Is depleted uranium cause of soldiers' strange illness?
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published August 13, 2006
NEW YORK - It takes at least 10 minutes and a large glass of orange juice to wash down all the pills - morphine, methadone, a muscle relaxant, an antidepressant, a stool softener. Viagra for sexual dysfunction. Valium for his nerves.
Four hours later, Herbert Reed will swallow another 15 mg of morphine to cut the pain clenching every part of his body. He will do it twice more before the day is done.
Since he left a bombed-out train depot in Iraq, his gums bleed. There is more blood in his urine, and still more in his stool. Bright light hurts his eyes. A tumor has been removed from his thyroid. Rashes erupt everywhere, itching so badly they seem to live inside his skin. Migraines cleave his skull. His joints ache, grating like door hinges in need of oil.
No one is sure what is wrong with Herbert Reed. He believes, but cannot convince anyone caring for him, that the military's new favorite weapon has made him terribly sick.
In the sprawling bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, he has many caretakers. An internist, a neurologist, a pain-management specialist, a psychologist, an orthopedic surgeon and a dermatologist. He cannot function without his stupefying arsenal of medications, but they exact a high price.
"I'm just a zombie walking around," he says.
Reed, 52, believes depleted uranium has contaminated him. He is at the forefront of a vitriolic war over the Pentagon's arsenal of it - thousands of shells and hundreds of tanks coated with the metal that is radioactive, chemically toxic, and nearly twice as dense as lead.
A shell coated with depleted uranium pierces a tank like a hot knife through butter. As tank armor, it repels artillery assaults. It also leaves behind a fine radioactive dust with a half-life of 4.5-billion years.
Depleted uranium is the garbage left from producing enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and energy plants. It is 60 percent as radioactive as natural uranium. The United States has an estimated 1.5-billion pounds of it, sitting in hazardous storage sites across the country. It is plentiful and cheap, as well as highly effective.
Reed says he unknowingly breathed depleted uranium dust while living with his unit in Samawah, Iraq. He was flown out in 2003 because of herniated spinal discs. Then began a series of strange symptoms.
At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he ran into a buddy from his unit. And another and another. Between doctor visits and the dispensing of meds, they began to talk.
"We all had migraines. We all felt sick," Reed says. "The doctors said, 'It's all in your head.' "
The medic from their unit showed up. He too, was suffering. That made eight sick soldiers from the 442nd Military Police, an Army National Guard unit of mostly cops and correctional officers from the New York area.
The medic told them that Dutch marines had taken over the abandoned train depot dubbed Camp Smitty, which was surrounded by tank skeletons and unexploded ordnance. They'd brought radiation-detection devices. The readings were so hot, he said, that the Dutch set up camp in the middle of the desert rather than live in the station ruins.
"We got on the Internet and we started researching depleted uranium," Reed said.
Reed, Gerard Matthew, Raymond Ramos, Hector Vega, Augustin Matos, Anthony Yonnone, Jerry Ojeda and Anthony Phillip all have depleted uranium in their urine, according to tests available only overseas. In December 2003, their samples were sent to Germany, where they were analyzed by a Frankfurt professor who developed a depleted uranium test with Randall Parrish, a professor of isotope geology at the University of Leicester in Britain.
The veterans, using those results as evidence, have sued the Army, saying that officials knew the hazards of depleted uranium but concealed the risks.
The Department of Defense says depleted uranium is powerful and safe, and not that worrisome.
Four of the highest-registering samples from Frankfurt were sent to the VA. The results came back negative, Reed said. "Their test just isn't as sophisticated," he said.
The VA's testing methodology is safe and accurate, the agency says. More than 2,100 soldiers from the current war have asked to be tested; only eight had depleted uranium in their urine, the VA said.