Sunday, May 10, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Army adds uranium hazard to soldiers' guide to survival

Wednesday, September 23, 1998
Written by Kathleen Sullivan, Associated Press

Army adds uranium hazard to soldiers' guide to survival

The "smart book," which offers battlefield survival tips, now will have a section on the hazards of depleted uranium. The toxic substance is used in bombs that can pierce tank armor.

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In a move applauded by Persian Gulf war veterans, the Pentagon has announced plans to add information about the hazards of depleted uranium explosions to its "smart book," the manual issued to all soldiers during basic training.

The book, formally known as the Common Tasks Training manual, lists about 40 duties soldiers must master -- how to dig a foxhole, read a compass, administer first aid, survive in hot and cold weather.

Soldiers call it the "smart book" because failing to heed its directives can lead to fatal mistakes on the battlefield.

When the revised manual is issued this year, it also will tell soldiers how to protect themselves from the hazards linked to depleted uranium ammunition, which is made of a heavy metal that is radioactive, said Lt. Col. Charles Kelsey, who serves on the faculty of the Pentagon's medical school in Bethesda, Md.

During a recent interview at the third annual Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Conference in Arlington, Va., Kelsey said the manual will address the hazards of depleted uranium and other radioactive substances.

Kelsey said the hazards posed by depleted uranium were "pretty minor" compared with other battlefield dangers.

But Paul Sullivan, executive director of the national Gulf War Resource Center, which sponsored the conference, hailed the Pentagon's move as a victory for today's soldiers.

In recent years the group, a coalition of veterans' rights organizations across the country, has pressured the Pentagon to train soldiers about the hazards of depleted uranium exposure.

"We want to learn from the mistakes of the past," Sullivan said.

Now, many veterans are fighting for medical care and compensation for ailments they believe are linked to depleted uranium exposure.

In January, the Pentagon said thousands of soldiers may have been exposed to depleted uranium. Veterans groups say as many as 400,000 may have been exposed.

The explosions, the Pentagon said, created an estimated 630,000 pounds of depleted uranium dust and debris.

Anthony Hardie, 30, a gulf war veteran attending the conference, said depleted uranium was one of many toxic substances soldiers were exposed to in the fighting.

"What happened to us should never again happen," he said. "It's important that we protect our current force in the gulf and in the service.

"The manual fits in the cargo pocket of battle dress uniform pants," said Hardie, who served in the Persian Gulf and Somalia, and is president of the Gulf War Veterans of Wisconsin. "You carry it with you everywhere."

The depleted uranium ammunition, which was fired by U.S. tanks and aircraft, was used for the first time in combat in the gulf war. It ignites on impact and blasts holes through tanks. Many nations have since added it to their arsenals.

Depleted uranium explosion hazards

* The Pentagon has admitted that soldiers sent to the Persian Gulf war were not told that inhaling, ingesting or absorbing the hazardous residue created by a depleted uranium explosion could cause cancer, or respiratory, kidney and skin disorders.

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