Health Effects of Uranium

What types of Possible Health Effects Have Been Examined?

Uranium is both a chemical and a radioactive material. Uraniumís chemical toxicity is the principal health concern of DU exposure because some forms of uranium can potentially cause damage in the kidneys. A few people have developed signs of kidney disease after intake of large amounts of uranium, but this has not been found in those Service members with the greatest DU exposures from embedded DU fragments. Uraniumís radiological hazards generally are of less concern, because both natural and depleted uranium (which is 40% less radioactive than the natural form) are only weakly radioactive. Although there is a chance of developing cancer from a radioactive material, no human cancer of any type has been seen as a result of exposure to either natural or depleted uranium. More detailed information on the chemical effects and radiation effects are included in other sections of this website.

How is DoD Evaluating the Effects of Depleted Uranium on Health?

In 1993, the DoD and the VA instituted a medical surveillance program for depleted uranium exposures occurring during the 1991 Gulf War. Since then the VA Medical Center in Baltimore, through its DU Medical Follow-up Program has been evaluating almost 80 survivors of friendly fire incidents involving DU during in the 1991 Gulf War. They are invited for comprehensive medical evaluations every two years. About one-fourth currently have embedded fragments of depleted uranium, and many have marked elevations of uranium in their urine. To date, there have been no adverse clinical effects noted in these individuals related to DU; specifically, there has been no kidney damage, leukemia, bone or lung cancer, or other uranium-related health effects. No babies born to this group have had birth defects. The VA plans to continue monitoring these individuals indefinitely.

What do Other Organizations Say About the Health Effects of DU?

Scientific agencies outside the DoD and the VA have reviewed the evidence and determined that DU posed minimal risk to human health. The Department of Health and Human Servicesí Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the RAND Corporation, the Institute of Medicine, the United Kingdom Royal Society, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization have all completed studies and concluded that there is no evidence that DU causes cancer.

NATO reported no relationship between exposure to DU in Europe and health problems potentially attributable to radioactivity. The organization stated:

  • To date, the scientific and medical research continues to disprove any link between Depleted Uranium and the reported negative health effects. [LINK]

The United Kingdom has stated that there is no reliable scientific or medical evidence to link DU with ill health of veterans of conflict in either the Persian Gulf or Balkans, or of people living in these regions. Many independent reports have been published and have failed to detect a relationship between DU exposure and illness, and none has found widespread DU contamination sufficient to impact the health of the general population or deployed personnel. [LINK]

In a 1999 study conducted by the RAND Corporation, the authors stated: ď(N)o evidence is documented in the literature of cancer or any other negative health effect related to the radiation received from exposure to depleted or natural uranium, whether inhaled or ingested, even at very high doses.Ē

Other Important Publications

RAND Corporation

Institute of Medicine

United Kingdom Royal Society I

United Kingdom Royal Society II

European Commission

World Health Organization

"Depleted Uranium: Sources, Exposure and Health Effects" (April 2001)

- Preface, Executive Summary, Table of contents (PDF)
- Chapters 1 to 3 (PDF)
- Chapters 4 and 5 (PDF)
- Chapters 6 and 7 (PDF)
- Chapters 8 to 15 (PDF)
- Annexes 1 to 3 (PDF)
- Annexes 4 to 6 (PDF)
- Glossary and Bibliography (PDF)

Health effects of depleted uranium Report by the Secretariat

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