Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis
Troops 'may face Gulf syndrome'
Depleted uranium in spent Nato shells could pose threat to peacekeepers and civilians, British expert warns
Sarah Hall and Colin Shaw
Guardian (London) Saturday July 3, 1999
Up to 50,000 K-For troops could be struck by a "Kosovo syndrome" similar to the illness which blighted veterans in the Gulf war, a senior environmentalist warned last night.
Kent Cassels, head of training and education at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, will visit the Balkans next month to assess the environmental damage caused by the crisis, on behalf of the UN Balkans taskforce. He said the use of depleted uranium in Nato cruise missiles, shells and bombs could pose a threat to the peace force.
Depleted uranium (DU), used to harden shells, is said to cause leukaemia, neurocognitive disorders, and liver and kidney damage, and has been linked to the illnesses suffered by veterans of Operation Desert Storm, in which 315 tonnes of it were dropped. Mr Cassels said there was much speculation about the effects on ground troops and civilians of that and other chemicals released by the bombing.
"Is there going to be a 'Kosovo syndrome' because of this pollution?" he asked. "We didn't use chemical or biological warfare, but does blowing up a petrochemical factory or an oil refinery that releases these toxins amount to the same thing? Does destroying troops here, there and yonder with depleted uranium weapons pose a delayed 'friendly fire' danger to our own troops, let alone the locals?" He said the full health implications would not be known for "quite some time", since the toxins would work their way through the food chain.
But for the first time the effect of such warfare could be thoroughly assessed since, in contrast to the Gulf conflict, experts working for the Balkans taskforce had access to the area.
"We used similar weaponry during the Gulf war, but we don't have free access to southern Iraq," he said. "All we get are incidental and second-hand stories about the rising incidence of leukaemia and the rising number of birth defects. People are yelling and screaming that this is the fault of depleted uranium used in weapons but we can't study what happened in Iraq. Now we can - now we've got the ground in the Balkans."
Tony Blair said in the Commons last month that DU-based ammunition had not been used by British forces since the Gulf war, but the defence secretary, George Robinson, said he had "approved the deployment of some depleted uranium tank ammunition to ensure that British troops would have the most effective means for self-protection, if it were required"
He confirmed that US forces had used it in the air campaign. The so-called Gulf war syndrome is controversial: the government refuses to recognise it since no single cause or illness has been found. The symptoms reported by some 5,000 military personnel range from severe fatigue, double vision and headaches to urinary and sexual problems. The cocktail of inoculations administered to troops and the use of biological and chemical warfare have been blamed, but so has exposure to depleted uranium.
Last year an American nuclear physicist said up to 90,000 British services personnel in the area might have been poisoned by DU. Asaf Durakovic, professor of radiology and nuclear medicine at Georgetown university, Washington, said one medic had at least 100 times the naturally occurring level. Six other troops were then tested and found to be suffering from DU poisoning, even though two of them had not been closer than 16 miles to the frontline.
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