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Toxicology program seeks comments on DU

On Jan. 19, the National Toxicology Program announced it is seeking public comment on substances which “may pose a hazard to human health (through) their carcinogenicity.”
One of those to be studied, Depleted Uranium, is used in the manufacture of armored weapons material in Jonesborough and has been found in soil samples, and in surface water and stream sediment in Little Limestone Creek.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association announced its decision Jan. 31 of endangered-status classification and protection for a dinosaur-age fish, Atlantic sturgeon, whose native freshwater counterpart also is critically imperiled in Tennessee.
Because of its extreme heavy-metal density, for tank- and other armor-piercing purposes, DU has been employed on large scale in war theaters since the first Gulf war.
Tungsten, used earlier in such weapons, is a rare and costly metal, but the United States has large stockpiles of DU.
These result when natural uranium is enriched to extract its fissionable material, U235, for use in reactor fuel and nuclear weapons.
The resulting waste, chemically toxic as all uranium is and radioactive with half-life
of some billion years, must be strictly isolated from people and the environment.
In the United States, the accumulated, hundreds of thousands of tons are kept at Defense- and Energy-Department sites.
As Dr. Rosalie Bertell writes in the International Journal of Health Services, when DU weapons are fired, air friction or impact on a hardened target causes the uranium to burst into flame. It creates temperatures up to 10 times higher than the fire produced by TNT in other wars.
At these super-high temperatures it becomes ceramic-like and insoluble in body fluids.
Its extremely small, nano-particles can get into the lung and tissue cells and provide a constant source of heavy metal and radiation poisoning within the body.
It has no positive biological use, Bertell notes, and DU can have serious negative health consequences indirectly when it gets into the environment.
Because the tiny aerosols from explosions are wind dispersed, unexploded or partially intact munition gets into the ground. Emissions and leaks during DU manufacturing or storage can poison the soil.
Corroding, left-over DU munitions should be removed, United Nations Environmental Program inspectors stated after the Kosovo war, because they were likely to contaminate groundwater and drinking water supplies.
Though a number of major studies have reviewed health risks to Gulf war veterans from DU, all the questions about its effects have not yet been answered.
It seems highly appropriate that federal agencies involved in the new study should broadly evaluate cancer risks to military personnel as also to civilians through environmental exposure.
Comments can include additional nominations of other substances of concern to the public in regard to cancer risk. They may be sent, through Feb. 28, to Dr. Ruth Lunn, Director of the Office of Carcinogens, [email protected]
Efforts by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Tennessee Aquarium to get the sturgeon re-established in some of our rivers may also get a boost from the NOAA decision.