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イラク戦争で初めてのDUに汚染された米兵士発見。これはNew York Daily News
New York Daily News Originally published on April 3, 2004
Shocking report reveals local troops
may be victims of america's high-tech weapons
By JUAN GONZALEZ
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Four soldiers from a New York Army National Guard company serving in
Iraq are contaminated with radiation likely caused by dust from depleted
uranium shells fired by U.S. troops, a Daily News investigation has
They are among several members of the same company, the 442nd Military
Police, who say they have been battling persistent physical ailments
that began last summer in the Iraqi town of Samawah.
"I got sick instantly in June," said Staff Sgt. Ray Ramos, a Brooklyn
housing cop. "My health kept going downhill with daily headaches,
constant numbness in my hands and rashes on my stomach."
A nuclear medicine expert who examined and tested nine soldiers from the
company says that four "almost certainly" inhaled radioactive dust from
exploded American shells manufactured with depleted uranium.
Laboratory tests conducted at the request of The News revealed traces of
two manmade forms of uranium in urine samples from four of the soldiers.
If so, the men - Sgt. Hector Vega, Sgt. Ray Ramos, Sgt. Agustin Matos
and Cpl. Anthony Yonnone - are the first confirmed cases of inhaled
depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict.
The 442nd, made up for the most part of New York cops, firefighters and
correction officers, is based in Orangeburg, Rockland County. Dispatched
to Iraq last Easter, the unit's members have been providing guard duty
for convoys, running jails and training Iraqi police. The entire company
is due to return home later this month.
"These are amazing results, especially since these soldiers were
military police not exposed to the heat of battle," said Dr. Asaf
Duracovic, who examined the G.I.s and performed the testing that was
funded by The News.
"Other American soldiers who were in combat must have more depleted
uranium exposure," said Duracovic, a colonel in the Army Reserves who
served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
While working at a military hospital in Delaware, he was one of the
first doctors to discover unusual radiation levels in Gulf War veterans.
He has since become a leading critic of the use of depleted uranium in
Depleted uranium, a waste product of the uranium enrichment process, has
been used by the U.S. and British military for more than 15 years in
some artillery shells and as armor plating for tanks. It is twice as
heavy as lead.
Because of its density, "It is the superior heavy metal for armor to
protect tanks and to penetrate armor," Pentagon spokesman Michael
The Army and Air Force fired at least 127 tons of depleted uranium
shells in Iraq last year, Kilpatrick said. No figures have yet been
released for how much the Marines fired.
Kilpatrick said about 1,000 G.I.s back from the war have been tested by
the Pentagon for depleted uranium and only three have come up positive -
all as a result of shrapnel from DU shells.
But the test results for the New York guardsmen - four of nine positives
for DU - suggest the potential for more extensive radiation exposure
among coalition troops and Iraqi civilians.
Several Army studies in recent years have concluded that the low-level
radiation emitted when shells containing DU explode poses no significant
dangers. But some independent scientists and a few of the Army's own
reports indicate otherwise.
As a result, depleted uranium weapons have sparked increasing
controversy around the world. In January 2003, the European Parliament
called for a moratorium on their use after reports of an unusual number
of leukemia deaths among Italian soldiers who served in Kosovo, where DU
weapons were used.
I keep getting weaker. What is happening to me?
The Army says that only soldiers wounded by depleted uranium shrapnel or
who are inside tanks during an explosion face measurable radiation
But as far back as 1979, Leonard Dietz, a physicist at the Knolls Atomic
Power Laboratory upstate, discovered that DU-contaminated dust could
travel for long distances.
Dietz, who pioneered the technology to isolate uranium isotopes,
accidentally discovered that air filters with which he was experimenting
had collected radioactive dust from a National Lead Industries Plant
that was producing DU 26 miles away. His discovery led to a shutdown of
"The contamination was so heavy that they had to remove the topsoil from
52 properties around the plant," Dietz said.
All humans have at least tiny amounts of natural uranium in their bodies
because it is found in water and in the food supply, Dietz said. But
natural uranium is quickly and harmlessly excreted by the body.
Uranium oxide dust, which lodges in the lungs once inhaled and is not
very soluble, can emit radiation to the body for years.
"Anybody, civilian or soldier, who breathes these particles has a
permanent dose, and it's not going to decrease very much over time,"
said Dietz, who retired in 1983 after 33 years as nuclear physicist. "In
the long run ... veterans exposed to ceramic uranium oxide have a major
Critics of DU have noted that the Army's view of its dangers has changed
Before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, a 1990 Army report noted that depleted
uranium is "linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and] chemical
toxicity causing kidney damage."
It was during the Gulf War that U.S. A-10 Warthog "tank buster" planes
and Abrams tanks first used DU artillery on a mass scale. The Pentagon
says it fired about 320 tons of DU in that war and that smaller amounts
were also used in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
In the Gulf War, Army brass did not warn soldiers about any risks from
exploding DU shells. An unknown number of G.I.s were exposed by shrapnel,
inhalation or handling battlefield debris.
Some veterans groups blame DU contamination as a factor in Gulf War
syndrome, the term for a host of ailments that afflicted thousands of
vets from that war.
Under pressure from veterans groups, the Pentagon commissioned several
new studies. One of those, published in 2000, concluded that DU, as a
heavy metal, "could pose a chemical hazard" but that Gulf War veterans
"did not experience intakes high enough to affect their health."
Pentagon spokesman Michael Kilpatrick said Army followup studies of 70
DU-contaminated Gulf War veterans have not shown serious health effects.
"For any heavy metal, there is no such thing as safe," Kilpatrick said.
"There is an issue of chemical toxicity, and for DU it is raised as
radiological toxicity as well."
But he said "the overwhelming conclusion" from studies of those who work
with uranium "show it has not produced any increase in cancers."
Several European studies, however, have linked DU to chromosome damage
and birth defects in mice. Many scientists say we still don't know
enough about the long-range effects of low-level radiation on the body
to say any amount is safe.
Britain's national science academy, the Royal Society, has called for
identifying where DU was used and is urging a cleanup of all
"A large number of American soldiers [in Iraq] may have had significant
exposure to uranium oxide dust," said Dr. Thomas Fasey, a pathologist at
Mount Sinai Medical Center and an expert on depleted uranium. "And the
health impact is worrisome for the future."
As for the soldiers of the 442nd, they're sick, frustrated and confused.
They say when they arrived in Iraq no one warned them about depleted
uranium and no one gave them dust masks.
Experts behind News probe
As part of the investigation by the Daily News, Dr. Asaf Duracovic, a
nuclear medicine expert who has conducted extensive research on depleted
uranium, examined the nine soldiers from the 442nd Military Police in
late December and collected urine specimens from each.
Another member of his team, Prof. Axel Gerdes, a geologist at Goethe
University in Frankfurt who specializes in analyzing uranium isotopes,
performed repeated tests on the samples over a week-long period. He used
a state-of-the art procedure called multiple collector inductively
coupled plasma-mass spectrometry.
Only about 100 laboratories worldwide have the same capability to
identify and measure various uranium isotopes in minute quantities,
Gerdes concluded that four of the men had depleted uranium in their
bodies. Depleted uranium, which does not occur in nature, is created as
a waste product of uranium enrichment when some of the highly
radioactive isotopes in natural uranium, U-235 and U-234, are extracted.
Several of the men, according to Duracovic, also had minute traces of
another uranium isotope, U-236, that is produced only in a nuclear
"These men were almost certainly exposed to radioactive weapons on the
battlefield," Duracovic said.
He and Gerdes plan to issue a scientific paper on their study of the
soldiers at the annual meeting of the European Association of Nuclear
Medicine in Finland this year.
When DU shells explode, they permanently contaminate their target and
the area immediately around it with low-level radioactivity.
Soldiers demand to know health risks
By JUAN GONZALEZ
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recently told Staff Sgt. Ray
Ramos that a biopsy revealed his rash comes from leishmaniasis, a
disease spread by sandflies and contracted by hundreds of G.I.s in Iraq.
Until last week, however, Army doctors refused requests by Ramos and a
few others in the 442nd Military Police to have their urine analyzed for
depleted uranium, a procedure that can cost up to $1,000.
Three of the nine tested in the Daily News investigation - Sgt. Herbert
Reed, Spec. William Ruiz, and Spec. Anthony Phillip - also were tested
by the Army in November. But the results were withheld for months
despite repeated inquiries.
Last week, after Army officials received press inquiries about the 442nd
and discovered that a group from the company had sought independent
testing, an administrator at Walter Reed told Reed and Phillip that
their tests from November had come back negative for depleted uranium.
The News' tests also showed negative results for Reed and Phillip, but
Ramos tested positive. The soldiers of the 442nd are not the only ones
to raise questions about depleted uranium in Samawah.
In August, a contingent of Dutch soldiers arrived in the town to replace
the Americans. Press reports in the Netherlands revealed that Dutch
authorities questioned the U.S. beforehand about the possible use of DU
ammunition in Samawah. According to Sgt. Juan Vega, senior medic for the
442nd, the Dutch swept the area around the train depot with Geiger
counters and their medics confided to him they had found high radiation
levels. The Dutch unit refused to stay in the depot, Vega said, and
pitched camp in the desert instead.
And in February, after Japanese troops moved into the same town, a
Japanese journalist equipped with a Geiger counter reported finding
radiation readings 300 times higher than background levels.
"There'd been a lot of fighting in Samawah before we got there," said
Staff Sgt. Ray Ramos, 41. "The place was dusty as hell, and the
sandstorms were hitting us pretty good."
Felled at first by what he thought was the sweltering Iraqi heat, Ramos
expected to recover quickly.
"My health just kept getting worse," he said. "I tried to work out each
day to get through it but I kept getting weaker. A numbing sensation hit
my hands and my face, and the migraine headaches became constant. I was
afraid I was having a stroke."
He was sent first to a Baghdad hospital for treatment, but with no
neurologist available, he was shipped out to Germany and eventually to
"I had rashes on my stomach for four months," Ramos said. "And now,
whenever I [lie] down, my hands fall asleep."
Doctors at Walter Reed have been stumped. They've given Ramos braces to
wear on his arms at night to try to prevent his hands from falling
asleep, and they've prescribed a host of muscle relaxants and
painkillers, but nothing seems to work.
"I have four kids. What happens to them now if I can't work?" said Ramos,
who was looking forward to a transfer from the NYPD Housing Bureau to
the robbery unit in Brooklyn's 75th Precinct once he returns from active
duty. "I need them to investigate what's going on with my body."
Cpl. Anthony Yonnone, 35, a cop with the Veterans Administration in
Fishkill, N.Y., has the highest DU levels of the four soldiers who
tested positive, said Dr. Asaf Duracovic, who performed the testing
funded by The News.
Yonnone said his nausea, skin rashes and migraines began in Samawah.
"The headaches are constant and they don't want to stop," he said. "The
rashes seem to come and go.
"We were always passing blownout tanks when we were out doing patrols."
He recalled that American units in the town burned trash and waste each
night in big drums near the train depot. "The combination of smoke and
sand when we lit those fires covered everybody," he said.
Evacuated from Iraq in August for minor surgery, Yonnone was sent first
"They gave us a questionnaire. I marked that I wasn't exposed to
depleted uranium because nobody had even told us what it was back in
Iraq," he said.