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Gulf War Illnesses -- At Home and Abroad
by Janette Sherman, M.D.
August 9, 2004

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Since “Those Weapons of Mass Destruction” was published in Acres USA (0ct. 2003), I had hoped that the mainstream press would have picked up the depleted uranium (DU) issue. Alas, this is not the case.

A conservative estimate of the DU used in the 1991 Gulf War is 340 tons. In the most recent war, more than 2200 tons of DU rained down on Iraq. [1] But that is not all, some 34 tons of DU weaponry were used in Bosnia, Kosovo and Herzegovina, contaminating ground water and soil [2] and an additional 1000 tons of DU were used in Afghanistan. [3] Living close to the land, the DU levels in Afghanis after US military intervention are the highest levels measured in a human population. [4]

The General Accounting Office (GAO) strongly criticized the Pentagon for failing to accurately study conditions leading to the illnesses suffered by Gulf War veterans. A second GAO report criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and the Pentagon for wasting “millions of dollars looking for the mental stress theory [when] it has been conclusively ruled invalid.” [5]

Of the 698,000 service personnel who served in the first Gulf War (GW-I) more than 230,000 veterans have health claims that have been granted by the DVA as of Nov. 2002, the latest figures available. [6] Given that the average age of those who went to war was 36, the 11,074 who have since died since GW-I do not represent usual retiree mortality rates.

Among returning veterans, birth defects are increased in the children of both men and women personnel. The birth defects rate in the civilian Iraqi population have risen exponentially in the 13 years since GW-I. While the Pentagon continues to “study” the problem, Betty Mekdeci from the non-profit organization, Birth Defect Research for Children has found otherwise, documenting the very uncommon defect, named Goldenhar Syndrome in 26 children of GW-I veterans. [7]

While returning veterans have brought their contaminated bodies home with them, the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and sites in the US and Puerto Rico where DU was tested continue to live with the contamination. Cancer and leukemia have increased in southern Iraq, and physicians are seeing multiple cancers in patients and clusters of cancer in families near contaminated areas. [8]

The DU issue does not end with veterans and the war zones where civilians are contaminated, it extends to civilian workers in the U. S. as well. By the end of 2003, the Department of Energy (DOE) had processed only 6% of the 23,000 worker’s compensation claims from former nuclear weapons plant employees. The bulk of the claims have been as a result of exposure at the nuclear facilities located at Oak Ridge, TN, Savannah Rive, SC, Paducah, KY, Hanford, WA, Rocky Flats, CO, Los Alamos, NM, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab, the Iowa Ordinance Plant, and in Ohio, the Fernald and Mound Plants and the Piketon uranium enrichment plant. [9]

It is clear that radioactive materials increasingly contaminate the world’s landscape, including the U. S. We know that chronic exposure to low level radiation leads to cancer, birth defects and irreversible genetic damage. [10] Recently, the Bush Administration is proposing to develop a series of “mini” nuclear bombs and to restart the testing of nuclear bombs.

How can we as a civilized society condone the use of radioactive bombs that will adversely affect not only a targeted country, but our own population as well? The lifespan of radioactive materials involves the mining of uranium, separation of isotopes, creation of plutonium, manufacture of bombs and the armaments that carry them, disposal of “wastes”, and the firing of radioactive munitions. The half-life of U238 is 4.5 billion years, the age of the earth. As it decays in four steps to become lead, it releases radioactivity with each step. There is no way to stop the decay process, and no way to clean it up.

The U. S. has lost stature over the torture of prisoners as such places as Abu Gharib and Guantanimo Bay in Cuba, and will certainly lose more when the facts are broadcast that the US has rained toxic and genocidal radioactive materials throughout the world. The use of these very effective, but toxic DU weapons has made us not less, but far more vulnerable to attacks, not only from Al Qaida, but from people who have been harmed and have no recourse to right their wrongs.

What can we do? Spread the word about the hazards to life from DU contamination. Support adequate medical care for returning veterans, compensate those harmed by the manufacture and use of nuclear weapons, and compensate civilians harmed by the use of DU munitions. Most importantly, perhaps the US will regain its stature in the world community if it renounces the use of DU nuclear weapons, but more importantly by doing so we can stop adding irreversible harm to the world. Will our government listen to us the citizens? Will the international community support such measures? We can only hope so because not doing so will spell disaster for life on earth.

Janette D. Sherman, M. D. is the author of Life's Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer and Chemical Exposure and Disease. Dr. Sherman is a specialist in internal medicine and toxicology. She has published more than 70 articles in the scientific literature. She also writes for the popular press to provide information to the concerned public. Currently she is Adjunct Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and Research Associate and Lecturer with the Radiation and Public Health Project. Visit her website:



2) UNEP News release, March 17, 2003.

3) Prof. Marc Herold: 

4) Uranium Medical Research Center:

5) Williams, T. D., Hartford Courant. June 4, 2004.

6) Ibid


8) Al-Ali, oncologist from Basra. Data presented to the World Depleted Uranium Weapons Conference, Hamburg, Germany, ct. 16-19, 2003


10) Busby, Chris, Editor, 2003 Recommendations of the ECRR: The Health Effects of Ionising Radiation Exposure at Low Doses for Radiation Protection Purposes. European Committee on Radiation Risk, ISBN: 1-897761-24-4, 2003.