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Toxic Exposure - The Environmental Reality of Wars


Toxic Exposure - The Environmental Reality of Wars
By Tracy Emblem

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have created toxic environments. This past April, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs reported in an environmental hazards training directive: “Exposure to open burn pits has created significant concern among Veterans and their families.”

“Burn pits” are open air burns used to dispose of waste products such as plastic, rubber, Styrofoam, paints, solvents, medical and human waste, petroleum and lubricant products, munitions and other unexploded ordnance.

Veterans and their families should be concerned. Recently, the American Lung Association called for a military ban of open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. ALA Chairman H. James Gooden testified on Capitol Hill. He told the Senate Defense Subcommittee hearing members: “Emissions from burning waste contain fine particulate matter, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs.”

Various armor-piercing projectiles, shells and tank armor are made with Depleted Uranium (DU), a highly toxic radio-active byproduct of the uranium enrichment process. The Department of Veteran Affairs states: “When a projectile made with DU penetrates a vehicle, small pieces of DU can scatter and become embedded in muscle and soft tissue. In addition to DU in wounds, soldiers exposed to DU in struck vehicles may inhale or swallow small airborne DU particles.”

DU exposure can cause neurological problems, kidney stones, chronic kidney pain, rashes, vision degradation, lymphoma, various forms of skin and organ cancer, and birth defects.

According to the Seattle Post: “The U.S. Army acknowledges the hazards in a training manual, in which it requires that anyone who comes within 25 meters of any DU-contaminated equipment or terrain wear respiratory and skin protection.”

The environmental hazard which was first reported by the Seattle Post is this: “As much as 70 percent of the projectile can burn up on impact, creating a firestorm of ceramic DU oxide particles. The residue of this firestorm is an extremely fine ceramic uranium dust that can be spread by the wind, inhaled and absorbed into the human body and absorbed by plants and animals, becoming part of the food chain. Once lodged in the soil, the munitions can pollute the environment and create up to a hundredfold increase in uranium levels in ground water, according to the U.N. Environmental Program. Studies show it can remain in human organs for years.”

Citing an increased number of birth defects and the sudden rise in reported cancer cases, Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights recently announced a lawsuit would be filed against Britain and the U.S. seeking compensation to victims of DU exposure. Iraq military experts claim nearly 2000 tons of depleted uranium bombs were deployed during the early years of the Iraq war.

In 1999, a subcommittee of the United Nations “considered DU hazardous enough to call for an initiative banning its use worldwide. The initiative has remained in limbo, blocked primarily by the United States,” the Seattle Post reported. As with Monsanto’s dioxin-based “Agent Orange” used during the Vietnam war and the ensuing illnesses reported, government officials deny that Gulf War syndrome experienced and reported by returning troops and civilians is related to depleted uranium exposure.

How many of our returning troops and civilians are suffering from environmentally induced cancers?

Unfortunately, the VA stopped reporting cancer cases in some state registries including California and Florida, two states with large Veteran populations so we do not know the exact numbers.

As the Afghanistan war escalates, we must ask Congress, at what price have we caused a whole generation of veterans to become ill and disabled and reduced areas in Iraq and Afghanistan to toxic wastelands. We must consider the consequences. H.G. Wells was visionary when he said, “If we do not end war – war will end us.”

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