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March 18, 2003

Soldier, you have made the bold decision to go to the Persian Gulf and risk your life for your country. This is a very courageous thing to do. I can imagine the pride you must feel. I only hope that your pride does not prevent you from realizing an important truth: Your decision to go there may affect the health of us all.

Soldier, if you go to Iraq you will probably be exposed to depleted uranium (DU), a weapon of mass destruction used by the United States and Great Britain in the 1991 Gulf War and openly planned for use in the 2003 sequel. In 1991, the US and Britain dumped approximately 320 tons of toxic radioactive waste in the form of DU on Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In addition to it's armor-piercing, bunker-busting properties, DU is pyrophoric meaning it bursts into flame upon impact. More specifically, DU atomizes into microscopic particles that are carried for miles by the wind to places where they can contaminate food crops, livestock and drinking water and can be inhaled by children, the infirm and the elderly. A single microscopic particle, innocently inhaled, is enough to cause cancer and kill a person.

Soldier, you should know that approximately 436,000 US ground troops were exposed to DU during the 1991 Gulf War, and that more than 10,000 of these brave men and women have died as a direct result of their exposure. Over 250,000 more of them are currently seeking medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs for DU-related illnesses including: leukemia, lung cancer, chronic kidney disorders, liver cancer, bone cancer, respiratory ailments, chronic fatigue, skin spotting, joint pain, and testicular cancer. Some of these once strong and brave men and women have chosen to commit suicide rather than continue to endure their painful, progressive physical deterioration. Soldier, DU-exposed veterans of the 1991 Gulf War have been found to pass radioactive contamination on to their sexual partners through their body fluids. Female vets and wives of male vets have an increased incidence of miscarriages, and children of exposed Gulf War vets have a high incidence of birth defects and other abnormalities.

Soldier, many parts of Iraq are still contaminated with DU because the US did not remove it's DU-contaminated debris from there like it was forced to do in Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. Food crops, livestock and drinking water remain contaminated. Soldier, if you go there you will be walking into a contaminated hot zone with even more contamination in the planning. Just breathing the air or drinking the water may cause you to come back a contaminated organism, secreting toxic radionuclides in your bodily fluids as your health slowly deteriorates.

Soldier, some of the toxic radionuclides that you will be secreting -- your `radioactive waste' -- will flow through your local wastewater treatment plant, through beautiful wetland ponds and marshes, through bays and oceans. The half-life of DU particles is 4.5 billion years, so they will have plenty of time to visit many beautiful places in the world while still highly toxic. Soldier, what effect will your radioactive waste have on oysters, fish, mammals and microscopic organisms living in the ponds, bays and ocean? How about the people working at the wastewater treatment plant? How about cumulative impacts and synergistic effects when your radioactive waste commingles with the hundreds of pollutants commonly found in bays and oceans?

Soldier, as your DU-related illness progresses you will likely be on pain and chemotherapy medications. Such drugs are only partly assimilated by the body with the remainder being expelled in urine. Natural aquatic systems, the receiving waters for most wastewater treatment plants, are already frighteningly impacted by excess pharmaceuticals in wastewater, the long-term effects of which are unknown but widely expected to be disastrous. What will be the synergistic impact on these aquatic systems when your radioactive waste mixes with the excess pharmaceuticals? Our drinking water is part of this same water cycle, so you should realize that you may end up contributing to the ruin of our drinking water supply.

Soldier, some of your radioactive waste will be collected in sludge digesters at the wastewater treatment plant while awaiting it's transformation via composting into fertilizer. An increasingly common method of sludge disposal is to spray it in forested areas. What will be the effect of your radioactive waste on the plants, animals and microscopic organisms living in forested areas? Suppose a deer forages on vegetation growing in your radioactive waste and then leaves radioactive droppings in a place where a person or animal can contact them -- what is the risk to that person or animal? Suppose a bird foraging in vegetation growing in your radioactive waste in the forest flies over and drops it's own radioactive bomb in a backyard where a child is playing -- what risk is that to the child?

Soldier, you have chosen to go to Iraq and risk your life. That was your decision, and tragically maybe you made it without complete knowledge of what you were facing. You now have the knowledge that you may become contaminated with DU, and that if so, you are likely to become sick and share your contamination with the rest of us. Deciding for yourself to go there and risk your own health is one thing. It's another thing altogether to make that decision for the rest of us.

If you are not a soldier yet but you are thinking about becoming one, please carefully consider what I have written before making the most important decision of your life. You may still decide to go, but at least you will be making an informed decision. Many areas of the country have GI Rights Hotlines [eg., and] that you can call to find out more about these issues. Two good books on the subject of DU are The New Nuclear Danger George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex by Dr. Helen Caldicott (ISBN 1-56584-740-7) and Discounted Casualties The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium by Akira Tashiro (ISBN 4-88517-301-9 C0036).

If you do decide to go, Soldier, then I hope you will be a truthful witness of all events and return to us safe and strong and tell us about it.

Mark Dubrow, M.Sci.
Environmental Engineer
Arcata, California

Copyright © 2003 Mark Dubrow
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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