TAB I - The Camp Doha Explosion/Fires (July 1991)


In June, 1991, four months after Operation Desert Storm had ended, the US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) deployed from Germany to occupy Camp Doha, near Kuwait City, to serve as a deterrent/rapid response force (Figure 26). The 11th ACR, with about 3,600 personnel, had not taken part in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. As of July 1991, the regiment was the only US ground combat unit remaining in the Gulf Theater.[189] It replaced the 1st Brigade of the US Army’s 3rd Armor Division[190] , the last US unit to have engaged in ground combat during Desert Storm.[191] Due to the threat of renewed hostilities, the 11th ACR’s combat vehicles were kept "combat loaded" with ammunition, even in garrison, to reduce their response time in case of renewed hostilities with Iraq. An equal amount of ammunition was stored in MILVANS containers or conexes (large 20-foot or 40-foot metal transport containers) stored in the North Compound motor pool complex near the combat vehicle parking ramps.[192]

Figure 26. Camp Doha Location

On the morning of July 11, 1991, two of the 11th ACR’s three combat formations, called squadrons, were field-deployed, leaving behind a single squadron (plus support elements) to serve as a guard force.[193] This squadron was parked in Camp Doha’s North Compound, a fenced-off area comprising several motor pool pads, each the size of two or three football fields, as well as some administrative buildings and a wash rack (Figure 27).[194] Also located in the area was a compound where approximately 250 British soldiers, mainly from the Royal Anglian Regiment and Headquarters British Forces Middle East, were present on the morning of the fire.[195]

Figure 27. Camp Doha Diagram

At approximately 10:20 A.M, a defective heater in a M992 ammunition carrier loaded with 155mm artillery shells caught on fire. Unit members tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire before being ordered to evacuate the North Compound. This evacuation was still underway when the burning M992 exploded at 11:00 AM, scattering artillery submunitions (bomblets) over nearby combat-loaded vehicles and ammunition stocks. This set off an hours-long series of blasts and fires that devastated the vehicles and equipment in the North Compound and scattered unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and debris over much of the remainder of the camp.[196] The fires produced billowing black and white clouds of smoke that rose hundreds of feet into the air and drifted to the east-southeast, across portions of both the North and South Compounds, in the direction of Kuwait City.[197]

The fires had died down enough by mid-afternoon to allow a preliminary damage assessment. There were no fatalities; however, 49 US soldiers were injured, two seriously. Most of the injuries were fractures, sprains, contusions, or lacerations suffered when troops scrambled over the 15-foot high perimeter wall to escape the North Compound (Figure 28).[198] In addition, four British troops received minor injuries.

Figure 28. 11th ACR Troops Evacuate Doha's North Compound, July 11, 1991.

The post-blast destruction was overwhelming. One hundred and two vehicles were damaged or destroyed, including four M1A1 tanks and numerous other combat vehicles. More than two dozen buildings sustained damage as well.[199] Among the estimated $14 million in munitions that had been damaged or destroyed were 660 M829 120mm DU sabot rounds.[200]

Figure 29. Aftermath of Doha Motor Pool Fire (View of Washrack Area) Showing Armor Hulks and UXOs

Initial Recovery Efforts

Given Iraq’s proximity, still-formidable striking power, and belligerence, rebuilding the 11th ACR’s shattered combat potential was a matter of utmost urgency. The Regimental Commander and his staff had to restore basic life support functions (power, running water, sewage, cooking facilities, etc.) and a secure operating area, and then clear the motor pool areas so that serviceable vehicles could be recovered and the unit’s combat readiness reconstituted. In planning recovery operations, the unit leadership viewed unexploded ordnance (UXOs) as by far the most significant, widespread, and deadly hazard. The blasts had deposited huge quantities of live ammunition of every description over the motor pool and in the adjacent life support area (Figure 29).[201, 202] This ordnance was highly unstable, a fact underlined the next day when a British EOD technician entering the North Compound stepped on a live artillery bomblet, seriously injuring his foot.[203]

Figure 30. Burned DU Rod and Sabot

Although concern over UXOs predominated, the 11th ACR leadership was also concerned about possible radiological contamination from depleted uranium rounds that had "cooked off" and burned in the fire.[204, 205] Three M1A1 (HA) tanks in the wash rack area (where the fire started) had been gutted by internal explosions of their mostly DU ammunition loads. Each M1A1 is assumed to have been uploaded with 37 M829 sabot rounds with DU penetrators and 3 non-DU HEAT rounds. In addition to the estimated 111 sabot rounds uploaded on the burned tanks, several hundred other sabot rounds were stored in MILVANS trailers or conexes in the 2nd Squadron motor pool. Some of these had exploded in fires that were of such sustained intensity that steel howitzers and other equipment had melted, making it likely that many DU rounds had been damaged by oxidization in the fires.

It is clear from viewing contemporary logs and other data that the 22nd Support Command (SUPCOM), which supported combat units deployed into the theater, was aware of the potential for DU contamination. Entries from the SUPCOM LOC Sequence of Events (subject: Doha Fire) provide evidence of this awareness, as the following citations indicate:

(CG Card #3-Date-Time Group 11 1200C Jul)

The significance of this message is amplified by a later entry (Card #10) at 2:30 PM (when the fire and explosions had largely subsided) that reads:


It is unclear whom, if anyone, passed this information to the 11th ACR. The former 11th ACR Commander was emphatic in stating that no such warning had ever reached him, and, if it had, he would have responded appropriately.[207] The Regimental Engineer, who directed recovery operations, reacted similarly when asked, on March 10, 1998, about the contents of the logs, and advised of a July 12, 1991 entry in the official diary of the 702nd Transportation Battalion (Provisional), which fell under the 22nd Support Command:

BN dispatches HET, LB, and FB trucks to KKMC to be in positions to support movement of replacement vehicles and ammunition to Doha. Troops are directed to carry protective masks due to possible Alpha particle contamination from depleted uranium rounds, which exploded in the accident area.[208]

The Regimental Engineer pointed out that the 11th ACR’s own gas masks had been placed in storage upon their arrival on the base and were not issued or worn at any point during the cleanup—a directive, annotated in the unit’s deployment orders, that he attributes to ARCENT. He added that he and other members of the unit leadership were directly involved in leading recovery operations in the North Compound.[209] It is illogical to suggest that they would have knowingly subjected themselves and their troops to a clearly identified hazard

Entry 32 of the SUPCOM log states:

1450 hrs (2:50 PM)—ARCENT G-3 called for Chemical Officer to do Downwind Predictions because of DU rounds. Message passed to (a Captain at the Forward Area Support Coordinating Office, or FASCO).[210]

The Chemical Officer referenced in the log is presumably the Nuclear-Biological-Chemical (NBC) Officer on the 11th ACR Commander’s Staff. This officer would have been charged with advising the Commander of any NBC threats, as well as recommending appropriate action. As it happened, the former Regimental NBC officer had left on July 1, 1991, and his replacement did not arrive at Doha until the morning of the fire. Nonetheless, there were also two captains and three senior non-commissioned officers (sergeants) performing Staff NBC functions at the time of the fire. Contacted for this report, the senior NBC officer, a major, had no recollection of receiving specific guidance or direction from higher headquarters (ARCENT or the 22nd Support Command) regarding the potential hazard from DU. He emphasized that the unit-level NBC assets were trained, staffed, and equipped to deal with battlefield radiological hazards, rather than DU contamination, for which detection and remediation requirements are substantially different[211]

SUPCOM LOC Entry 42 (at 3:48 PM) states:

Regiment reports they have no capability to do "Airborne" monitoring. Will check to see if they have AN/PDR-27s. SUPCOM LOC initiating actions to locate "Airborne" capability.[212]

An airborne monitoring capability would have been invaluable in quantifying and documenting the presence or absence of alpha particles in areas downwind of the burned tanks and DU ammunition. However, the 11th ACR’s organic NBC assets were not trained or equipped to monitor for airborne DU.

Although the Regimental leadership had a general awareness that DU could pose a radiological hazard, in the crucial days following the fire they lacked clear and authoritative guidance regarding the radiological characteristics of DU, its chemical toxicity, or methods by which these exposure hazards could be prevented or minimized.

SUPCOM was apparently aware of the regulatory requirement to establish a radiation control perimeter in response to the hazard of oxidized DU. SUPCOM LOC Entry 34 at 1456 hrs (2:56) states: "G-3 notified (a Lieutenant Colonel at FASCO) to start an "Alpha" Damage Assessment, and figure out total complacent area to be cordoned off."[213] Due to the UXO hazard, the North Compound was effectively sealed off for three days after the fire, with entry tightly controlled after that date.[214, 215, 216] The SUPCOM LOC log confirms this with Entry 69, entered in the log on July 11 at 10:00 PM. The entry reads:

(A Captain at FASCO) reported no movement because of FASCAM (artillery delivered mines) for 72 hrs in the area of vehicles per EOD guidance. This means no early recovery of damaged vehicles and no EOD activity for 72 hrs.[217]

Access to the 2nd Squadron motor pool and wash rack (the area holding the contaminated tanks) was even more restricted than for the North Compound in general.[218] No formal radiation control line was established, however, until after July 24, when a RADCON team from the US Army’s Directorate of Safety Risk Management from the Communications and Electronics Command (CECOM) arrived at Doha.[219]

Initial DU Contamination Assessment and Control Efforts

Figure 31. Aftermath of Doha Motor Pool Fire

Because an accident had occurred involving DU munitions and tanks with DU armor, a radiation control (RADCON) response was required in accordance with the Department of the Army Technical Bulletin (TB) 9-1300-278 and related directives. Two agencies, the US Army Armament Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM), based at Rock Island, IL; and the US Army Communications Electronics Command based at Fort Monmouth, NJ, were notified and began preparing RADCON response teams for deployment to Doha. In the first week after the mishap, however, the 11th ACR had to rely primarily on its own resources to initiate cleanup and recovery operations.

On July 12, the day after the blast, the 11th ACR leadership completed a preliminary damage assessment and began formulating plans and establishing priorities for the massive cleanup and recovery operation. The Regiment Commander had three primary assets at his disposal for handling the specialized tasks the cleanup would require. These were:

Since these units provided the first response to the accident, and would continue to play a key role for the duration of the cleanup, a discussion of their roles and activities is in order.

Role and Activities of the 146th Ordnance Detachment (EOD)

Figure 32. EOD Personnel at Doha

The 146th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) had two EOD technicians at Doha on the morning of the blast, and deployed most of its remaining members (approximately 10-12 personnel) from King Khalid Military City (KKMC) and Dhahran, in Saudi Arabia, to Doha over the next two or three days. Their focus was on disarming and removing the huge quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXOs) scattered all over the base by the force of the explosions.

After the initial blast, the North Compound was sealed off for three days because of the threat from delayed-action FASCAM mines that might have armed during the explosions and fire. For two days the EOD team developed a plan of action in coordination with the engineers.[220]

EOD troops were aware of the presence of DU and were familiar with the potential hazard that it posed. More importantly, they were trained and equipped to detect DU contamination. Their initial survey, which was limited due to the quantity of UXOs in the North Compound, found very little DU outside the immediate vicinity of the three destroyed tanks.[221] The standard uniform for UXO clearing was a flak jacket and kevlar helmet, with gloves worn when debris was moved. Because of the extreme heat, only T-shirts were worn under the flak vests. EOD and combat engineer troops (and later, line troops) were not provided with, and did not wear, protective suits, respirators, or dust masks to wear during clearing and cleaning operations.[222]

Figure 33. DU Rods Collected at Doha

Most of the DU rounds at Doha had been uploaded on the tanks, all but three of which had survived the fire intact. A fourth tank suffered minor external damage, but its load of ammunition and fuel had not combusted. Other DU rounds were stored in conex containers in the immediate vicinity of the tanks. The conexes held each platoons' field-deployable ammunition stocks: allocations of 7.62mm, .50 cal., and heavier munitions, including DU.

Post-blast photos show many intact conexes among the burned-out wreckage (Figure 34). The commander of the 146th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) stated that stored ammunition is more stable than is generally believed, and is fairly survivable except when directly exposed to fires, extreme heat, or explosions. Even in the conexes that blew up, typically only a few shells would detonate, scattering the other rounds rather than touching off a massive "sympathetic" detonation. This explains the huge quantity of unexploded ordnance (UXOs) littering the motor pool area.[223] Large numbers of the lightweight FASCAM submunitions had been flung into the South Compound, but the heavier rounds, such as TOW anti-tank missiles (and all of the DU penetrators, evidently) remained in the North Compound.

Figure 34. Surviving Munitions Conex

The cleanup plan for the North Compound involved EOD personnel working together with the 58th Combat Engineering Company to find, mark, render safe, and remove UXOs. The former 146th Ord. Det. (EOD) Commander states that "Engineers didn't pick up any DU unless an EOD guy told them to." EOD marked the DU rounds they found with orange spray paint, painting a circle around the penetrator, and wore leather gloves to pick them up. Exposed DU penetrators were wrapped in heavy plastic and put in wooden boxes or 55-gallon drums. Later, after the AMCCOM Radiation Control team had arrived at Doha, the DU was placed inside one of the destroyed tanks for retrograding and disposal at the Defense Consolidation Facility (DCF), Snelling, SC.[224, 225]

Figure 35. Marked DU Rod and Sabot

Despite the 146th Ord. Det. Commander’s statement, it appears that some Engineer troops, including their commander, picked up DU (generally with leather gloves, but in some cases with bare hands) to allow EOD to concentrate on UXOs.[226]

Most if not all of the DU penetrators recovered in the North Compound were picked up within a 120-meter radius of the three destroyed M1A1s. EOD members contacted for this report believed those rounds came from the nearby conexes, rather than the tanks, since the design of the M1A1s’ blast panels did not allow most of the intact DU rounds to escape.[227]

EOD members viewed the staggering quantities of UXOs they had to contend with as the most grave and immediate threat at Doha. By its nature, explosive ordnance disposal is an extremely dangerous undertaking, and the sheer magnitude of the task facing the 146th Ord Det. at Doha cannot be overstated. These hazards were tragically underscored on July 23, twelve days after the initial blast and fires. Two senior EOD non-commissioned officers and a 58th CEC soldier died instantly in an accidental UXO blast. The fatal mishap had a significant impact on the remainder of the cleanup effort, and, particularly, on the 146th Ordnance Detachment.

Figure 36. UXOs in Doha's North Compound

Between the July 11 fire and the July 23 EOD mishap, the 146th Ordnance Detachment had cleared most of the South Compound and periphery of the North Compound, and about 1/3 of the 2nd Squadron motor pool. After July 23, all personnel were prohibited from entering the North Compound, except for a small area at some distance from the 2nd Squadron motor pool where supply operations and other activities were being conducted. This area had survived the blast/fires more or less unscathed, except for UXOs that were soon cleared.[228] Interviews with EOD, Engineer, and other 11th ACR personnel have indicated that no spent (exposed) DU penetrators, fragments, or residues were found in this location.

Role and Activities of the 54th Chemical Troop

In the immediate aftermath of the July 11 fires and explosions, the task of monitoring for radiological contamination fell on the 54th Chemical Troop, the 11th ACR’s primary asset for responding to nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) hazards. On the morning after the blast, the 54th Chemical Troop conducted initial monitoring for alpha, beta, and gamma radiation of the periphery of the North Compound using Fox chemical and radiological detection vehicles and hand-held radiation detectors.[229, 230]

Figure 37. M93 Fox NBC Vehicle

The M-93 Fox vehicle deployed with the 54th Chemical Troop is a sophisticated chemical weapons detector. Built in Germany and widely regarded as the best chemical detection vehicle in service, it has a secondary capability to detect beta and gamma radiation, with a very limited alpha detection capability. The Foxes had two on-board radiation detectors: the German-made ASG-1 and the US AN/VDR-2. The Reconnaissance Platoon of the 54th Chemical Troop operated and maintained six of the vehicles, with a seventh Fox serving as a "floater" or spare. Each Fox had four crewmen.[231]

The initial radiological monitoring effort was conducted on July 12, the day after the fire, by three Fox vehicles. The 54th Troop Commander and other troop personnel have indicated in recent interviews that their monitoring equipment was fully operational and calibrated. The Foxes conducted radiation surveys around the North Compound’s perimeter and inside the South Compound.[232, 233] The 54th Chemical Troop Commander acknowledged, in a March 1998 meeting with investigators, that while he and his Troop were well-trained to detect battlefield radiation, they had little training or experience with DU and its alpha radiation. However, he had been directed by his superiors to use the Fox vehicles in this role, and so he did.[234] Troop personnel also entered the motor pool area on foot a week after the blast (July 18), using hand-held VDR-2 monitors to check for beta and gamma radiation. These forays produced "negative" readings for radiation.[235]

The former Regimental NBC officer and several former 54th Chemical Troop members, including the Platoon Leader of the 54th Reconnaissance Platoon which operated the Fox vehicles, have indicated some doubts about these initial surveys since they lacked the proper equipment to detect the most widespread contaminant: alpha radiation. Alpha radiation could only be detected at extremely close ranges (an inch or less), with a specialized alpha-detection probe held directly above the suspected contamination. On the other hand, DU also emits beta and gamma radiation in sufficient quantity to detect the presence of visible pieces of DU using common beta/gamma survey instruments. In addition, the Foxes were carrying out operations in the South Compound and around the periphery of the motor pool, where the likelihood of detectable levels of DU contamination was very low. These concerns were voiced to the Regimental Commander.[236] Based on this preliminary assessment and a similar input from the first RADCON responder on the scene, the Regimental Commander directed the Foxes to discontinue their monitoring efforts shortly afterwards.[237]

The 54th Chemical Troop (and the NBC Regimental Staff members at Doha) conducted limited operations inside the North Compound due to the huge quantities of UXO, and collateral efforts by EOD and RADCON personnel. While they did not play a major role in detecting or cleaning up DU alpha particle contamination at Doha, they helped pick up visible DU penetrator rods and fragments.[238]

Role and Activities of the 58th Combat Engineer Company (CEC)

The 58th Combat Engineer Company, the 11th ACR’s organic Engineer element, had the primary responsibility for the cleanup and recovery effort. Working closely with the 146th Ord. Det. (EOD), and later with a contract EOD team, the 58th CEC used its bulldozers and graders to clear heavy debris from the North Compound after EOD personnel had cleared away UXOs and exposed DU penetrators. As such, the 58th CEC represented the largest contingent of personnel who operated in the North Compound during cleanup and recovery operations. Former 146th Ord. Det. (EOD) personnel have stated that 58th CEC troops were given safety briefings prior to entering the North Compound warning them to alert EOD technicians when they found UXOs and DU. For obvious reasons, Engineer Troops avoided UXOs; however, some have stated that they did not recall being briefed on DU, and therefore picked up exposed DU penetrators, which they did not realize were hazardous material.

Figure 38. North Compound

Impact of the Fatal July 23 UXO Mishap

Following the July 23 UXO blast, ARCENT (the 11th ACR’s in-theater higher headquarters) immediately halted cleanup activities in the North Compound while they reassessed the situation at Doha. From that point on, the 146th Ord. Det. (EOD) was effectively sidelined, relegated to providing support to the AMCCOM and CECOM personnel who had arrived on July 19 and July 24, respectively, to decontaminate and retrograde (remove) the contaminated M1A1 tanks.[239, 240]

Due to the magnitude of the UXO contamination, ARCENT brought in the 512th EOD Control Team and a civilian EOD contract company staffed by ex-military EOD technicians to finish the cleanup of Doha’s North Compound (the South Compound had already been cleared by the 146th Ord. Det.). This resulted in a near suspension of activity in the North Compound from July 23 until mid-September.[241, 242]

Arrival and Activities of Radiation Control Teams

While the 146th Ord. Det. (EOD), 54th Chemical Troop, and 58th Combat Engineer Company played key roles in the cleanup and recovery operation, the stringent demands of handling and disposing of DU contaminated equipment required the commitment of additional resources. It should be noted that regulatory radiation control measures mandated by Army and NRC regulations had been written for peacetime accidents at stateside military installations. Nonetheless, a RADCON response was required. It came initially from two Radiation Control teams deployed from appropriate agencies in the United States, and later from the Environmental Chemical Corporation, which, as mentioned, conducted the final cleanup of UXO and DU contamination at Doha.

The Industrial Operations Command (formerly Armament Munitions and Chemical Command, or AMCCOM) based at Rock Island, Illinois, maintains the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license authorizing storage of Army DU ammunition at Army installations within the United States and US territories.[243] Since the Doha explosion involved DU, the Army directed AMCCOM to assemble and deploy a team to assess the levels of DU contamination in and around the damaged/destroyed tanks.[244]

Several hundred 120mm DU sabot rounds stored in the motor pool area had exploded, leaving behind the DU penetrator rod. Intact, these penetrators, about 18 inches long and 1.5 inches thick, weighed 10.7 pounds.[245] The first AMCCOM representative to enter the North Compound on July 18 stated that the motor pool in total contained about 900 DU rounds, of which all but 10-40 had been uploaded in the tanks. He was able to find five spent DU rounds (intact) within 150 meters of the tanks. Although his preliminary assessment was limited, due to the extraordinary quantity of UXOs, his initial reaction was that the area was not nearly as badly contaminated as first believed.[246] He was apparently unaware that several hundred DU sabot rounds were stored in MILVANS and conexes.

Figure 39. AMCCOM RADCON Personnel at Doha

The 3-man AMCCOM Radiation Control team arrived at Camp Doha on July 19th. The team’s mission was limited to assessing the state of the M1A1 tanks, and then decontaminating the damaged or destroyed tanks to allow their entry into the United States for decontamination or preparation for disposal at a low-level radioactive waste disposal site at Barnwell, SC. Although the team was equipped with a variety of sophisticated radiological detection equipment, it essentially limited its activities to collecting DU penetrators found in and around the tanks, and preparing the tanks for shipment to the port of Dammam, where they would be readied for shipment to the US.[247]

Upon its arrival at Doha, the AMCCOM team did a visual inspection of the motor pool, accompanied by members of the 54th Chemical Troop and some EOD personnel. The North Compound had been cordoned off since the blast, with entry strictly controlled and limited almost exclusively to 58th Combat Engineers and 146th Ord. Det. (EOD) personnel involved in UXO clearing operations.[248] Later, after lanes had been cleared through areas of UXO concentrations, small groups of drivers were brought in to move operational equipment out of the motor pool area to a new site some distance away.[249]

The AMCCOM team found that almost all of the DU rounds in each tank’s basic load had remained inside the hull. Most of the penetrators found in the tanks were scorched but intact. Others had melted, fragmented, or oxidized to some degree in the intense heat.[250] These observations were corroborated by the Battle Damage Assessment Team from the US Army Ballistic Research Laboratory, which examined the four destroyed or damaged M1A1s. In a memorandum dated August 5, 1991, the Team stated:

All four of the M1A1s were damaged/destroyed as a result of fires external to the vehicle. There were no penetrations anywhere of the exterior armor (emphasis added). Three of the four M1A1s had their fuel and ammunition destroyed. In these three cases, there was an explosion in the ammunition compartment. The ammunition doors and blowout panels functioned properly, keeping the blast from entering the crew compartment. The fourth M1A1 was damaged on the right suspension only, and except for the gunner’s computer and transmission warning lights, was completely operational.[251]

The above memo indicates that concerns about the M1A1’s DU Heavy Armor panels burning and adding to the DU contamination appear to be misplaced. In order for oxidization to occur, the DU armor panels, sealed between (and shielded by) regular rolled homogenous steel armor, would have required exposure to air as well as to intense, sustained heat. Since the tanks’ structural integrity remained intact, the possibility of contamination from burning DU armor is negligible.

Figure 40. Burned-Out Doha M1A1

A small number of DU rounds were ejected from the burned tanks through their blast panels, designed to allow the escape of the extreme overpressures created during an ammo-compartment explosion. The anecdotal evidence collected, however, suggests that very few rounds were ejected in this manner.[252, 253]

After the head of the team ascertained that the 54th Chemical Troop members were familiar with the operation of the hand-held PDR-77s (alpha detectors) the team employed, he led them on a limited survey of the motor pool and its periphery. Again, the danger from UXOs prevented a more comprehensive effort. The AMCCOM members also inspected the burned-out tanks. After a team member nearly stepped on a live artillery bomblet, EOD and Engineer troops cleared a lane to facilitate access to the tanks.[254]

Although the AMCCOM mission was limited in scope, they seem to have elevated the issue of DU to new prominence. Prior to the AMCCOM team’s arrival, DU penetrators picked up by Engineer or EOD personnel were deposited in an on-base trash pile. The AMCCOM team halted this practice, segregating and retrieving the DU penetrators for proper disposal. Enough DU penetrators were collected to fill at least two 55-gallon drums. These penetrators were dumped inside one of the burned-out M1A1 tanks identified for shipment to the Defense Consolidation Facility at Snelling, SC.[255]

Communication between the AMCCOM (and later, CECOM) RADCON responders and the leadership of the 11th ACR appears to have been spotty at best. The Regimental Engineer Officer recalls that he knew nothing about the arrival of the AMCCOM personnel until they showed up at Doha. He also stated that the 11th ACR Commander had a direct question put to the first RADCON responder: "Is there a radiological hazard (at Doha)?" The response was negative.[256] This response, however, apparently did not address the issue of DU’s chemical toxicity. RADCON members apparently had little interface, formal or informal, with the 11th ACR Commander or his staff.[257, 258, 259]

CECOM Team Augments Radiation Control Efforts

On July 24th, the day after the fatal EOD blast, a team arrived at Doha from the Communications and Electronics Command (CECOM) based at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. The CECOM team was headed by the Project Director for the US Army Radiological Control Team, Headquarters, Department of Army Operations. Using Eberline Field Instruments for the Detection of Low Energy Radiation (FIDLER) and SPA-3 gamma detectors, the team conducted what one member called a "site characterization survey."[260] These surveys located a sizable number of DU fragments and areas of DU contamination, but were hampered by the general "background" gamma radiation fields from the DU in the tanks and ammunition. This was not a grid-by-grid survey, but rather a more general sampling, mostly in and around the motor pool. The CECOM team surveyed all areas cleared by EOD (an estimated two or three acres of the motor pool, which was the size of several football fields).

Three 55-gallon drums containing DU penetrators and a separate pile of burned penetrators were placed into the three contaminated tanks for shipment to the US. Seven M8A1 Chemical Agent Alarm Systems containing Americium-241 were also involved in the fire. One was recovered from the area cleared by EOD. The radioactive source cell was not damaged. One additional M8A1 was recovered from one of the M1A1 tanks removed from the area near the wash rack. The radioactive source cell was penetrated by a fragment from the explosion and burned in the fire. No alpha radiation contamination was detected. This M8A1 was placed in one of the contaminated M1A1 tanks for shipment to the US for disposal. The dumpsite located near the camp (where post-accident debris was discarded) was also surveyed. The survey found one DU penetrator (see Figure 41) which was recovered for disposal.

Figure 41. DU Rod Found in Doha Dump

A July 31, 1991 CECOM report submitted to the to the Commander, Task Force Victory, Forward (which was overseeing the overall Doha recovery effort) reported no radiation hazard to personnel existed outside the exclusion area (the North Compound). It advised that five M8A1s and an unknown number of DU penetrators in solid, melted, and burned states remained in the exclusion are, and recommended that all persons entering that area be made aware of the potential hazard. After arrangements were made for the contaminated tanks to be shipped to the port of Dammam for shipment back to the US on August 6, 1991, the CECOM team departed Doha in early August.[261, 262]

As sections of the 2nd Squadron’s concrete pad were cleared of UXOs and DU, regular support and combat troops were brought in to do a final cleanup using brooms and other hand tools.[263] While the area with the heaviest concentration of depleted uranium contamination—the three burned M1A1s on the washrack—was cleaned up by RADCON personnel, the surrounding areas could have held residual DU oxides or residues. In addition, several hundred spent DU penetrators had been scattered and in some cases partially burned and oxidized in and around the MILVANS containers holding each platoon’s ammunition resupply load.[264] These particles, if resuspended (stirred up) by brooms, could have been inhaled or otherwise internalized by soldiers in the vicinity.

Post-M1A1 Retrograde Radiation Control and Cleanup Activity

Following the removal of the contaminated M1A1 tanks and the departure of the AMCCOM and CECOM teams on August 2, a hiatus in Radiation Control and cleanup activities ensued for several weeks. The only activity that took place in the North Compound during this time frame was in the supply area several hundred meters away from the 2nd Squadron motor pool area, which had been cleared earlier of UXOs thrown into the area by the July 11 explosions. No ammunition was stored in this location, and no DU was found in or near this area.

Figure 42. Removing Burned M1A1

The 146th Ord. Det. (EOD) was rotated out of the theater in September 1991, after having been virtually sidelined since July 23. A civilian firm, Environmental Chemical Corporation (ECC), was contracted to finish all cleanup and recovery activity in the North Compound. Two reserve Army EOD officers managed the contract and overall effort, while a highly trained and experienced Army Sergeant First Class (SFC) provided on-scene oversight, support, and safety monitoring to approximately 14 ECC EOD technicians. In this capacity, the SFC conducted most of the actual radiological survey efforts that were carried out in the second, final phase of the Doha cleanup.

Figure 43. Doha Motor Pool Pad After Cleanup

The ECC team brought their own radiation detection and measurement equipment and performed survey activities in the North Compound. Upon entering the 2nd Squadron motor pool, they found large quantities of DU scattered around the vicinity of the MILVAN containers (used for ammo storage) that had detonated in the fire. Many of these DU penetrators were intact, but others had fragmented or burned down to varying degrees, with some almost completely reduced. Some had been ejected into the open by the "kick-out" effect of individual rounds exploding among the stacked ammunition. Others, burned or unexploded, remained within the shells of the conexes. Using an AN/PDR-56 fitted with the small alpha probe, the SFC measured the DU cores and, after they were picked up, monitored the surface underneath them. Most of the DU penetrators inside and outside the conexes gave off very low radiation readings. The DU penetrators were then double-wrapped in plastic, bubble-wrapped, and placed in 55-gallon drums. Personnel packing the drums with DU penetrators wore surgeon's caps, safety glasses, half face protective masks, coveralls, butyl rubber aprons, rubber surgeon's gloves with cotton inserts, and rubber "booties" over their normal work boots. A total of eight drums were filled with about 250 DU penetrators.

The SFC took readings inside the MILVAN containers, where levels of radiation were somewhat higher. He typically measured 4,500 counts per minute on the surface of the penetrator rods, reported as 9,000 disintegrations per minute (dpm, or the number of radioactive particles that decay per minute) multiplied by a correction factor of two. The levels on the surface of the ground directly beneath the penetrator were typically half the levels on the surface of the penetrator rod, or 2,200-2,300 cpm (corrected to 4,500-4,600 dpm). At the 10,000-dpm level, the military requires personnel to wear an M17A1 protective mask (gas mask) or equivalent respiratory protection. Given the reading of approximately 9,000 dpm, ECC elected to don white surgeon's masks in addition to their other protective gear while working on the motor pool pad. ECC personnel brushed down the containers until the radiation levels had reached natural background levels.

The SFC took readings on the surfaces the four burned-out (and DU-contaminated) M1A1 tanks had occupied. Since those areas had already been cleaned, they produced no readings for radiation.

The Final Cleanup

When the ECC team started work in mid-September 1991, approximately two-thirds of the North compound remained uncleared, and due to the UXO threat, no one was permitted into those areas. It took the ECC team two months to get these areas cleaned up. Once explosive munitions were deemed safe for transport, they were moved to the EOD demo area approximately 750 meters east of the compound to be destroyed. All submunitions that were considered unsafe to transport were destroyed in place. Once the concrete pads had been cleared of ordnance and possible alpha contamination, heavy equipment was used to scrape up remaining debris and transport it to the EOD demolition area. As a precaution, diesel fuel was poured over the scrap metal and ignited to detonate or destroy any small-arms rounds or submunitions that might have been missed. This was done twice.

When the entire North Compound and the sandy strip between the North and South Compounds had been cleared, third-country nationals were hired to perform the final sweeping of the motor pool pads. These individuals were provided with surgical masks, gloves, cotton overalls, and other personnel protective equipment, although the levels of radiation detected fell below the Army’s criteria for donning M17 or similar gas-mask type respirators. When the motor pool had been swept completely clean, eleven water tankers were brought in to do a final, thorough "hose-down." When this process was complete, the Army EOD Control Team performed a radiological survey to ensure that no residual contamination remained. When none was found, the contractor was certified as having fulfilled all contractual obligations to cleanup the North Compound and its periphery.[265]

Working Conditions During the Doha Cleanup and Recovery Operations

No discussion of the Doha cleanup would be complete without describing the extremely severe environmental and working conditions. Summer temperatures typically reached 115 degrees by mid-afternoon. Smoke from oil fires billowed constantly, coating the western surfaces of poles, walls, and parked vehicles with a black film and forcing soldiers to don handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses. Life support facilities, marginal before the fire, were practically wiped out. Since a serious water shortage was in effect, soldiers often wore the same uniforms for days on end. Biting sand flies and other parasites and pests were common. During the initial phase of the cleanup, soldiers typically labored in these conditions twelve or more hours a day, often seven days a week.[266]

Department of the Army Technical Bulletin (TB) 9-1300-278, "Guidelines For Safe Response To Handling, Storage, And Transportation Accidents Involving Army Tank Munitions Or Armor Which Contain Depleted Uranium" (dated September 1990) states:

Anyone passing over (the radiation control line) to the fire area is to wear appropriate protective equipment that may include protective coveralls, gloves, rubberized boots, head covering, and respiratory protection. EOD personnel are to wear the M25 or M17A2 protective mask with the M13A2 filter element and the accompanying head covers (i.e., MOPP Level 4). Personnel assisting in the radiation survey and decontamination operations should wear full-face respirators with high-efficiency dust filters. Tape is to be used to seal the clothing where there are any openings to the body.[267]

Note that these instructions, written for peacetime accidents on stateside military installations, are generally advisory rather than directive in nature. Given the searing heat and physically exhausting duties being performed, wearing the aforementioned ensemble would have resulted in mass heat casualties in very short order. As it was, personnel working around unexploded ordnance (UXOs) were required to wear flak vests and helmets at all times. Most wore gloves because they were picking up sun-scorched metal fragments and debris with sharp edges.[268] Even the AMCCOM Radiation Control (RADCON) team wore nothing more protective than cotton overalls, work gloves, and surgical masks.[269] Under the conditions described, this level of personal protective equipment (PPE) would have provided substantial protection, especially for inhalation, ingestion, and protection from wounds, while allowing important cleanup operations to continue with maximum efficiency under very stressful conditions.

Comments on the Radiation Control Efforts

Seven of the eight AMCCOM and CECOM team members directly involved in the Camp Doha radiological efforts were contacted for this report, including the heads of both teams. The consensus among the team members was that "we did what we were sent over to do," and that the hazard from DU was negligible outside the immediate vicinity of the tanks. Key members of the ECC team and the Army CORs who assisted and oversaw their efforts have expressed similar beliefs to investigators, and feel that they left behind an uncontaminated site when their efforts were completed.

It is noteworthy that all of the AMCCOM, CECOM, ECC, and 146th Ord. Det. (EOD) personnel who would have been most exposed to any DU contamination in the North Compound have reported that they are in good health. It should also be noted that these individuals (with the exception of 146th Ord. Det. members) generally took appropriate precautions and often (but not always) wore half-face respirators, gloves, and similar protective equipment.

In reviewing the overall radiation control response, the following areas raise concerns:

Coordination and support from ARCENT, AMCCOM, CECOM, and Contract personnel. As log entries and other evidence indicates, ARCENT was aware of the potential hazards posed by Alpha radiation. This information, however, apparently did not reach key leaders and decision-makers at the 11th ACR. The 11th ACR Engineer Officer was unaware that the AMCCOM team was en route until they "showed up" at Camp Doha. There was little formal coordination and interface between RADCON personnel and the 11th ACR leadership, who, if better informed, could have issued better environmental and safety guidance to the troops.[270] Relations between the heads of the AMCCOM and CECOM teams appeared strained, and cooperation between the two teams was limited.[271] 11th ACR commanders and decision-makers felt that they were largely disconnected from the radiation-control information loop, since ARCENT was, in effect, "running the show" after the motor pool fire. The reasons for these disconnects remain undetermined, but the net result is that 11th ACR soldiers were needlessly subjected to potential DU exposures.

Timeliness of the response. The AMCCOM team arrived a week after the blast; the CECOM team arrived almost two weeks later. During the crucial first few days after the blast, the unit leadership and personnel lacked clear, authoritative guidance regarding DU’s potential hazard and how it should be handled. This led to unsound practices, such as soldiers picking up spent DU penetrators with their bare hands, and DU penetrators being dumped in an on-base trash pile.[272]

Limited early scope of the effort. Radiation control efforts focused almost exclusively on the M1A1s until the CECOM team arrived on July 24th. Contamination from the DU rounds in each tank’s magazine had largely been confined to the interiors of the vehicles. However, DU rounds stored elsewhere were also exposed to the fire. DU penetrators not trapped in a burning tank are far more likely to remain intact after the "cook-off" of their propellant. During intense heat, however, some penetrators stored outside the tanks may have burned. There was no concerted effort to assess possible DU contamination from rounds stored outside the tanks until the arrival of the ECC team in mid-September.[273]

Lack of documentation and reporting. Paragraph 1-3c of 1-TB 9-1300-278, the existing guidelines for responding to accidents involving DU, states: "Interim or final written reports will be transmitted through the local Radiation Protection Officer (RPO) to the license RPO within 30 days of the accident or incident. If an interim report is submitted, a final report will be submitted as expeditiously as possible." The CECOM team chief indicated that he submitted daily reports to AMCCOM (now called Industrial Operations Command), but says a final report was never submitted.[274] AMCCOM personnel submitted frequent memos and very brief descriptions of their efforts, but no detailed accounts, complete with daily measurements and written reports, were generated. In the absence of such documentation and other supporting material (daily logs and records, etc.), attempts to quantify possible radiological exposures will remain inexact.

The central question remains: How much DU was actually released into the environment? A precise estimate is impossible, but some key variables have been established. The ammunition stored at Camp Doha constituted the 11th ACR’s "basic load," or combat requirements. A relatively small number of DU rounds (660) were destroyed or damaged.[275] Of these, about 111 would have been loaded in the three burned-out tanks.[276] Many rounds included in the figure of 660 lost rounds survived the fire without exploding or burning (Figure 44) but had to be removed from the inventory since they had been in a fire.

Figure 44. Unexploded DU Rounds

Most of the exposed penetrators recovered at Doha were found intact or nearly intact. Surveys by RADCON teams found no DU contamination outside the North Compound. The heaviest concentration of DU contamination was found in the interiors of the burned tanks. Localized contamination was also found around three of the tanks and several of the burned conexes, however, reports and accounts by RADCON personnel indicated that the levels of radiation here were below even the regulatory guidelines for donning respiratory protection. While several hundred troops could have come into contact with DU rods, fragments, and residual particles in the course of cleaning areas of the 2nd Squadron motor pool, the available evidence suggests that these exposures were well below the threshold levels at which health effects might occur.

| First Page | Prev Page | Next Page |