TAB G - DU Exposures in the Gulf

Gulf War personnel were exposed to DU in a number of ways. Some US combat vehicles were mistakenly destroyed or damaged by US tanks using DU sabot rounds. Personnel worked inside US vehicles contaminated with DU fragments and particles. Several accidental tank fires and an ammunition explosion/fire at Camp Doha, Kuwait, resulted in DU rounds being burned, oxidized, or fragmented, which created a potential exposure hazard to troops operating in the vicinity. Other troops entered Iraqi armor disabled by DU. Determining the medical consequences of these exposures, if any, requires a systematic, scientifically sound evaluation. The exposure scenarios observed during ODS/DS and in months following, were categorized into three levels based on the activities of the soldiers involved, and the resulting potential for direct contact with DU. These three exposure levels provided a prioritized approach to describing and evaluating the potential exposures that occurred:

Level I - Soldiers in or near combat vehicles at the time these vehicles were struck by DU penetrators, or who entered vehicles immediately after they were struck by DU munitions. These soldiers could have been struck by DU fragments, inhaled DU aerosols, ingested DU residues, or had DU particles land on open wounds, burns, or other breaks in their skin.

Level II - Soldiers and a small number of DoD civilian employees who worked in and around vehicles containing DU fragments and particles (mostly friendly fire wrecks). These soldiers may have inhaled DU residues stirred up (resuspended) during their activities on or inside the vehicles, transferred DU from hand to mouth, thus ingesting it, or spread contamination on their clothing. Soldiers who were involved in cleaning up DU residues remaining on Camp Doha’s North Compound after the July 11, 1991, explosion and fires are also included in this group.

Level III - An "all others" group whose exposures were largely incidental (fleeting). This group includes individuals who entered DU-contaminated Iraqi equipment, troops downwind from burning Iraqi or US equipment struck by DU rounds, or downwind from burning DU ammunition, such as soldiers at Doha during the July 11 fire. While these individuals could have inhaled airborne DU particles, the possibility of receiving an intake high enough to cause health effects is extremely remote.

As research progressed, 13 categories of possible DU exposure were identified and classified within the three levels as shown in Table 1. These categories are described below.

A. Level I Participants

Eight friendly fire incidents involving DU munitions are known to have occurred during the Gulf War. These incidents (distinct from non-DU friendly fire incidents or cases where friendly vehicles were evacuated and then deliberately destroyed to prevent their capture) resulted in the contamination of six M1/M1A1 tanks and 15 Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Another M1A1 was hit by a large shaped-charge round, believed to be a Hellfire missile fired from an Apache helicopter, that ignited an on-board fire. This incident is described in the "Tank Fires" section. Darkness and low visibility caused by heavy rains, sandstorms, etc., were major contributing factors in all of these incidents.[85]

Figure 22. M1A1 Lost to Friendly Fire

In most cases, owing to battlefield confusion, soldiers manning the targeted vehicles initially believed that the Iraqis had fired the shots that penetrated their armor. The distinctive radioactive trace DU leaves on the entrance and exit holes allowed a team of battle damage assessment experts to determine (after the fact) which vehicles had been hit by DU sabot rounds fired from Abrams tanks. After-action investigations and word-of-mouth reporting among the units involved generally resulted in the affected soldiers learning that they had been victims of friendly fire. Not all of these soldiers, however, were aware of the potential health effects associated with DU. Therefore, the investigation of friendly fire incidents is being accompanied by an effort to identify, locate, and contact all surviving soldiers who were in or on vehicles at the time they were penetrated by DU rounds.

Level I soldiers, injured or not, were in or around combat vehicles at the time they were struck by DU sabots, or immediately afterward. Besides the embedded fragments from wounds, these individuals may have inhaled DU aerosols generated by fires or by the impact of the DU projectile penetrating the target. The following discussion describes the circumstances under which Level I soldiers were mistakenly targeted by US tank crews.

As the "spearpoint" of the ground campaign, US armored crews were often forced to make very rapid "friend or foe" decisions, where failure to engage could allow enemy gunners to take a fatal shot. Invariably, given the swirling meeting engagements and close-in fights that erupted between friendly and enemy units, tragic misidentifications occurred. A total of 21 US combat vehicles (6 Abrams tanks and 15 Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles or Cavalry Scout vehicles) were struck by 120mm DU sabot rounds fired from US M1A1 tanks. Some of these vehicles were struck once, others, several times. Based on typical manning configurations for the Abrams tanks and Bradleys[86] as well as information gathered from veterans, an estimated 113 soldiers were on board these combat vehicles at the time that they were struck by DU penetrators. Actual manning at the time of the friendly fire incidents varied, since crewmembers and dismount infantry often left the vehicle, or vehicles picked up the occupants of disabled vehicles. Table 6 lists the individual systems struck by DU and their estimated manning. Reports have suggested that at least one vehicle was struck initially by enemy fire, evacuated, and subsequently struck by a DU round. If these reports are verified, the numbers reported in Table 6 may go down.

Table 6. Summary of US Vehicles Hit by DU Tank Rounds

Army Unit Vehicle Type Bumper Numbers Estimated Soldiers Onboard
4-7 Cavalry Bradley A-24, A-31, & A-22

15

1-37 Armor Abrams C-12

4

1-41 Infantry Bradley B-21, B-26, B-33, D-21 & D-26

30

3-66 Armor Abrams B-66, B-22, A-14, A-31 & A-33

20

3-15 Infantry Bradley C-11, C-22 & C-23

25

4-66 Armor Bradley HQ-55 & HQ-54

9

1-34 Infantry Bradley HQ-232

5

2-2 Cavalry Bradley G-14

5

   

Total

113

Level I participants are separated into two categories: soldiers who were in or on combat vehicles at the time they were struck by DU rounds, and soldiers who entered those vehicles immediately afterwards to rescue wounded comrades. Since the former are believed to have incurred the highest risk from embedded DU fragments and/or inhalation of the DU aerosols resulting from penetrator impact, this group will be discussed first.

1. Soldiers in Vehicle on Impact

Armor crewmen and the "dismounted" infantry transported in Bradley Fighting Vehicles supplied the offensive striking power for Operation Desert Storm. The highly mechanized US armored and mechanized infantry units counted on the speed, mobility, and firepower of their Bradleys and Abrams to maintain a rapid rate of advance while engaging and neutralizing enemy formations standing between Coalition troops and their objectives.

2. Soldiers Entering Vehicles Immediately After Impact

Friendly fire incidents were usually witnessed by other US soldiers who in most cases served in the same platoon or company as the struck combat vehicle. Typically these troops would rush to the aid of the stricken vehicle’s occupants to perform emergency first aid and rescue operations. The responding troops often entered damaged or destroyed vehicles moments after they had been hit, raising concerns that they may have been exposed to DU residues or oxides still airborne from impacts, or stirred up by the activities of survivors and rescuers inside and outside the vehicles. An estimated 30-60 soldiers are currently believed to be included in this category.

B. Level II Participants

This category includes soldiers who worked in and around DU-contaminated vehicles (mostly friendly fire wrecks). It also includes personnel who took part in the cleanup of DU contamination from the motor pool pads at Camp Doha, Kuwait, after several hundred rounds of DU sabot ammunition were detonated or burned in an explosion and fire on July 11, 1991.

Table 7. DU Contaminated Vehicles

Reason for Contamination Abrams Bradleys
Accidental Friendly Fire 6 15
Intentional Friendly Fire 3 0
Tank Fire Caused by Hellfire 1 0
Accidental Tank Fires 3 0
Tanks Burned in Doha Fire 3 0
Total 16 15

A total of 16 Abrams and 15 Bradleys (Table 7) were contaminated with DU in the Gulf during 1990-1991. In addition to the accidental friendly fire vehicles mentioned earlier, three bogged-down Abrams were deliberately destroyed by other US tanks (after their crews had evacuated) to prevent them from falling into Iraqi hands. The Level II group also includes personnel whose maintenance or salvage duties required them to frequently enter and exit, or spend extended periods of time working in, contaminated vehicles. Finally, soldiers who cleaned up DU residues or spent penetrators inside Camp Doha’s North Compound following the July 1991 ammunition supply point explosion/fire, fall under this classification.

1. Downloading Munitions

Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) personnel entered DU-contaminated vehicles. This group should have been aware of DU hazards. EOD personnel were trained and equipped to operate in a nuclear as well as DU-contaminated environment. Unfortunately, the EOD troops may not have been aware in every case that the vehicles they were working in had been struck by DU. The exposure of EOD personnel remains under investigation by this office.

2. Inspection and Maintenance Operations

A number of individuals entered US equipment contaminated with DU within hours or days of penetrator impact. Unit personnel usually entered destroyed or damaged systems to recover sensitive equipment or to salvage undamaged system components. These individuals were not only potentially exposed to DU dust, but also may have inadvertently spread parts and equipment containing trace amounts of DU to other vehicles. One member of the Battle Damage Assessment Team said that more that 27 major components had been removed from the first four Bradleys he inspected (three of the Bradleys were considered contaminated with DU).[87] Investigators are currently compiling a list of maintenance soldiers who entered contaminated tanks or Bradleys. At least one or two maintenance personnel are believed to have entered each contaminated vehicle.

3. Logistics Assistance Representatives (LARs)

In addition to unit maintenance personnel, a number of LARs (Logistics Assistance Representatives) also entered damaged or destroyed vehicles. Civilian systems experts deployed to the Gulf Theater on behalf of the Department of the Army. These personnel were often called upon to determine the disposition of knocked-out equipment. Because the LARs had more direct communication with the Army Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM), they were more aware of DU hazards and the proper procedures for mitigating those hazards. A December 20, 1990, message to the LARs advised them on the proper assessment, repair and recovery techniques:

The number of personnel who take part in the vehicle recovery should be kept to an absolute minimum. They are to be dressed in protective coveralls, gloves, rubberized boots, and they are to also wear the M25 or M17A2 protective mask with M13A2 filter element and the accompanying head covers (i.e., Mission Oriented Protective Posture [MOPP] level 4). The coverall pant legs are to be worn over the rubber boots and sealed with tape at the ankles. Likewise, the sleeves are to be slipped over the gloves and taped. The edges of the hood are to be draped over the coveralls and taped to them and the place where it contacts the respirator. Also, any remaining openings are to be sealed with tape.[88]

Despite this guidance, at least one LAR has stated that he entered contaminated systems in a tee shirt and without a respirator.[89] When interviewed, the deputy to the officer in charge of M1-series tank LARs stated that, despite warning messages that highlighted the potential exposure risks to DU, he had received numerous reports after the war of his LAR personnel entering damaged Abrams tanks without proper protective equipment.[90] Efforts are continuing to identify, interview, and assess the DU exposure potential of these LARs.

4. Battle Damage Assessment Teams

A group from the US Army Ballistics Research Laboratory (BRL) at Aberdeen, Maryland, conducted battle damage assessments on damaged or destroyed US ground combat vehicles. This 12-man BDAT (Battle Damage Assessment Team) looked at damaged and destroyed US combat vehicles to determine how they had been knocked out, what damage had been sustained, the type of weapon/munition used, the effectiveness of survivability features, etc. These close, in-depth inspections entailed frequent entry into disabled, often DU-contaminated vehicles. The BDAT Team was trained in proper handling procedures and safeguards for DU-damaged equipment.[91] Some members of the BDAT followed the prescribed precautions and only entered DU-contaminated tanks after donning yellow radiation suits including surgical masks, gloves, and boots. Other members were not as rigorous in taking protective measures. Assessments typically took between six and eight hours to complete.[92] The BDAT arrived in the Gulf on or about January 21, 1991, and were attached to combat elements prior to the ground war. Because the BDAT personnel had more technical expertise with DU than most soldiers, they were sometimes called in to help evaluate potential crew and equipment radiation contamination and to assist in friendly fire investigations.

5. Processing Damaged Equipment

Disabled or destroyed US combat vehicles were transported to King Khalid Military City (KKMC), the central receiving and storage site for all damaged/destroyed US combat vehicles (and many Iraqi "trophy tanks"). The 144th Service and Supply Company, a National Guard unit from New Jersey, was tasked to assess battle damage and prepare the vehicles for shipment back to the US. Although their mission did not include maintenance or repair, members of the 144th have indicated that they periodically re-entered the contaminated vehicles to cannibalize equipment for other units.[93] The 144th personnel were not familiar with proper procedures for handling DU-contaminated M1-series tanks or Bradleys. Because their original mission did not involve tanks with DU armor, the unit did not have any copies of Army Technical Bulletin (TB) 9-1300-278[94] that contained guidance for handling DU-contaminated M1 tanks.[95]

The 144th worked on DU-contaminated equipment without taking any precautions (e.g., wearing dust masks). They reportedly had no knowledge that some of the damaged equipment was contaminated with DU until after March 11, 1991. In many cases, contaminated equipment was interspersed with uncontaminated vehicles. Until the arrival of a radiation control (RADCON) team from the Armament Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM), access to the equipment was not controlled. As many as 27 soldiers in the 144th worked in or around damaged Bradleys and Abrams without protective gear for an undetermined period of time.[96] Although the BDAT commander stated that he informed personnel from the unit about the hazard from contaminated vehicles on or about March 11, 1991, various members of the 144th have questioned the date they were actually notified, and stated that they continued to enter contaminated equipment after this date.[97] The exact date will probably never be confirmed due to the intervening time period and lack of documentation.

6. Radiation Control Activities

After completing their initial battlefield assessments, the Battle Damage Assessment Team went to KKMC on March 11, 1991, to see if any equipment they had missed had been evacuated to the vehicle collection point, which was being managed by the 144th Service and Supply Company. Finding many DU- contaminated vehicles at KKMC, the BDAT requested on-site AMCCOM personnel to arrange for an AMCCOM radiation control (RADCON) team to be sent to KKMC.[98]

AMCCOM deployed RADCON teams to identify, assess, and respond to incidents involving DU contamination. RADCON teams performed their duties primarily at King Khalid Military City (KKMC) and at Camp Doha, although limited excursions to other locations occurred.

On March 24, 1991, a RADCON team of health physicists from AMCCOM arrived to assume responsibility for identifying, collecting, and surveying DU-contaminated equipment.[99] Much of this equipment was already at KKMC. The AMCCOM RADCON team segregated the DU-contaminated vehicles, set up a guarded perimeter to restrict access, and instructed 144th personnel in the proper handling of DU. The team examined the vehicles at the site and concluded that their DU radiological and chemical contamination levels, while low, required basic protective equipment, such as surgical gloves and dust masks, and strict personal hygiene measures.[100] Their work, completed around April 12, 1991, cleared the way for contract personnel to inspect, decontaminate, package, and retrograde the contaminated systems to the US.[101] In all, 15 Bradleys and 10 Abrams at KKMC were contaminated with DU. Some merely had DU "splatter" and could be returned to duty after decontamination. Others had to be sealed to contain the contaminant, then shipped to the US for final processing and disposal.[102]

The AMCCOM personnel also surveyed captured Iraqi equipment being prepared for shipment to the US. According to the person in charge of the survey operation, the most acute radiological hazard on these Soviet-built tanks was radium used in their gauges, which were often leaking. These gauges had to be removed prior to shipping. One T-72 tank had substantial internal and external DU contamination.[103] It was not shipped, but its ultimate fate is unknown.[104]

An AMCCOM recovery team deployed to Camp Doha, Kuwait, from July 19 until early August 1991. The team did a radiological survey in and around four M1A1 tanks that were damaged or destroyed in the July 11 fire. After determining that three of the tanks contained low-level contamination, the AMCCOM team did an initial decontamination of their exteriors and prepared them for shipment to the port of Dammam. A sizeable quantity of spent DU penetrators and fragments were also collected from the 2nd Squadron motor pool pad, and deposited in the tanks’ interiors, which were then sealed. On August 6 the tanks were shipped from Dammam and returned to the US for processing at the Defense Consolidation Facility at Snelling, SC.[105]

On July 24, a RADCON Emergency Response Team from the US Army’s Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) Safety Office at Ft. Monmouth, NJ, arrived at Camp Doha.[106] The CECOM team was headed by the Project Director for the US Army Radiological Control Team. The team conducted what one member called a "site characterization survey."[107] This was not a grid-by-grid survey, but rather a more general survey, mostly in and around the motor pool. Nevertheless, the CECOM team was able to survey and clear an estimated two acres of the motor pool (which was the size of several football fields).[108,109]

Investigators have interviewed several members of the AMCCOM and CECOM RADCON teams. All interviewed used some form of personal protection, although only about half routinely used respiratory protection while working in and around contaminated vehicles.[110] Based on studies done before the war, the likelihood of stirring up DU dust was thought to be negligible. All team members interviewed said that they were careful to survey each other with a RADIAC meter at the end of each work day to ensure that they were not tracking DU residues away from the taped-off portion of the 2nd Squadron motor pool pad. Ten to twelve personnel performed radiation control activities at one time or another. Investigators from the Office of the Special Assistant are continuing their efforts to locate and interview these personnel.

7. Camp Doha Cleanup Activities

A July 11, 1991 fire in Camp Doha’s motor pool complex (the North Compound) destroyed or damaged tons of ammunition as well as 20-30 combat loaded vehicles and dozens of trucks and other support vehicles and equipment. One M1A1 tank was damaged and three destroyed in the fire. The three destroyed tanks were also contaminated since their "combat load" of DU rounds (an estimated 37 M829 sabot rounds per tank) had cooked off. In addition to the estimated 111 rounds in the tanks, more than 500 M829 rounds stored in nearby conexes (metal shipping containers) were also damaged or destroyed. Most of these rounds had detonated, leaving behind a scorched, exposed DU penetrator rod. In most cases these exposed rods showed little oxidization; however, a number were oxidized or fragmented to various degrees.

Within the North Compound, almost all of the DU penetrators, fragments, and oxides were concentrated in the 2nd Squadron motor pool and wash rack area. Between July 14-23, an EOD detachment and a company of Combat Engineers cleared approximately 1/3 of the 2nd Squadron motor pool. While the area with the heaviest concentration of DU—the burned M1A1s—was cleaned up by AMCCOM and CECOM personnel, the surrounding motor pool pads may have contained residual DU. In addition, many exposed or "spent" DU penetrators were scattered and in some cases partially burned in and around the MILVANS or conex containers.[111] As sections of the concrete pad were cleared of unexploded ordnance and DU, regular troops were brought in to do a final cleanup using brooms and other hand tools. These soldiers could have inhaled or ingested residual DU stirred up by sweeping, and could also have picked up DU fragments.[112]

A more comprehensive discussion of the Camp Doha Explosion and fires and the cleanup and recovery operations can be found in Tab I.

D. Level III Participants

This group comprises "all others." It includes soldiers downwind of burning DU-contaminated equipment, exposed to smoke or resuspended particles from burning or burned (oxidized) DU, and personnel who entered DU-contaminated Iraqi equipment. It also includes personnel who were present at Camp Doha during and after the motor pool fire, but who did not take part in cleaning operations in the North Compound. Based on existing research, this entire group probably received minimal exposures.

1. Camp Doha

This group consists of individuals who were at Camp Doha during the fire and subsequent cleanup activities, but were not directly involved in the sweeping operations or with picking up spent DU penetrators, fragments, or oxides in the North Compound. Individuals in the North Compound when the fire and initial explosions started are also included in this group. An M992 ammunition carrier loaded with non-DU 155mm shells burned for approximately 30 minutes before the explosions started, giving most soldiers time to evacuate the immediate area. Cleanup activities in the South Compound are included in Level III because all of the known DU contaminant remained in the North Compound, except for a number of penetrators transported to an off-base trash dump.

2. Tank Fires

During Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield (ODS/DS), three accidental tank fires caused onboard DU munitions to "cook off" (detonate). In addition, a large shaped charge weapon, most likely a Hellfire missile fired from an Army Apache helicopter, struck an Abrams, setting it on fire. In all of these incidents, the crews escaped without injury. Some individuals, however, may have been exposed to DU aerosols from these fires, or to DU oxides or residues stirred up during clean up or equipment salvage operations. Individuals who were potentially exposed to fumes from the fires and related incidental contact with DU are included in this category. Those who performed cleanup, equipment processing, and similar activities are included in the appropriate categories of Level II. Tab J contains an incident-by-incident account reflecting our current knowledge of these incidents.

3. Entering DU-Contaminated Iraqi or Coalition Equipment

This is believed to be one of the largest groups of people potentially exposed to DU. US troops often entered destroyed Iraqi armor out of curiosity or to collect souvenirs, despite express warnings against this practice from AMCCOM and other environmental health agencies. The 7th Corps Deployment After Action Report said:

War trophy hunting became a problem. Many soldiers and leaders did not recognize the hazards in war trophy hunting. Booby traps, radiation [sic, i.e., radioactive] contamination from depleted uranium, and unexploded ordnance combined to make this practice dangerous. In addition, units wanted to take home pieces of enemy equipment. This equipment can have gauges and other items that contain radium-226. We also found some Iraqi tanks with asbestos blankets. We never thought we would have to worry about the occupational health considerations of enemy equipment.[113]

A March 11, 1991 message stipulating the Army requirements for captured Iraqi vehicles warned that "many of these captured vehicles pose a radiation hazard, either because devices on the vehicles do not meet US safety standards, or because of damage or destruction by depleted uranium munitions."[114]

Many soldiers had legitimate operational requirements to enter Iraqi equipment, such as checking for survivors, completing the destruction of the vehicles, or looking for items of intelligence value. Exposures of individuals searching enemy equipment would depend on their activity level inside the vehicle (how much dust they stirred up), as well as the time spent inside the vehicle.

Radioactive items in various foreign vehicles are typically sealed sources contained in chemical agent detectors, radiation monitors, and radiation instrument sources. Instrument dials painted with luminous paints containing radium, tritium, or promethium are noted exceptions to this rule. However, these radioactive materials are normally in very small quantities and would not present a hazard unless the source was damaged. Examples of radioactive sources in Iraq’s Soviet-made equipment include the following:[115]

4. Exposure to Smoke from Equipment Struck by DU

US personnel often operated in close proximity to burning enemy equipment knocked out by DU rounds. These exposures could be fleeting, such as driving past burning wrecks, or longer-term, such as extended operations near sites where multiple enemy vehicles had been set afire by DU rounds. A large number of US troops fall into this category.

E. Other Activities Under Investigation But Not Yet Categorized

The Office of the Special Assistant is often contacted by veterans who wish to report incidents that they believe could have exposed them to DU contamination. The incidents they describe are often relatively isolated or unique events, and the available information is incomplete or unsubstantiated. Each of these reports is investigated and analyzed, but in the following cases the Office of the Special Assistant does not have enough information to conclusively determine that DU exposures did or did not occur. Hence, they remain uncategorized and under investigation. The following cases fit this description.

1. Welders

Several members of the Alabama-based 900th Maintenance Company, Army National Guard, deployed to the Saudi port of Dammam to support an upgrade program for M1 tanks. This refit operation was implemented to bring earlier-model M1-series tanks to a more survivable M1A1 standard. Part of the upgrade involved welding armor panels (approximately an inch thick) to the frontal turret armor of the Abrams tanks. Some of the welders involved in the refit operations told OSAGWI investigators that they had been told the armor panels were DU.[116, 117, 118] In addition, two former members of a New Equipment Training Team offered similar accounts, with one saying that he had seen radiation warning symbols on the panels, which he described as machined, solid slabs of DU that were much heavier than steel.[119,120]

Other personnel, including fellow welders and senior personnel involved in the refit program, have contradicted these accounts. The Program Manager for Ground Systems Integration in Warren, Michigan, indicates that he had no knowledge of any such activity.[121] A retired Colonel, interviewed on August 7, 1997, stated that there were a few dozen workers welding inch RHS plates on the left and right glacis (the part of the turret to the right and left of the main gun) of M1 tanks in Dammam. He also said that he was involved in ordering the plates and knows they were not DU.[122] The production manager at Dammam likewise insists that the plates were RHS. He says that the RHS plates were shipped to him directly from the contractor by airfreight.[123] Fellow welders and unit members who worked alongside the individuals reporting the panels as DU recalled the add-on armor being either steel or titanium. The belief that the panels were DU may have originated with informal remarks by civilian co-workers that the M1A1 tanks contained DU armor (factory-sealed inside the turret armor, not retrofitted later). A welding supervisor noted that that when he and other welders were preparing to leave the Gulf Theater in March 1991, they were told their medical records would be annotated to reflect the fact that they had worked around depleted uranium armor.[124, 125, 126] ,, This may have contributed to the belief that the add-on armor was DU. A metalurgist who participated in research and development efforts that led to the decision to put additional armor protection on the front glacis of some of the Abrams vehicles recalled that the Abram’s manufacturer, General Dynamics, had fabricated the armor from steel plate. Asked to comment on the feasibility of welding the pyrophoric DU onto regular armor, he said, "Metallurgically, welding a uranium plate to steel would be a disaster." After giving a technical explanation for his remark, he concluded: "Bottom line is that no welding engineer, metallurgist, vehicle designer, or armor designer would ever want a DU plate welded to the vehicle."[127] Although this allegation remains under investigation, the initial assessment is that DU was not involved.

2. Reported Ammo Truck Explosion

A veteran reported seeing a US ammunition truck explode in the area of the 1st Infantry Division on the third or fourth day of the ground war. The incident reportedly occurred about 75 to 100 miles northwest of Hafar Al Batin and was witnessed from a distance of 1 to 2 kilometers. According to the veteran, a mixed load of high explosive and DU rounds exploded. He reported finding blue sheaths on the ground which he believed (erroneously) to be characteristic of DU rounds.[128]

Other soldiers in the platoon also recall the incident but thought the vehicle was carrying artillery rounds[129] or powder bags for 155mm artillery rounds.[130] The veteran’s platoon leader remembers hearing that the vehicle’s brakes caught on fire and the driver, unable to extinguish the flames, drove the truck off Main Supply Route (MSR) Blue into the desert to reduce the hazard to other soldiers. After the explosion there was nothing left but the engine block.[131] A munitions expert at Picatinny Arsenal stated that the color blue is not indicative of DU munitions, but rather is associated with training rounds.[132]

The theater ammunition officer was unaware of any truckload of DU, which blew up during the war. He is fairly certain he would have heard of it if it had happened.[133] Civilian ammunition experts[134] in theater, including one from the 2nd Corps Support Command, that was responsible for transportation in the area, had no knowledge of a load of DU munitions exploding.[135] An officer commanding an ordnance storage area in the vicinity of the explosion recalled seeing the explosion at around 3 AM. He later heard that a truck’s brakes had gotten stuck and caught on fire and caused a trailer load of artillery rounds to explode.[136] The former battalion commander of the 101st Ordnance Battalion confirmed this story.[137]

Information regarding this incident is still being sought.

Figure 23. Crashed A-10 at KKMC

3. Airmen Responding to A-10 Crash

An A-10 aircraft reportedly crashed and burned while trying to recover at KKMC.[138] The crash could have exposed emergency response personnel (firefighters, security policemen, rescue personnel) to smoke and DU oxides from burning 30mm DU rounds carried as part of the A-10’s combat ammunition load. In addition, cleanup crews might have been exposed as well, if they did not wear proper personal protective equipment. This case is under investigation.

4. "Hot Gun" response for A-10 Aircraft

30mm DU rounds sometimes misfired in the A-10’s GAU-8 cannon. These "hangfires" would have to be cleared and removed from the gun barrel, potentially exposing ground crews to airborne DU.[139] This office is still investigating these incidents.


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