Uncovering Depleted Uranium Munition-Jonesborough, TN Delegation

A few months ago Depleted Uranium (DU) was a sinister weapon of war to my ears, albeit intangible and nondescript. Confronting Aerojet Ordnance, a DU weapon manufacturer outside Jonesborough, TN on this CPT Delegation, is serving as an immersion course in DU munitions and the physics and chemistry behind this radioactive waste. The fog is slowly lifting for me. Since being in Jonesborough I am starting to understand why peace and justice circles, and moreover the general public, do not have much familiarity with Depleted Uranium, its use in combat nor the danger of its production.    

 

Government and military agencies like the Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) are not quick to release statistics on the extent of DU use in Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, and other war zones. We have found it extremely difficult to uncover the amount of DU munitions produced at Aerojet Ordnance, and its mother company GenCorp, despite sending them invitations to our public forums and requesting private meetings. For whatever reason they have said, “no one can represent us.” This has been a frustrating part of the process. How are we to uncover the truth if not everyone comes to the table?  

 

Adding to the convoluted nature of the issue, the regulatory agencies of Aerojet Ordnance and Nuclear Fuel Services; the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), are not testing regularly for toxic contamination outside of their plants, nor coming forward to share what information they do have. When asked about environmental testing near Aerojet Ordnance, it was stated that they have done 8 tests in the last 10 years, and did not comment on the extent of these tests, where they were performed, what type, etc. This has left the soil sampling to local organizers, with the help of our Delegation.  

 

The lack of data on DU, particularly clear statements from the Department of Defense regarding medical consequences on soldiers and civilians where it is used, is also troublesome. A 2003 Rolling Stone article on Depleted Uranium quotes Naughton, the recently retired Director of Army Munitions as saying, “DU is not any more dangerous than dirt” (Johnson, para.4). The Department of Defense has never released a formal statement or apology to the thousands of veterans suffering from DU exposure, especially in the Gulf War.

 Other sources that we have met on our delegation, such as Major Doug Rokke who oversaw Desert Storm operations, physicist Dr. David Close from Eastern Tennessee State University, and Dr. Michael Ketterer (who is processing the soil, dust and water sampling around the Aerojet plant in Jonesborough we have been helping with) certainly disagree with Mr. Naughton.

 Health consequences of DU exposure, according to these sources, include increased risk of various cancers and tumors, neurological disorders, incontinence, cataracts, and weakening of the immune system. This is particularly the case among pregnant women and children whose cells are rapidly dividing, and those exposed to DU in the form of particulates when it can be inhaled, like in the war zones.

 According to Dr. Jawad K. H. Al-Ali, Director of the Oncology Centre in Basrah, Iraq; an estimated 2,000 tons of DU has been used in 300 areas around the country of Iraq, including inside residential areas. Dr. Al-Ali speaks with certainty about the connection between the use of DU munitions and the staggering increase in rates of infections, cancers, birth defects and mortality among children less than five in the areas where the United States has used it as a weapon of war (Al-Ali, pg.18).

 So how do we uncover the truth? What sources do we choose to trust?

On Tuesday, October 25, our CPT delegation assisted in hosting a panel on Depleted Uranium munitions at East Tennessee State University, where individuals spoke from various angles about its production, use in war zones, health consequences on veterans and civilians, and lack of oversight. About 100 people were in attendance, mostly students, but some members of the public were peppered throughout the crowd as well. One 51 year old man announced that he had just this week received his medical compensation from Agent Orange exposure during Vietnam, 30 years after exposure!

We on this CPT Delegation all hope that veterans and civilians suffering from DU inhalation and exposure will not need to wait in illness and uncertainty as long as this Vietnam veteran. We are already at the 20 year mark since the first Gulf War. What will it take for the truth to be uncovered, made clear, and for civilian and veteran survivors to receive some sort of acknowledgement for their loss? When will DU producers and those ordering its use in war zones be transparent about the extent of its use and its consequences?

 This Delegation has been formed out of these challenging and bold questions. The goal of ending the use and production of Depleted Uranium for war will certainly require continued careful discernment, sincere investigation, inviting all players to the table, and encouraging everyone involved, even the small communities of rural Appalachia in east Tennessee to “speak the Truth to power”.

Submitted by Lizz Schallert on October 29, 2011 

 Resources:

Al-Ali, Jawad K. H. “Cancer research, funding and obstacles.” The Human Cost of Uranium Weapons. Comp. International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons. The Greens/ European Free Alliance. 2007

Johnson, H. Is the Pentagon Giving our Soldiers Cancer? Rolling Stone, 2 Oct. 2003. Web. 26 Oct. 2011. <www.noduhawaii.com/DU _Rolling_Stone.html>