IV. ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENTS IN THE BALKANS
Most nations have a proactive program to monitor the environment where their troops are posted. Even before the allegations of a connection between depleted uranium and leukemia began to surface in early 2001, nations contributing soldiers to the Balkans peacekeeping effort were testing the areas environment for potential hazardsincluding depleted uranium. Several international organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the European Commission, have also taken measurements in the Balkans and/or researched the health effects of depleted uranium. These efforts have concluded that the levels of depleted uranium in the areas where troops served were either below detection limits or were too low to be of any health concern.
At least 13 countries have sent teams to the Balkans to collect and analyze soil, air, water, vegetation, and food samples. These include Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Specific sampling dates and findings from these programs are summarized in Tab C. Since the objective of the monitoring programs was to protect the health of the soldiers, most teams monitored areas where their troops lived and operated. The early monitoring was conducted before the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) released a detailed A-10 target list. Nonetheless, scientists knew to concentrate their efforts on likely A-10 targets, such as armored vehicles. Monitoring results found small amounts of DU only in the immediate vicinity (less than one meter) of the impact site of a DU round. In most instances, detectable levels of DU were limited to the impact hole itself with no detectable levels found in any other location. Most of the recovered penetrators were intact or nearly intact.
The UNEP conducted environmental monitoring in Kosovo in the fall of 2000 after NATO had identified the 85 sites that were targeted with DU munitions during Operation Allied Force. The UNEP team of 14 scientists from several countries visited 11 of these sites, collecting over 300 samples, including 249 soil samples, 46 water samples, 37 vegetation samples, 7 whole penetrators, and one penetrator fragment. Five independent laboratories analyzed these samples. The UNEP published the results in their final report "Depleted Uranium in Kosovo Post-Conflict Environment Assessment," on March 13, 2001 (summarized in Tab D). Although the scientists found the radiological and chemical risks for all areas sampled to be insignificant, the UNEP recommended the collection of penetrators on the ground at all sites, localized decontamination as appropriate, and further monitoring of groundwater. UNEP found no depleted uranium contamination of the water, milk, or buildings in Kosovo.
The WHO did not collect samples on their trip to Kosovo, but gleaned firsthand accounts from scientists and environmental experts. In their March 12, 2001, "Report of the World Health Organization Depleted Uranium Mission to Kosovo" (summarized in Tab E), they concluded there was no convincing evidence of depleted uranium impacting the health of the Kosovo population. Unlike the UNEP report, the WHO report did not recommend a separate cleanup program to target DU sites, but instead recommended that DU penetrators be collected as part of planned mine clearing activities. However, in its DU monograph, "Depleted Uranium Sources, Exposure and Health Effects," published in April 2001 (summarized in Tab F), the WHO recommended DU clean-up operations where there are "substantial numbers of radioactive projectiles remaining and DU contamination levels are deemed unacceptable by qualified experts." They concluded that "for the general population, neither civilian or [sic] military use of DU is likely to produce exposures to DU much above normal background levels" for natural uranium.
There are two other recent reports generated from concerns about Balkans DU exposures. The first is a report issued by the European Commission on the possible radiological health effects of depleted uranium. This report is based on the work of a group of independent scientific experts, and was commissioned according to Article 31 of the Euratom Treaty (summarized in TAB G). The groups authority, according to the text of the Euratom Treaty, is to advise on the dangers arising from ionizing radiation. Thus, the Commission asked the group to note the chemical toxicity of uranium, but specifically address only the radiological health consequences of exposure to depleted uranium. This group of scientific experts concluded that, based on the information currently available, radiological exposure to depleted uranium could not result in a detectable effect on human health. The scientific experts also addressed the issue of a cumulative dose from contaminated drinking water, soil, or the food chain, and indicated the resulting doses would be very low. They further stated that " one would expect to observe uranium renal toxicity before any other damage (including cancer)."
The second report is the United Kingdom Royal Societys "The Health Hazards of Depleted Uranium Munitions, Part 1," released on May 22, 2001 (summarized in TAB H). The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Their conclusions are consistent with previous studies:
Except in extreme circumstances any extra risks of developing fatal cancers as a result of radiation from internal exposure to DU arising from battlefield conditions are likely to be so small that they would not be detectable above the general risk of dying from cancer over a normal lifetime.
Taken together, the national and international environmental surveys and risk assessments present consistent findings indicating no widespread depleted uranium contamination and no detectable impact on the health of the general population or deployed military personnel. Only under the most extreme circumstances (e.g., presence in a vehicle when it is struck by a DU penetrator) are there possible medical consequences.
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