRR report also establishes that the ICRP risk model, based on
external exposure of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims, and the ECRR risk
model, based on internal exposure, are mutually exclusive models. In
other words, the ICRP risk model based on external exposure cannot be
used to estimate internal exposure risk.
The report also states that a separate study is needed for depleted
uranium exposure risks, because it may be far more toxic than nuclear
weapons or nuclear power plant exposures. In July of 2005, the National
Academy of Sciences reported in their new BEIR VII report on low level
radiation, that there is "no safe level of exposure".
The report also finally admitted that very low levels are more
harmful per unit of radiation than higher levels of exposure, also known
as the "supralinear" effect.
This is extremely alarming information on low level radiation risk,
since the AWE data from Aldermaston confirms that rapid global transport
of depleted uranium dust is occurring.
Dr. Katsuma Yagasaki, a Japanese physicist at the University of the
Ryukyus in Okinawa, has estimated that the atomicity equivalent of at
least 400,000 Nagasaki bombs has been released into the global
atmosphere since 1991, from the use of depleted uranium munitions.
It is completely mixed in the atmosphere in one year. The "smog
of war" from Gulf War I was found in glaciers and ice sheets
globally a year later.
Even more alarming is the non-specific catalytic or enzyme effect
from internal exposures to nanoparticles of depleted uranium. Soldiers
on depleted uranium battlefields have reported that, after noticing a
metallic taste in their mouths, within 24-48 hours of exposure they
became sick with Gulf War syndrome symptoms.
Who is profiting from this global uranium nightmare? Dr. Jay Gould
revealed in his book THE ENEMY WITHIN [see
excerpt], that the British Royal family privately owns investments
in uranium holdings worth over $6 billion through Rio Tinto Mines. The
mining company was formed for the British Royal family in the late
1950's by Roland Walter "Tiny" Rowland, the Queen's buccaneer.
Born in 1917 through illegitimate German parentage, and before
changing his name, Roland Walter Fuhrhop was a passionate member of the
Nazi youth movement by 1933, and a classmate described him as
"...an ardent supporter of Hitler and an arrogant, nasty piece of
work to boot."
His meteoric rise and protection by intel agencies and the British
Crown are an indication of what an asset he has been for decades to the
Queen, as Africa's most powerful Western businessman.
Africa and Australia are two of the main sources of uranium in the
world. The Rothschilds control uranium supplies and prices globally, and
one serves as the Queen's business manager.
Filmmaker David Bradbury made BLOWIN' IN THE WIND to expose depleted
uranium bombing and gunnery range activities contaminating pristine
areas of eastern Australia, and to expose plans to extract over $36
billion in uranium from mines in the interior over the next 6 years.
Halliburton has finished construction of a 1000 mile railway from the
mining area to a port on the north coast of Australia to transport the
The Carlyle Group Exposed / Low
Bandwidth Version / High
Bandwidth Version / MP3
audio of the soundtrack.
The Queen's favorite American buccaneers, Cheney, Halliburton, and
the Bush family, are tied to her through uranium mining and the shared
use of illegal depleted uranium munitions in the Middle East, Central
Asia and Kosovo/Bosnia.
The major roles that such diverse individuals and groups as the
Carlyle Group, George Herbert Walker Bush, former Carlyle CEO Frank
Calucci, the University of California managed nuclear weapons labs at
Los Alamos and Livermore, and US and international pension fund
investments have played in proliferating depleted uranium weapons is not
well known or in most instances even recognized, inside or outside the
God Save The Queen from the guilt of her complicity in turning Planet
Earth into a "Death Star."
the use of Uranium weapons in Gulf War 2 result in contamination of
Busby & Saoirse1jan06]
To send us your comments, questions, and suggestions click
here The home page of this website is www.mindfully.org
Please see our Fair
Radiological toxicity of DU
K. BAVERSTOCK, C. MOTHERSILL & M. THORNE
(Repressed WHO Document) 5nov01
Keith Baverstock World Health Organization
European Centre for Environment and Health
Hermann Ehlers Strasse 10
D-53113 Bonn, Germany
Carmel Mothersill Dublin Institute of Technology,
Kevin Street, Dublin8, Ireland
Mike Thorne Mike Thorne and Associates Limited
Abbotsleigh, Kebroyd Mount, Ripponden, Halifax,
West Yorkshire, HX6 3JA, UK
Background: The military use of depleted uranium (DU) and/or recycled
uranium (RU) has given rise to public concern as to the impact on public
health of exposure to environmental sources. Exposure to soluble natural
uranium, through drinking water and the food chain, is ubiquitous. After
military use, DU / RU are present in the environment either as metal or
as oxide dusts. Due to the low specific activity of uranium, the
potential effects of exposure are generally attributed to chemical
toxicity. Insoluble particulates may be an exception.
Results: DU/RU dusts are a mixture of oxides of differing solubility,
such that, if retained in the lung, partial dissolution occurs over the
time scale of about a month. As DU has been shown to be capable of
transforming human cells to a tumourigenic phenotype without the
involvement of radiation, such particles present a unique
radiological/chemical toxic hazard. The bystander effect may be of
relevance where an alpha-particle emitter of low specific activity is
distributed over the lung.
Conclusions: The health risks of exposure to DU/RU are likely to be
only partially reflected by the radiation dose per received. Further
work on the chemical transforming ability of DU, the potential for an
interaction between its chemical and radiological toxicities and the
significance of the bystander effect in this context is required to
fully estimate the public health significance of exposure to DU/RU.
The ideas and views expressed herein are those of the author and should
not be taken to necessarily represent those of the World Health
1. 0 Introduction
The military use of depleted, and or reprocessed uranium, in Iraq and
the Balkans, as penetrators in various munitions and as armour, has
raised questions as to the radiological toxicity of these forms of
uranium. Although it should be emphasized that there is no established
evidence (as opposed to media claims) that links exposure to the
environmental residuum of these weapons to diseases that would normally
be associated with radiation, that populations live close to
contaminated zones inevitably gives rise public health concerns. In
addition, claims of illness in military personnel who have served in
theatres where DU has been employed are currently being investigated. In
this connection the UK Royal Society (RS 2001) have examined the health
hazards of DU munitions to military personnel and the United Nations
Environmental Programme has carried out an environmental assessment. (UNEP
This paper is concerned with the health implications of exposure to
DU after its military use. Although the primary emphasis is with its
radiological toxicity, aspects of chemical toxicity are also addressed.
Various studies on employees in the Uranium processing industry (eg.
Ritz 1999; Archer 1981; Cardis and Richardson 2000; Dupree, Cragle et
al. 1987; Checkoway, Pearce et al. 1988; Kathren and Moore 1986, Kathren,
McInroy et al. 1989; Loomis and Wolf 1996; McGeoghegan and Binks 2000;
Ritz, Morgenstern et al. 2000) do not present a clear picture of the
health effects of exposure to uranium due to small numbers and
potentially confounding exposures. However, associations with
lymphopoietic, lung, bone and kidney malignancies cannot be ruled out.
At the same time, uranium is also ubiquitous in the natural environment.
It is often argued that this natural exposure can be used as a
"benchmark" for exposures such as that to DU after its
military use. We show here that this is not necessarily the case, and
that both the chemical form and the route of entry into the body may
have a critical influence on toxicity.
Following military use, DU will be distributed in the environment
either as the metal, in anything from whole armaments to fragments and
shards, or as oxide particulates with diameters ranging from the order
of microns to nanometres. The dissolution of the metal into aqueous
solution will be a slow process, leading to the contamination of
groundwater and soils over a period of several hundred years. Uptake by
plants from contaminated soils will be limited, as uranium is relatively
strongly excluded from root uptake (Sheppard and Evenden 1988). Overall,
the natural uranium content of soils, plants, animals and drinking water
will be somewhat increased over the area in which the depleted uranium
is dispersed. In these circumstances, the chemical toxicity of the
additional uranium is of much greater interest than its radiological
toxicity. Furthermore, chemical toxicity will only be of importance if
the depleted uranium is present at concentrations that are comparable
to, or higher than, those of available natural uranium (i.e. excluding
that component of natural uranium that is incorporated in uraniferous
minerals and hence is not available for uptake). In most soils this
concentration is a few parts per million. (WHO 2001)
1.1 The origins of depleted uranium and its military application
Uranium is a naturally occurring element with isotopes of long
radioactive half life and, therefore, low specific activity. The
principal isotopes in natural uranium are 238U, 235U and 234U. Depleted
uranium (DU) is a waste product of non-nuclear enrichment processes
(e.g., gaseous diffusion of uranium hexafluoride) in which the content
of 235U in natural uranium is enriched, leaving the DU with a reduced
content of the lower atomic weight isotopes. The enriched uranium can be
used to generate 239Pu by partially "burning" it in a nuclear
reactor. After extraction of the 239Pu and other radioisotopes of
elements other then uranium, the residual uranium can be enriched for
further burning and plutonium production, generating additional uranium
depleted of the lower atomic weight isotopes. As this material, which
has been subject to nuclear processes, is potentially contaminated by
isotopes generated by the neutron flux in the reactor (e.g. technetium,
plutonium, neptunium, americium) it should be distinguished from the
material arising from the first enrichment process, and here it is
termed reprocessed uranium (RU).
In terms of its physical properties, uranium is a dense and hard
metal that is pyrophoric. It is these properties that give the
effectiveness at penetrating armour and destroying tanks and their
occupants. On burning, uranium produces a dense smoke, which, in a
confined space, is rapidly suffocating.
1.2 Initial considerations in estimating the toxicities of
environmentally distributed DU and RU
The isotopic composition of an element makes no substantial
difference to its chemical properties but may influence its radiological
properties though modification of its specific activity. Since 235U and
234U have higher specific activities than 238U, the radiological
toxicity of DU is expected to be lower than that of natural uranium by
The specific activity of RU will depend on the extent to which the
uranium is contaminated by fission products and other nuclides produced
by the neutron flux in a nuclear reactor, and not removed by the
There are only very limited animal and human data on the radiological
and chemical toxicities of DU and none relating to RU, but there is much
more abundant evidence from the ubiquitous exposure to natural uranium,
particularly in terms of its chemical toxicity. These data can be used
as a reliable guide to the effects to be expected from DU, provided
account is taken of the chemical form and route of entry into the human
body. Limited epidemiological data are available from studies of workers
in uranium milling plants who were exposed to dusts containing uranium.
Studies of the behavior of inhaled dusts in the lung have resulted in
models from which the radiation doses to lung and other body tissues can
be calculated. Such models provide both absorbed and equivalent doses in
Gy or Sv per Bq of inhaled dust, contingent on the solubility and size
distribution of the dust particles. Thus, if the specific activity (Bq/
unit mass) of the inhaled material, characterized by its solubility and
particle size distribution, is known, the radiation doses to the lung
and other tissues can, in theory, be estimated. (ICRP 1995).
The burning of uranium produces a mixed oxide dust, part of which is
relatively soluble in lung fluids and a part of which is insoluble. As
the burning of DU arises almost exclusively in military operations,
reliance has to be placed on the limited data released by the military
authorities. Much of this information is summarized in a US Department
of Defense Report (CHPPM 2000). According to this report, DU burns on
impact with a hardened target, such as the armour of a tank. The extent
of burning depends upon the characteristics of the impact and factors
such as the degree of fragmentation of the DU. The extent of release of
DU oxides to the wider environment also depends on the particular
situation. In some cases, where the DU penetrates the target, most of
the DU oxides will be retained within the structure of the target.
However, a hardened target may lead to fragmentation and burning of the
DU in the open and a release of the DU oxide dusts to the environment.
Of relevance to environmental exposures to DU/ RU are the following:
1. Total mass of DU/ RU delivered into the environment.
2. Proportion of that mass that hits a "target".
3. Proportion of the material hitting the target that burns to produce
DU/RU oxide dusts.
4. Proportion of that dust that is released to the wider environment.
5. Mobility and lifetime of the dust in the environment.
6. Exposure of humans to the dust and its respirability.
7. Proportion of DU/ RU dust that is soluble in the lung.
8. Particle size distribution of the DU/ RU oxide dust. (This is also
related to solubility.)
9. Specific activity of DU/RU oxide dust for each of the radionuclides
1.3 Evaluating the extent of DU/ RU oxide contamination of the
In any given instance of environmental contamination by DU/ RU, the
situation will need to be assessed by environmental monitoring. However,
the CHPPM report gives some indications that would allow an initial
"desk" assessment, from readily obtainable information, to be
made. Given that the total mass used is available, the CHPPM report
estimates that, for an aerial attack about 10% of penetrators hit a
target. It can, therefore, be assumed that about 90% of the material
will be on the ground or buried, in a metallic form. In a tank-to-tank
battle the proportion of hits on targets will be greater.
The extent to which the DU hitting a target burns, and the fraction
of oxide released to the environment depends on the circumstances and
could be anything from a few to several tens of percent. According to
CHPPM, a representative figure could be 70% burned, up to half of which
is released as highly insoluble oxides. (RS 2001)
Little quantitative information exists on particle-size distribution.
Generally, it is concluded that a substantial fraction falls within the
respirable size range and that ultra-fine particles, which have a
tendency to coalesce, are also formed. (RS 2001)
The CHPPM report has little to say on the question of RU. It notes
that traces of other nuclides, notably plutonium, neptunium and
americium are contained in some of the so-called DU used in armour and
some munitions but that this additional activity "adds less than
one percent to the internal radiation risks." However, the report
leaves open the question of whether, in the case of all munitions, this
1% is a maximum.
It can, therefore, be concluded that environmental contamination by
DU/ RU does have a potential for both chemical and radiological
toxicity, thus creating the necessity for assessing the public health
impact for those living in contaminated zones.
2.0 Exposure Routes and Biokinetics of Uranium
Because of the importance of uranium separation, enrichment and
fabrication in both military and civil applications of nuclear power,
there is over fifty years of experience in working with the metal and a
wide variety of its chemical compounds. Over that period, tens of
thousands of workers have been exposed, both by ingestion and
inhalation. In consequence of this operational experience and
complementary experimental studies on both humans and animals, there is
comprehensive understanding of the biokinetics and toxicology of
uranium. This understanding is relevant to an appreciation of the
specific issues relating to the use of depleted uranium in projectiles
Uptake of ingested uranium from the gastrointestinal tract is
relatively low. Even for soluble salts of the element or for uranium
incorporated in food, the fractional gastrointestinal absorption (f1) is
less than about 0.05. Results from a recent study on uranium in drinking
water from Finland (Kurttio, Auvinen et al., in press) find a value for
f1@ 0.003. This is the first human study for which this value has been
determined. It is possible that some uranium in well water is in an
insoluble form and that this accounts for the relatively low value of
f1. For insoluble salts, such as UO2, the fractional absorption is much
less, typically less than 0.01 (ICRP, 1995).
The uptake of inhaled uranium to the systemic circulation can be much
greater. Typically, about 60% of inhaled material is deposited in the
respiratory system, with the remainder lost upon exhalation (ICRP,
1994). For soluble salts of uranium, almost all the deposited material
is transferred to the systemic circulation on a time scale of a few
days. For insoluble uranium, the situation is rather different.
Mechanical processes clear the majority of uranium in the upper
respiratory tract, including the bronchial tree, on a time scale of
hours to days. The cleared material is swallowed and is almost entirely
lost by faecal excretion. However, insoluble salts of uranium deposited
in the deep lung (the pulmonary parenchyma) are typically retained with
a biological half life of around 100 days (or longer for high-fired
UO2). Clearance of this material occurs by both mechanical clearance,
often of particles ingested by phagocytes, and by solubilisation. A few
percent of inhaled insoluble material reaches the systemic circulation
by dissolution. A further small fraction may be translocated as
particles to the tracheo-bronchial lymph nodes and from there to the
systemic circulation (ICRP 1994, ICRP 1995).
Once uranium has reached the systemic circulation, its subsequent
biokinetics is well described by the model developed by the ICRP (ICRP
1995) (see Figure 1).
A large fraction of uranium that enters the systemic circulation is
taken up and retained in mineral bone. Smaller fractions exchange with
the liver and general soft tissues. Although there is a very limited
degree of excretion from the liver to the gastrointestinal tract, almost
all excretion is in the urine. It is the urinary excretion component
that is of specific relevance to the chemical nephro-toxicity of
uranium. This urinary excretion path is illustrated schematically in
Figure 2 (based on Leggett 1989).
In body fluids, the main form of uranium is thought to be the uranyl
ion, UO2++ (Leggett 1989). However, in the blood plasma approximately
40% of uranium is present as transferrin complexes and 60% as low
molecular weight anionic complexes. These low molecular weight anionic
complexes are filtered rapidly by the glomerulus and enter the lumen of
the kidney tubule. The rapidity of this process may be illustrated by
noting that, in the first 24 hours after entry of uranium nitrate into
the systemic circulation, around 80% will have been filtered by the
glomerulus (Leggett 1989).
As the filtered uranium complexes pass along the renal tubules they
are subject to a fall in pH. This results in their partial dissociation.
Whereas some complexed uranium plus a proportion of the uranyl ions
produced on dissociation is excreted in the urine, the remainder of the
uranium binds to the luminal membranes of the renal tubules. The bound
uranium is removed from the luminal membranes by combining with ligands
in the urine, shedding of microvilli, sloughing of dead cells, or
entering cells. The rate of loss by each of these processes is thought
to be dependent on the magnitude of the exposure to uranium, such that
the fraction of uranium retained in the kidneys increases with
increasing administered amount (Leggett 1989).
It is thought that the mode of entry of uranium into renal tubule
cells may be primarily by endocytosis. Intracellular accumulation is
mainly in lysosomes, with microcrystals formed at high concentrations.
Destruction of the lysosomes then releases these microcrystals into the
Although intracellular uptake is primarily into lysosomes, smaller
amounts of uranium accumulate in the nucleus, mitochondria and other
intracellular organelles. (Leggett 1989)
Overall, uranium-containing debris may be retained for an extended
period in the lumen of the tubule or in reticuloendothelial cells.
Retention of uranium in the kidney is known to give rise to a variety
of biochemical effects that may have implications for the clinical
toxicity of the element (Leggett 1989). These include the following:
o Binding to the brush-border membrane may reduce reabsorption of
sodium, glucose, proteins, amino acids, water and other substances;
o Structural damage to plasma and lysosomal membranes may occur, the
latter resulting in the release of damaging enzymes;
o Mitochondrial dysfunction and defects of energy production may occur;
o Transport of calcium may be affected, leading to accumulation of that
element in renal tubule cells.
At an overall tissue level, the kidney may develop tolerance to
uranium exposure after repeated or chronic exposure, but this is
associated with regenerated cells with a degraded brush border.
Impairment of function can be associated with such tolerance. For
example, tolerant animals have been observed to exhibit high urine
volumes and a diminished glomerular filtration rate. It has been
concluded that acquired tolerance to acute affects does not prevent
chronic damage. (Leggett 1989)
Conventionally, it has been assumed that if kidney concentrations of
uranium are maintained at less than 3 m g/g, symptoms of clinical
toxicity will be avoided. However, this limiting concentration was based
on tests of limited sensitivity and on criteria for toxicity that are
less stringent than would now be employed. In view of these
considerations, it has been suggested (Leggett 1989) that it may be
prudent to lower this long-standing level by one order of magnitude.
3.0 The Relative Significance of Chemical and Radiological Toxicity
for Depleted Uranium
The oxide particulates may be much more refractory to dissolution
than the metal, if they are primarily composed of UO2. Refractory
particles inhaled at the time of their production or subsequently, as a
result of resuspension, could be of greater significance radiologically
than through the chemical toxicity of their uranium content. This is
because such particles can be retained in various organs and tissues,
including the respiratory and reticuloendothelial systems, irradiating
their surroundings. If such particles are leached only slowly, they will
contribute to only a limited degree to an increase of uranium
concentrations in the kidneys.
The distribution and retention of inhaled radioactive refractory
particulates has been studied extensively. In particular, a great deal
of work has been undertaken on high-fired PuO2. Particles, with
aerodynamic diameters of up to a few tens of micrometres are readily
inhaled. Particles with aerodynamic diameters of more than a few
micrometres are mainly deposited in the upper part of the respiratory
tract (the nasal passages, trachea and larger bronchi) and are largely
cleared by mechanical action on a time scale of a few hours. Smaller
particles penetrate more deeply into the lungs and sub-micrometre
particles are deposited mainly in the respiratory tissues (the pulmonary
parenchyma) comprising the bronchioli and alveoli. (ICRP 1994)
Material deposited in the alveoli is beyond the limits of the region
from which direct mechanical clearance can occur (ICRP 1994). Therefore,
clearance from this region is due mainly either to solubilisation or to
incorporation and transport of particles in phagocytes (the alveolar
macrophages). These macrophages may either migrate to the bronchial
region and be mechanically cleared, or they may penetrate the alveolar
interstitium and be carried to the regional lymph nodes.
In the 1970s, there was considerable interest in whether such focal
sources of radiation (‘hot particles’) were of greater concern than
homogeneous irradiation of respiratory tissues to a similar average
radiation dose. In general, it was found (Burkart and Linder 1987) that
such focal sources were no more radiotoxic than uniform irradiation and
could be substantially less toxic. The latter result was attributed to
cell sterilisation effects around the focal sources, as sterilised cells
are incapable of reproduction and cannot be the precursors of cancer.
However, some caution should be exercised in interpreting the results
that were obtained, because the work was largely based on the assumption
that only cells that are ‘hit’ by radiation tracks can be
transformed to neoplastic precursors. More recent studies have
demonstrated a bystander effect, in which unirradiated cells close to
irradiated cell populations can exhibit genetic alterations. It may,
therefore, be prudent to examine again the question of whether focal
sources of irradiation could induce a spectrum of effects that differs
from that induced by more uniform irradiation. In the specific context
of uranium, it is of interest also to consider whether the enhanced
soluble uranium concentrations that could exist in the vicinity of
individual particles or aggregates could interact synergistically with
the localised irradiation of tissues, particularly if some of the
effects of irradiation are mediated by substances released from the
In considering whether such effects could occur, it is appropriate to
recognise that particles could accumulate or aggregate in interstitial
tissues of the lung, in pulmonary lymph nodes or in reticuloendothelial
tissues. In the context of reticuloendothelial tissues, an analogy can
be drawn with the colloidal radiographic contrast medium Thorotrast
(ThO2). This was found to give rise to substantial aggregates in the
liver, spleen and bone marrow, and excesses of both liver cancer and
leukaemia have been observed in the exposed populations (Van Kaick, Muth
et al. 1986). However, too much weight should not be placed on this
analogy, as the masses of Thorotrast used were large (around 25 g per
patient) and it was introduced directly into the systemic circulation
giving enhanced opportunities for aggregation and deposition into
4.0 Heath impacts of uranium
4.1 Inhalation of uranium oxide dusts
Breathing uranium containing dusts is an established occupational
hazard with which clear health consequences are associated. Most
information relates to uranium miners, whose exposure to uranium ore
dusts is compounded by collateral exposure to radon daughter products.
The much greater activity concentrations of radon daughters in air leads
to relatively larger doses to the lung than from the uranium itself, and
thus the established yield of lung cancer from such exposures is
attributed to radon. However, workers in uranium milling plants, where
the radon daughters are not so abundant, also show indications of
increased disease that could be due to radiation (Cardis and Richardson
2000). Lung cancer is elevated in a number of studies (see Cardis and
Richardson 2000; Ritz 1999; Checkoway, Pearce et al. 1988; Loomis and
Wolf 1996), although it should be noted that the situation is compounded
by exposures other than to internal a -emitters and, in individual
studies, numbers are generally small.
In the most recently reported study of uranium plant workers at
Springfields in the UK (McGeoghegan and Binks 2000), where uranium ore
was handled, there was a substantial healthy worker effect and no
absolute excess or trend with dose for lung cancer.
In other stages of the uranium processing industry, where soluble
uranium may be inhaled as aerosols, there are indications of increases
in lymphopoietic (Loomis and Wolf 1996, Ritz, Morgenstern et al. 2000)
brain, kidney, breast, prostate (Loomis and Wolf 1996) and upper
aerodigestive tract (Ritz, Morgenstern et al. 2000) cancers.
In a response to an editorial (McDiarmid 2001) in the British Medical
Journal, Alvarez has drawn attention to health effects seen among
uranium process workers, as described in an unpublished report (see http://www.bmj.com/cgi/letters/322/7279/123).
As noted, (Ritz 1999) there were positive associations for several
cancer sites with chemicals used in the uranium processing industry. It
is, therefore, clear that working in the uranium processing industry is
associated with a number of different types of cancer, but whether this
is due to insoluble or soluble uranium or other chemicals used in the
processing is not clear.
The uranium dusts encountered in the milling process may be more
insoluble than the dusts generated by burning DU and are almost
certainly of different particle size distribution. Burning metal has the
tendency to produce sub-micron particles as well as the more usual 1 to
10 micron Activity Median Aerodynamic Diameter particles that are
generally associated with radiological toxicity. Such sub-micron
particles present some features that may be significant in evaluating
the toxicity of DU (as opposed to natural uranium). These ultra-fine
particles may be more soluble in physiological fluids, thus creating a
local environment of enhanced uranium concentration in the cells
proximal to the particle of DU-oxide. In this respect it is notable that
DU-UO2 2+ cation is capable of transforming human osteoblast cells in
culture to a tumourigenic phenotype (Miller, Fuciarelli et al. 1998).
Similar transformation can be achieved with nickel and, to a lesser
extent, with lead, leading to the conclusion that this transformation
may have little to do with the radioactivity of DU. This conclusion is
confirmed by the small fraction (0.0014%) of cells hit by alpha
particles at the uranium concentrations used.
It is relevant to note that nickel is an established carcinogen (IARC
1990) and has been shown to induce a genomic instability similar to that
induced by radiation (Coen, Mothersill et al. 2001).
Partially soluble dust particles, either because of chemical
composition or size, produce a unique situation in which a volume of
tissue a few cell diameters in radius, around the particle will be
subject to both a relatively high concentration of UO22+ and the
occasional alpha particle from decay of the 238U. A 1m m particle of
pure 238U weighs 5.8x10-6m g and on average emits 2 alpha-particles per
year. Assuming that over a period of weeks half the material dissolves
and is retained within a volume of radius 3 cell diameters, or 30m m,
the concentration of UO22+ in this tissue volume is about 20m g/g or
0.8mM – well in excess of the 10m M concentration at which cellular
transformation associated with (or leading to) tumour formation in nude
mice was seen.
For a total intake of 1 mg of such a dust and assuming that 25% is
retained for a long period in the lung of which 50% behaves as a Class M
(ICRP 1994) material and dissolves relatively slowly, the remainder
being insoluble, there would be about 0.4 x 108 such foci with 20% (8 x
106) also experiencing one alpha passage in the first month. This is not
a situation that has been experienced in any exposure situation for an
alpha or any other emitter in the lung. It is not possible to
extrapolate the risk of such an exposure from human experience. In
particular the risk to the lung of exposure to DU dusts cannot be
inferred from the experience gained from uranium miners, or from
survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, upon which the current ICRP
radiological protection standards are based.
A second factor is the potential for small particles to become
trapped in the interstitial spaces where they may form aggregates.
Clearance is likely to be to the local tracheobronchial lymph nodes (TBLN),
where they may be retained indefinitely.
A significant excess of lymphatic and haemopoietic cancers, other
than leukaemia, (4/1.02) in uranium mill workers, whose concentration of
uranium in urine was elevated, is noted (Archer, Wagoner et al. 1973).
It is suggested that these malignancies could have resulted from an
accumulation of long-lived radioactive materials in the lymph nodes.
However, Baverstock and Thorne (Baverstock and Thorne 1989), in
reviewing evidence for consequences of irradiation of the lymphatic
system from material retained in the tracheobronchial lymph-nodes,
concluded that, in spite of the real possibility of substantial doses,
there was little reason to expect an excess of lymphatic leukaemia. They
noted, however, that their arguments could not be wholly conclusive.
Furthermore, small particles (10 to 100nm) are capable of passing
through the pulmonary blood vessels into the blood stream. Experience
with directly injected colloidal particles of thorium oxide, in the form
of the x-ray contrast medium Thorotrast, shows that such particles have
a tendency to aggregate in reticuloendothelial tissues, where they are
retained, if insoluble, over long periods. In the case of Thorotrast,
the long-term consequences were liver cancer and leukaemia. Doses from
the injection of Thorotrast are likely to have been very much larger
than could be obtained from inhaling DU smoke, as the direct transfer
through pulmonary blood vessels is only a minor lung clearance route.
Overall, there seems to be a compelling case for investigating
whether uranium, internally incorporated through inhalation, has a
combined chemical and radiological carcinogenic potential, which can
potentially lead to cancers in the lung and other parts of the body,
including the lymphatic system, the bone marrow, the bone and the
kidney. Therefore, the extent to which DU, present in the environment as
dust and smoke from burning metal, is able to cause these consequences,
though a combined radiological and chemical effect, is a matter for
The implications of the bystander effect also need to be considered
in this context. It has been convincingly demonstrated that changes,
similar to those caused directly by irradiation, can be wrought in cells
growing close to a cell that has been irradiated, or even if they
receive activating signals in medium harvested from irradiated cells,
even though the changed cells experienced no ionising event. Such
changes include genomic instability, widely associated with the cancer
process, and even mutations, also widely believed to be related to
cancer induction (Mothersill and Seymour 2001). The basis for this
phenomenon is not well understood, but it has been demonstrated that a
calcium pulse occurs and resolves within 5 minutes of exposure of
non-irradiated cells to medium harvested from exposed cells. Alpha
particle radiation is known to be a potent cause of bystander effects,
particularly in the form of genomic instability and, since heavy metals
can also cause instability (Coen, Mothersill et al. 2001), there is a
strong case that the mixed radio-chemical exposure may be acting in this
As directly inflicted DNA damage is precluded as a cause of the
bystander effect, it can be inferred that a chemical agent is
transmitted from the irradiated cell and that this changes the state of
the recipient cell in an apparently irreversible manner. A recent study
(Belyakov, Malcolmson et al. 2001), using micronucleus formation as an
endpoint and a micro-beam facility capable passing a single alpha
particle through the nucleus of a specific cell, showed a three-fold
increase in damaged cells within the environment of the irradiated cell.
Typically, 5000 cells were scored with some 100 excess damaged cells.
However, excess affected cells were found at distances of mm from the
irradiated cell and thus the number of potentially affected cells per
particle can be very large. Within 1 mm radius of the irradiated cells
there are approximately 106 cells, thus if the same ratio of affected
cells applied some 2 x 104 could be affected.
The bystander effect is predominant at low tissue doses, where few
cells experience an alpha particle passage. At higher doses, recipient
cells increasingly experience alpha passages themselves, with a high
probability of cell killing and almost certainty of inducing other
changes, thus reducing the relative effectiveness of the bystander
effect. For this reason, uranium particles, which emit few alphas, would
have a greater chance of inducing effects through the bystander
mechanism than "hotter" particles.
The implication of the combined chemical and radiological
transforming capability of uranium and the bystander effect, means that,
in estimating its significance in causing cancer, the simple
assumptions, based on committed effective dose, ie (committed absorbed
dose to the lung, modified by a radiation weighting factor for the fact
that the radiation arises from alpha particles) as has been adopted in
recent reports by the Royal Society (RS 2001), the WHO (WHO 2001) and
UNEP (UNEP 2001) would be an inadequate basis for predicting risks.
4.2 Other considerations
The usual assumption, based on the specific activity of uranium,
standard tissue and radiation weighting factors (ICRP 1991) and the
distribution of uranium between different tissues, is that impairment of
kidney function will always be more important that any carcinogenic
effect. This assumption can, however, be questioned on two grounds,
namely the potential for synergy between chemical and radiation
toxicities, and the bystander effect, as discussed above.
In the experiments with osteoblasts (Miller, Blakely et al. 1998),
the concentration of UO2++ was 10m M, which is close to the 0.3m g/g
level in the kidney assumed to be below the threshold for toxic effects.
In the transformation assay, this produced a ten-fold increase in the
tumourigenic phenotype with about 1 in 105 cells being hit by an alpha
particle. It is feasible to explain the transformation in the
osteoblasts by the bystander effect alone, but the similar level of
transformation brought about by the same concentration of nickel ions
cannot be explained radiologically.
If there is indeed a synergistic effect between the chemical and
radiological properties of uranium, why is exposure to naturally
occurring uranium apparently without radiological health consequence?
One answer to this question is that natural uranium is almost entirely
ingested. The fraction of even soluble uranium crossing the GI tract is
low (typically around 0.02, see ICRP Publication 69 (ICRP 1995)), most
being excreted in faeces. In the occupational context, the primary route
of entry will be inhalation of aerosols. Where the uranium is soluble,
the transfer to blood of deposited material is rapid and complete (ICRP
1995). Potentially much higher body burdens could be acquired in this
Among the soft tissues in which systemic uranium locates are the
testes. This raises the prospect of hereditary effects arising from
systemic burdens. The non-specific nature of the location of uranium at
the cellular and sub-cellular levels implies that all testicular cells
are at some degree of risk, including the spermatogonial stem cells. The
relevance of the transforming effect observed for uranium is
problematic. If that transforming ability is mediated by mutations then
a synergy may also be expected here. In the Miller study (Miller,
Blakely et al. 1998), changes in gene expression and sister chromatid
exchanges were observed, leaving the question open.
5.0 Practical public health implications of the use of DU/RU in two
theatres of war, the Balkans and Iraq/Kuwait.
Ammunitions containing DU and RU have been used in the Balkans and
Iraq/Kuwait. Comparing the two instances there are important differences
that have a bearing on public exposure to DU/RU. (RS 2001). In the
Balkans, the ammunition was exclusively fired from aircraft, whereas in
Iraq the tank-to-tank battles also took place. In air-to-ground fire,
fewer DU/RU rounds hit targets such as tanks, most, as much as 90 to
95%, becoming buried in the ground. Thus, only 5 to 10% was at risk of
fragmentation and burning. In Iraq/Kuwait, a larger percentage will have
hit hardened targets and burned to produce the oxide smoke and dust. The
United Nations Environment Programme has carried out an environmental
assessment in Kosovo (UNEP 2001).
Metallic DU/RU buried in the ground will slowly dissolve (over
centuries) so somewhat enhancing the natural level of uranium in the
natural environment. It is legitimate to place the risks of this
exposure in the context of naturally occurring uranium levels in the
environment and it seems unlikely that the small increase in uranium
levels this will entail (except in the circumstance that a penetrator
lodges in very close proximity to a drinking water well) will constitute
a hazard to health. Given the climatic conditions in the Balkans, it
seems unlikely that re-suspension of the dusts resulting from the 5 to
10% of munitions burning will lead to prolonged exposure of the
population by this route although in the first year or two hot summer
weather may have led to some resuspension. In any case weathering and
leaching of the dust on the ground will result in a lowering of its
potential toxicity. The health risks to the civilian populations,
peacekeeping troops and aid workers in Balkans are, therefore, likely to
be minimal in the future, the principal risks being confined to those
who were on the ground during the actual time of use of the weapons,
namely a small minority of the indigenous population and the Serbian
The situation in the Iraq/Kuwait theatre, for which there is no
environmental assessment, is somewhat different. Given the higher
percentage of burned DU/RU in the tank-to-tank fire, the generally dry
and arid climatic conditions of the area and the presence of a civilian
population at the time of the battles, the potential for exposure to
dusts and smoke of the combatants and civilian populations present
during and after the battles is much greater. However, these exposures
have to be seen against the background of other exposures to potentially
toxic agents associated with this war. Although exposure to DU may have
played a role in the induction of any health effects demonstrated to
have been induced, it may prove difficult to disentangle its effects in
this multiple exposure situation and make clear attributions of specific
health consequences to specific agents. Nevertheless, continued exposure
to re-suspended DU/RU dusts could have posed and could continue to pose,
a health hazard to the civilian population in the regions affected by
the hostilities. As the soluble component is "weathered" away
the risks will tend to converge towards those predicted on the basis of
the ICRP lung model, taking into account the particle size distribution
and any influence of the bystander effect.
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By Leuren Moret President, Scientists for Indigenous People, City
of Berkeley Environmental Commissioner Past President, Association for
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