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Depleted uranium found in samples of water, soil

Potential environmental and public health consequences of poisoning from depleted uranium found in samples taken near Aerojet Ordnance were discussed during a press conference held on the Courthouse steps in Jonesborough on Oct. 23.
Dr. Michael E. Ketterer, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, presented an interim report of a study conducted as a scientific research and community service project by NAU.
The purpose of the study is to determine the extent to which uranium and related contaminants have been dispersed off-site by Aerojet into surrounding water and soil.
Environmental samples collected from locations near Aerojet were analyzed in the NAU laboratory. According to the interim report, the presence of at least some depleted uranium has been found in surface water from Little Limestone Creek downstream of the facility; soil from one non-residential location in the immediate vicinity of Aerojet; and soil from a residential location near the facility.
DU is waste from nuclear enrichment of natural uranium and is 40 percent less radioactive, yet can still cause damage.
Ketterer said the evidence points to the need for more study.
“If I would advocate for anything, it would be for more collection,” he said.
An exhaustive study of the area would probably take a couple of years and cost around $2 million, Ketterer estimated.
“Once you disperse contamination, you have to expend a lot of time and money to remove it,” he said.
The press conference was hosted by a delegation from Christian Peacemaker Teams, who travel to “crisis settings” to protect human rights and engage in public peace witness.
Linda Modica, CPT’s local contact, said she lived within 5 miles of Aerojet for about 18 years before knowing what kind of business it conducted.
Aerojet, a GenCorp, Inc. company, is a major space and defense contractor specializing in missile and space propulsion. Aerojet also is a leader in the development and manufacture of precision tactical weapon systems, and armament systems, including warhead and munitions applications.
Modica had done some environmental work in Washington County and was contacted by CPT seven years ago.
“CPT does non-violent conflict resolution,” she said. “Because of Aerojet, Jonesborough is considered a conflict zone.”
Modica said this was CPT’s fourth delegation to Jonesborough during the years she has been involved with the organization.
“CPT’s approach to non-violent conflict resolution is to work toward transforming Aerojet into a manufacturer of peaceful products,” she said.
The biggest problem, according to Modica, is the non-discriminatory nature of uranium.
“Uranium is toxic as a chemical and also has an impact with its radioactivity,” she said.
The low-dose, depleted uranium is often recycled into munitions.
While stronger than any other heavy metal, even in its weakened state, there is a risk of contamination for manufacturers, shippers and handlers.
In addition, the use of DU weapons is negatively affecting the health of Iraqi children and military personnel in war zones.
Research indicates an increase in the incidences of leukemia and cancer, with a high number of malignancies.
A July 2011 response from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the NRC staff contacted the Tennessee State Division of Radiological Health Programs in regard to samples taken from the Aerojet facility.
The DHR report concluded that, based on the results of their ambient surveys and soil sample analyses, levels of radioactive materials were within federal and state regulatory limits and industry guidelines at that time.
A forum with a panel of experts will continue the discussion about the effects of depleted uranium on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at East Tennessee State University from 7 to 9 p.m. in room 102 of Rogers-Stout Hall.