EU experts: depleted uranium poses no significant health risk

JEFFREY ULBRICH Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium – Depleted uranium used by NATO in armor-piercing weapons in Kosovo had no detectable effect on health, a European Union panel of experts concluded Tuesday.

The findings concurred with NATO’s own studies saying there was no link between depleted uranium, a substance used in anti-armor munitions because of its penetrating power, and cancer among peacekeeping troops.

”I don’t think there is any reason to be afraid,” said Prof. Ian McAulay of Trinity University in Dublin, who headed the panel.

U.S. aircraft used munitions containing depleted uranium, a slightly radioactive heavy metal, during the 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, as well as in Bosnia in 1994 and 1995.

A number of European nations also use munitions containing depleted uranium, which has about 40 percent less radiation that natural uranium, which itself is not considered a health hazard.

Concerns arose in several European countries earlier this year when Italy started studying the illnesses of 30 veterans of Balkans peacekeeping missions. Seven of the veterans died of cancer, including five from leukemia.

The European Union sought its own scientific opinion since EU civilian employees have worked and visited Kosovo for prolonged period. Its experts concluded that ”radiological exposure to depleted uranium could not result in detectable effect on human health,” McAulay said.

With specific regard to leukemia, uranium accumulates very little in blood-forming organs such as bone marrow, making the risk of leukemia is far below that of other cancers, he said.

Depleted uranium also contains a chemical toxicity, and ”the possibility of a combined effect of exposure to toxic or carcinogenic chemicals and to radiation cannot be excluded but there is no evidence to support this hypothesis,” the panel said.

Margot Wallstroem, the EU’s environment commissioner, said the European Union’s executive body would consider the study when discussing the need for further action on the health and environmental situation in the Balkans.

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