By Gerry J. Gilmore, AFPS, 5/3/2004

Washington (AFPN) — Depleted uranium poses very low health risks to U.S. service members, senior Defense Department officials said here April 29.

Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said a 10-year, joint DOD-Veterans Affairs study shows “that low levels of depleted uranium that our troops would be exposed to are neither a radiological or chemical health threat to our service members. No evidence exists linking depleted uranium to radiation-induced illnesses like leukemia or cancers.”

Depleted uranium is a dense material produced from uranium processing that is used for armor and armor-piercing weapons. High levels of the substance introduced into the human body could cause kidney damage.

“Service members should know that the potential health risks of depleted uranium are extremely, extremely low,” Dr. Winkenwerder said. “And, we have no evidence that there are health consequences after many years among people who had the highest levels of exposure after the Gulf War.”

However, there is no medical evidence that links low level of exposure to depleted uranium to any medical symptoms among service members. Only three of about 1,000 personnel returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom duty have tested positive for elevated levels of uranium.

Two soldiers and one Airman were involved in combat operations in Iraq and have pieces of depleted-uranium shrapnel in their bodies. It normally can be removed surgically, unless doing so would damage surrounding muscles and other important tissue. Doctors are monitoring the three in a medical follow-up program.

Medical tests performed on Gulf War veterans with depleted uranium shrapnel in their bodies show “their kidneys are perfectly normal,” said DOD spokesman Dr. Kilpatrick. “All people have some uranium in their bodies and bones that causes no ill-health effects. “

Urine testing measures the amount of natural uranium in the system,” Kilpatrick said. “If it's in the normal range, we don't have a concern, but if the level is at all high, then we do a differentiation between natural and depleted uranium. People who inhale dust laced with depleted uranium eventually eliminate the material from their bodies via urination.”