TAB G -- DU Exposures in the Gulf War

Various scenarios exposed Gulf War veterans to depleted uranium. US Abrams tanks mistakenly fired depleted uranium penetrators into some US combat vehicles, destroying or damaging them. In addition, personnel recovering, repairing, or decommissioning DU-damaged vehicles may have inhaled or ingested residual DU fragments and particles. There were also several accidental tank fires and an ammunition explosion and fire at Camp Doha, Kuwait, which burned, oxidized, and fragmented many DU rounds, creating a potential exposure hazard to soldiers operating in the vicinity. Other personnel entered Iraqi vehicles destroyed or damaged by DU.

A relatively small number of veterans were involved in high-risk exposure scenarios, while a relatively high number of veterans were involved in much lower-risk scenarios. To evaluate the health risks from this spectrum of scenarios, this office adopted a prioritized approach that categorized the scenarios into three levels, depending on the veterans' activities and the severity of the exposure.

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Level I includes veterans in or near combat vehicles at the time these vehicles were struck by DU munitions, or veterans who entered vehicles immediately after they were struck by DU munitions. These veterans 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 -- or any combination of these possibilities.

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

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Level III is an "all others" group whose exposures were largely incidental or fleeting. This group includes individuals who entered DU-contaminated Iraqi equipment, soldiers downwind from burning Iraqi or US equipment struck by DU rounds, or soldiers downwind from burning DU ammunition (e.g., 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.

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As research progressed, investigators subdivided the three levels into 13 sub-categories of DU exposure (see Table 1, page 8), which are described below.

A.  Level I

During the Gulf War, US Abrams tanks fired DU rounds at occupied US vehicles, destroying or damaging 6 M1/M1A1 tanks and 14 Bradley Fighting Vehicles. A combination of the featureless desert terrain, large, fast-moving armored formations, and low visibility from darkness, heavy rains, sandstorms, etc., were all contributing factors in these incidents. In some instances, a single DU round hit the friendly vehicle; in other instances, multiple rounds hit the vehicle. One incident involved an Apache helicopter that hit an Abrams tank carrying DU rounds igniting an on-board fire. (Tab J, "Tank Fires," discusses this tank which is not included in the 6 tanks mentioned above.) An Abrams also hit a 15th Bradley with DU, but the crew had already evacuated the vehicle. (See Tab H.)[236]

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Figure G-1.  M1A1 lost to friendly fire

Given the confusion and uncertainty on the battlefield, some of the soldiers in vehicles coming under friendly fire initially believed they had been fired upon by Iraqi armor. It was only after the fact that battle damage assessment experts confirmed that the entrance and exit holes in the struck vehicles exhibited the distinctive radioactive trace left by Abrams DU penetrators. Soldiers involved in these friendly-fire DU incidents found out what actually happened to them from after-action investigations and word of mouth. Most of these soldiers were unaware of the potential health effects associated with DU. Consequently, the investigation of friendly-fire incidents was 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.

104 soldiers on board US combat vehicles struck by DU penetrators survived the attacks; 11 soldiers died. Table G-1 lists the vehicles and the number of soldiers onboard who survived. (See Tab H for a description of each friendly-fire incident.) The "0" entry in the right-hand column reflects the fact that the 2-2 Cavalry Bradley was initially struck by enemy fire, evacuated, and subsequently struck by "friendly" DU rounds.

Table G-1.  Summary of US vehicles hit by DU tank rounds

Army Unit

Vehicle Type

Bumper Numbers

Surviving 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

29

3-66 Armor

Abrams

B-66, B-22, A-14, A-31 & A-33

19

3-15 Infantry

Bradley

C-11, C-22 & C-23

23

4-66 Armor

Bradley

HQ-55 & HQ-54

9

1-34 Armor

Bradley

HQ-232

5

2-2 Cavalry

Bradley

G-14

0*

Total

104

* This vehicle was vacant when it was struck by DU rounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second sub-category of Level I includes personnel who rushed to the aid of the soldiers in vehicles hit by DU rounds. Investigators have identified 46 veterans fitting this criteria (although as many as 60 soldiers may be in this category). These soldiers often entered damaged or destroyed vehicles moments after they were hit, possibly exposing themselves to DU residues or oxides still airborne from the impacts or stirred up by the rescue activities.

B.  Level II

The seven sub-categories of Level II include soldiers who worked in and around DU-contaminated vehicles (mostly friendly-fire wrecks) or who took part in the cleanup of DU contamination at Camp Doha, Kuwait, after an explosion and fire on July 11, 1991, detonated or burned several hundred rounds of DU ammunition.

Table G-2.  DU-contaminated vehicles

Reason for Contamination

Abrams

Bradleys

Accidental friendly fire

6

15

Intentional friendly fire

3

0

Tank fire caused by suspected 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 G-2) 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 into this classification.

1.   Removing Munitions

Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) personnel entered DU-contaminated vehicles or surrounding areas to disarm and remove unexploded ordnance. Although the military trained and equipped EOD personnel to operate in a nuclear- and DU-contaminated environment, some EOD personnel may not have been aware in every case that the vehicles they were working in had been struck by DU. Also, explosive ordnance disposal is an extremely dangerous undertaking and worrying about DU contamination was often secondary to EOD personnel disarming and removing unexploded ordnance.

The standard uniform of EOD personnel clearing unexploded ordnance was body armor (flak jacket) and a kevlar helmet. Because of the extreme heat of the Gulf, EOD personnel often wore only T-shirts under the body armor. At Camp Doha, engineer personnel assisted EOD by cleaning up non-explosive debris and identifying unexploded ordnance. Engineers found DU penetrators in the 1st Squadron's motor pool during the initial clearing and clean-up. They initially picked up these penetrators -- often with bare hands -- and tossed them with the rest of the debris into a civilian dump.[237] Some soldiers knew there were DU tank rounds in the Camp Doha stockpile, but were unaware of what DU was or what its properties were. They were not advised of any contamination hazard or protective measures against contamination, but were only ordered to wear kevlar helmets and flak vests for protection against unexploded ordnance.[238]

2.  Maintenance and Recovery Operations

Some soldiers entered US equipment contaminated with DU within hours or days of the penetrator impact -- usually to recover weapons, gear and sensitive equipment, a task that sometimes took hours. Many of these soldiers had earlier survived the friendly-fire incidents in those same vehicles.[239] Unit mechanics spent hours, sometimes days, removing reusable parts like engines and transmissions. They were never warned of the dangers of DU. Some of these mechanics noted the dusty condition of the friendly-fire wrecks they worked on.[240] A member of a US Army Battle Damage Assessment Team said that more that 27 major components were removed from the first four Bradleys he inspected (three of which were contaminated with DU).[241] The mechanics performing this work 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. In fact, a mechanic from the 4-7th Cavalry Squadron reports that after spending several days crawling around dusty friendly-fire wrecks, stripping them of usable parts, a Battle Damage Assessment Team with RADIAC meters arrived and declared the vehicles to be radioactive. They made the mechanics round up all the parts and, after checking each one, assessed most of them to be radioactive and ordered them to be put back into the original vehicles.[242] This office has identified 60 veterans who spent more than a half-hour performing maintenance or equipment recovery inside contaminated tanks or Bradleys.

3.  Logistics Assistance Representatives

Some logistics assistance representatives (LARs) also entered damaged or destroyed vehicles. Logistics representatives were civilian systems experts who often determined the disposition of knocked-out equipment. Because the logistics assistance representatives had more direct contact and communication with the Armament Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM), they were more aware of DU hazards and the proper procedures for mitigating those hazards.[243] A December 20, 1990, message to the logistics assistance representatives 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.[244]

Despite this guidance, at least one logistics representative has stated that he entered contaminated systems in a tee shirt and without a respirator.[245] When interviewed, the deputy to the officer in charge of the 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 personnel entering damaged Abrams tanks without proper protective equipment.[246] At least one representative has indicated that he was unaware of the warning messages until after the Gulf War. He reported that he entered DU-contaminated vehicles at King Khalid Military City without personal protective equipment and with the knowledge and consent of the health physics officer and radiation control personnel at the site.[247] Four out of 16 logistics assistance representatives interviewed to date report working around DU-contaminated vehicles. Efforts are continuing to identify and interview other logistics representatives.

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 battle damage assessment team (BDAT) 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 or munition used, how well the vehicles' defensive features had worked, etc. These inspections required frequent entry into disabled, often DU-contaminated vehicles. The battle damage assessment team arrived in the Gulf on or about January 21, 1991, and were attached to combat elements prior to the ground war (which began a little over a month later on February 23rd). Because the team's personnel had more technical expertise with DU than most soldiers, they were sometimes called in after the ground war began to help evaluate potential crew and equipment radiation contamination and to assist in friendly-fire investigations.[248]

Investigators have interviewed all twelve members of the Ballistics Research Laboratory battle damage assessment team. Most team members said they were trained in proper handling procedures and safeguards for DU-damaged equipment, but three do not recall receiving this training. Some members of the team followed the prescribed precautions and only entered DU-contaminated tanks after donning yellow radiation suits, including dust masks, gloves, and boots. Other members were not as rigorous in taking protective measures. A few battle damage assessment team personnel have indicated that the wearing of masks and gloves was an impediment to taking accurate measurements. Others indicated that there were not enough masks for everyone and they eventually ran short on gloves as well; apparently the gloves were easily torn on the sharp edges in the close confines of the vehicles. Assessments typically took between six and eight hours to complete, although some team members reported spending less than an hour inside vehicles. They did not consistently adhere to the practice of checking themselves for radioactivity after working in vehicles. While only one team member reported more than marginal levels of DU on him, he indicated that he was unable to get all the DU off and eventually everything in his pack became contaminated. Most team members practiced good personal hygiene, particularly after working in contaminated vehicles.[249]

A seven- or eight-member battle damage assessment team from the US Army Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM) also inspected DU-contaminated vehicles after the ground war. This team, though they knew DU had been used, did not wear masks, gloves, or head cover. One member of this team indicated that he didn't (and doesn't) consider the DU contamination at that site to be a hazard. Another member said that the wearing of masks would have hindered the team's ability to carry out the tasks inside the vehicles.[250]

Several of the Ballistics Research Laboratory battle damage assessment team members said they wore radiation badges while they were in the Gulf and never received feedback on the readings. In December 1997, the office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses requested information on these readings from the Army office responsible for maintaining dosimetry data.[251] In response to that request, the US Army Radiation Standards and Dosimetry Laboratory provided histories of exposure to ionizing radiation for all twelve Ballistics Research Laboratory team members and two members of the TACOM battle damage assessment team.[252] According to these histories, from January 17, 1991, to March 12, 1991, all battle damage assessment team members wore thermoluminescent dosimeters capable of measuring external whole body radiation. All readings were zero, as would be expected from a low-level radiation source such as DU. These devices were not capable of measuring how much DU may have been inhaled or ingested. At the request of the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, the Army provided these histories to the battle damage assessment team members.[253]

5.  Processing Damaged Equipment

US forces transported disabled or destroyed US combat vehicles to King Khalid Military City, the central receiving and storage site for such vehicles (as well as many Iraqi "trophy tanks"). The Pentagon ordered the 144th Service and Supply Company, a National Guard unit from New Jersey, 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.[254] 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, unit personnel were not familiar with Army Technical Bulletin (TB) 9-1300-278,[255] which contained guidance for handling DU-contaminated M1 tanks.[256]

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 mixed with uncontaminated equipment. Until the arrival of a radiation control (RADCON) team from the Armament Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM), no one controlled access to the equipment. 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.[257] Although the battle damage assessment team commander stated that he informed personnel from the unit about the potential hazard from contaminated vehicles on or about March 11, 1991,[258] 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.[259] While AMCCOM sent communications to ARCENT addressing DU contaminated equipment, there is no documentation indicating that personnel from the 144th were informed that the equipment in their control was contaminated, therefore the exact date will probably never be confirmed.

Approximately 10-15 maintenance personnel from the 556th Corps Support Company assisted the 144th. According to the team's non-commissioned officer in charge, 556th personnel worked in the storage yard evaluating the extent of damage to the vehicles for approximately two weeks before they were informed of the potential DU contamination hazard.[260]

The 144th ultimately shipped 14 Abrams and 9 Bradleys with DU contamination to the Chem-Nuclear Systems' Defense Consolidation Facility in Snelling, South Carolina for decontamination and disposal. Initially, Chem-Nuclear Systems' (CNS) facilities could not meet security, structural, and environmental requirements to handle the larger equipment such as the Abrams tank. Therefore, after receiving the initial Abrams involved in the December 1991 tank fire, CNS built a new building which was fully licensed by South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Controls. CNS instituted appropriate industrial hygiene and radiation protection procedures throughout the entire processing operation, including external dosimetry and pre- and post-urine uranium and blood lead analyses. CNS tailored personal protective equipment to each vehicle. Removable alpha contamination levels inside the vehicles were typically less than 1,000 disintegrations per minute per 100 square centimeters (dpm/cm2), but CNS detected levels of up to 10,000 dpm/100 cm2. (Note: NRC guidance for unrestricted use is 1,000 dpm/100 cm2, i.e., there is no requirement for any protective measures or personnel protective equipment.[261] In addition, personnel protective equipment is generally not required when the removable surface contamination is less than 10,000 dpm. For contamination levels between 10,000 and 1,000,000 dpm, personal protective equipment is required, i.e., shoe covers, gloves, coveralls, and respirator.)[262] Typically, workers wore safety glasses, coveralls, gloves, safety shoes, and booties. CNS performed continuous air monitoring when needed and personnel wore respirators as required. Radiation exposure was minimal and CNS observed no uptake of radioactive or hazardous material in any of the workers.[263]

CNS eventually decontaminated and returned all nine Bradleys to the DoD supply system or for rebuilding at a depot level maintenance site. In addition, CNS returned scrap metal from 11 Abrams to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and returned two restored Abrams to the active inventory.[264]

6.  Radiation Control Activities

After completing their initial battlefield assessments, the Army's battle damage assessment team went to King Khalid Military City (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 Services and Supply Company. Finding many DU-contaminated vehicles at KKMC, the team requested on-site personnel from the Armament Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM) to arrange for a radiation control team to go to King Khalid Military City.[265]

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

On March 24, 1991, a radiation control team of health physicists from AMCCOM arrived at KKMC to assume responsibility for identifying, collecting, and surveying DU-contaminated equipment.[266] Much of this equipment was already at KKMC. The AMCCOM radiation control 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.[267] Their work, completed around April 12, 1991, cleared the way for contract personnel to inspect, decontaminate, package, and ship the contaminated systems to the US.[268] 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 and then shipped to the US for final processing and disposal.[269]

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 the radium used in their gauges, which were often leaking.[270] These gauges had to be removed prior to shipping. One T-72 tank had substantial internal and external DU contamination.[271] It was not shipped, but its ultimate disposition is unknown.[272]

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 Saudi Arabian port of Dammam. The team also collected a sizeable quantity of spent DU penetrators and fragments from the 2nd Squadron motor pool pad and deposited them in the tanks' interiors, which were then sealed. On August 6th, the tanks were shipped from Dammam and returned to the US for processing at the Defense Consolidation Facility at Snelling, South Carolina.[273]

On July 24, 1991, a radiation control Emergency Response Team from the US Army's Communications Electronics Command (CECOM) Safety Office at Ft. Monmouth, NJ, arrived at Camp Doha.[274] The Project Director for the US Army Radiological Control Team headed the CECOM team. The team conducted what one member called a "site characterization survey."[275] According to the CECOM team chief, they did a comprehensive radiological survey of the motor pool area and when they detected penetrators or DU "dust," they thoroughly swept the area. 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).[276]

Investigators have interviewed several members of the AMCCOM and CECOM radiation control teams. All the individuals interviewed said they used some form of personal protection, although only about half routinely used respiratory protection while working in and around contaminated vehicles. All team members interviewed said that they were careful to monitor 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 cordoned-off portion of the 2nd Squadron motor pool pad.[277] Ten to twelve individuals 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 to 30 combat-loaded vehicles, dozens of support vehicles, and equipment. The fire externally damaged one M1A1 tank and destroyed three others. Detonated DU rounds inside the three destroyed tanks (approximately 37 rounds per tank) contaminated these vehicles. In addition to the estimated 111 DU rounds in the tanks, the fire also damaged or destroyed more than 500 DU rounds stored in nearby conexes (metal shipping containers). Most of these rounds detonated, leaving behind scorched, exposed DU penetrators. In most cases, these exposed penetrators showed little oxidization, but some were oxidized or fragmented to a significant degree.

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 14th and July 23rd, an explosives ordnance demolitions detachment and a company of Combat Engineers cleared approximately a third of the 2nd Squadron motor pool pad. Although AMCCOM and CECOM personnel cleaned up the area with the heaviest concentration of DU -- the burned M1A1s -- the surrounding motor pool pads may have contained residual DU. In addition, the fire and explosions partially burned and scattered many exposed or spent DU penetrators around the conex containers.[278] As the AMCCOM and CECOM teams cleared unexploded ordnance and DU from sections of the concrete pad, regular soldiers 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 picking up DU penetrators or pieces of DU penetrators with bare hands.[279]

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

D.  Level III

This group comprises "all others." It includes soldiers downwind of burning DU-contaminated equipment 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 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 (motor pool area) 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 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 nearby trash dump.

2.  Tank Fires

During Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield, three accidental tank fires caused onboard DU munitions to detonate. In addition, a large shaped-charge weapon, most likely a Hellfire anti-armor missile fired from an Army AH-64 Apache helicopter, struck an Abrams carrying DU rounds, setting the tank on fire. All but one of the crewmen assigned to these four tanks escaped without injury, and all escaped before the DU rounds detonated. Some individuals, however, may have been exposed to DU aerosols from these fires. 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 on these burned tanks are included in Level II. TAB J contains an account of each of these incidents.

3.  Entering DU-contaminated Iraqi or Coalition Equipment

This is the largest group of veterans potentially exposed to DU. American soldiers 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 VII 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 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.[280]

A March 11, 1991 message stipulating the Army policy on 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."[281]

Many soldiers had legitimate reasons 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 the frequency of entry, their activity level inside the vehicle (i.e., how much dust they stirred up), as well as the length of time spent inside the vehicle.

Radioactive items in various foreign vehicles are typically sealed and contained in chemical agent detectors, radiation monitors, and radiation instruments. Exceptions include instrument dials painted with luminous paints containing radium, tritium, or promethium. The sealed radioactive materials are normally in very small quantities and are not a hazard unless the source is damaged. The types of radioactive sources in Iraq's Soviet-made equipment (and the radioactive elements in each source) include the following:[282]

4.  Exposure to Smoke from Equipment Struck by DU

US personnel often operated near burning enemy equipment knocked out by DU rounds. Exposures ranged from fleeting (e.g., driving past burning wrecks) to extended (e.g., operations centered near sites where multiple enemy vehicles had been set afire by DU rounds). A large number of US soldiers fall into this category.

E.  Other Reports Investigated

Veterans who wish to report incidents that they believe could have exposed them to DU contamination often contact the Office of the Special Assistant. The incidents they describe are often relatively isolated or unique events, and the available information is incomplete or unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, each of these reports is investigated and analyzed. In two of the following cases, the Office of the Special Assistant determined that exposures did not occur. In the other two cases, we do not have enough information to categorize the exposures; these cases are still under investigation.

1.  Welders

Several members of the Alabama-based 900th Maintenance Company, Army National Guard, deployed to the Saudi port of Dammam to upgrade M1 tanks to M1A1 tanks. 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 made of DU.[283] In addition, two former members of a New Equipment Training Team offered similar accounts, with one team member 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.[284]

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 had no knowledge of any such activity.[285] A retired Colonel, interviewed on August 7, 1997, stated that a few dozen workers welded -inch rolled homogenous steel (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.[286] The production manager at Dammam likewise insists that the plates were RHS. He says that the contractor shipped the RHS plates to him directly by airfreight.[287] Fellow welders and unit members who worked alongside the individuals reporting the DU panels recalled the add-on armor being either steel or titanium.[288] 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 in between rolled homogenous steel of the frontal turret armor, not retrofitted later). A metallurgist 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, fabricated the armor from steel plate. Asked to comment on the feasibility of welding DU (which burns under friction) 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."[289] The final 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 one to two 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.[290]

Other soldiers in this veteran's platoon also recall the incident but thought the vehicle was carrying artillery rounds[291] or powder bags for 155mm artillery rounds.[292] The veteran's platoon leader and the commanders of units stationed in the area recall the incident as occurring prior to the ground war. They heard that the vehicle's brakes caught on fire and the driver, unable to extinguish the flames, drove the truck off the main supply route into the desert to reduce the hazard to other soldiers. After the explosion, there was nothing left but the engine block.[293] A munitions expert at Picatinny Arsenal stated that the color blue is not indicative of DU munitions, but rather is used to mark training rounds.[294]

The theater ammunition officer was unaware of any truckload of DU blowing up during the war. He is fairly certain he would have heard if this had happened, given the reporting policies and procedures for DU mishaps.[295] Civilian ammunition experts[296] in theater, including one from the 2nd Corps Support Command (which was responsible for transportation in the area), had no knowledge of the alleged event.[297]

Investigators found that only one unit in the vicinity experienced an ammunition explosion -- the 1229th Transportation Company of the Maryland National Guard. The commander of the 1229th said that they were hauling ammunition for the 1st Infantry Division when a retread came off one of the trailer tires and wrapped around the axle. The resulting friction caused enough heat to sever a brake line, lock up the brakes, and start a fire. Unable to put out the fire, the driver evacuated the vehicle and about 30 minutes later, the trailer blew up. According to the unit supply sergeant, the trailer was carrying 155mm artillery rounds and powder bags.[298] Although the driver of the truck maintains that he was never told what he was hauling, the unit first sergeant confirmed that the trailer was hauling artillery ammunition.[299] The explosion occurred close to where the 87th Maintenance Battalion was located, about a kilometer south of 1st Infantry Division's main supply point. According to the executive officer of the 87th, soldiers expended several fire extinguishers in a vain attempt to extinguish the fire. He recalls standing next to the commander of the 3rd Explosive Ordnance Detachment (EOD) watching the truck burn. The executive officer of the 87th also confirmed that the truck was carrying 155mm rounds.[300] Finally, the EOD commander said that according to the military police personnel that were present, the truck driver told them he was carrying 155mm artillery rounds.[301] Her detachment journal indicated that the incident occurred on February 22, 1991, and that the fire destroyed 180 155mm projectiles.[302] While this date does not agree with that given by the reporting veteran, it does coincide with the date given by the veteran's platoon leader and the others noted above.

Given that only one veteran has reported hearing that the trailer was carrying DU rounds, that the ammunition experts heard nothing about a load of DU rounds exploding, and that many others recall the rounds as being artillery rounds, it is unlikely that DU rounds were involved in this incident.

3.  Airmen Responding to A-10 Crash

An A-10 ground-attack aircraft crashed and burned while trying to land at King Khalid Military City (KKMC) on February 27, 1991.[303] The commander on the scene reported that emergency personnel quickly extinguished the fire. He indicated that since KKMC was the primary forward recovery airfield during the war, emergency crews removed the aircraft from the runway as soon as possible to make way for other planes coming in. He did not remember if anyone performed a radiological survey.[304] Further discussions with an ammunition specialist who assisted in the recovery of the A-10 indicated that the crew recovered some "spent" 30mm cannon cartridges, but no one located any DU penetrators. The aircraft initially carried 1150 rounds, a mix of DU and high explosive incendiary rounds.[305] The number of rounds fired before the crash, if any, could not be determined from available records. The ammunition specialist could not confirm the ammunition mix of the aircraft, which is typically four DU rounds to one high explosive round. He estimated that the recovery crew found less than 20 cartridges outside the aircraft; the rest remained intact in the aircraft.[306] When engulfed in a fire like this one at KKMC, the propellant in the 30mm cannon cartridge will normally detonate before there is significant oxidation of the DU penetrator. Significant oxidation of the penetrator would have occurred only if the penetrator was exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods.

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Figure G-2.  Crashed A-10 at KKMC

The military mission of the KKMC airfield required that the runway be kept clear and open at all times. Consequently, emergency personnel removing this aircraft disregarded normal recovery considerations -- such as a radiological survey of the aircraft and accident scene to determine levels of contamination.[307] However, based on the limited fire damage to the aircraft, it is doubtful that fire heavily oxidized any DU penetrators remaining onboard the A-10.

4.  Misfired DU Rounds on A-10 Aircraft

Periodically, 30mm DU rounds misfired and jammed in the A-10's GAU-8 cannon. If the "hangfires" occurred in the gun barrel, the maintenance personnel would attempt to dislodge the round. If the round could not be dislodged, the maintenance personnel would replace the barrel. In some cases, they replaced the entire gun. Although the mishap was rare, one veteran reported five to seven incidents.[308,309] Since the A-10 cannot fire the 30mm DU round except in combat under the current Nuclear Regulatory Commission license and Air Force policy, it is impossible to duplicate the maintenance procedures now, but investigators do not think that any procedure to remove a misfired DU round from an A-10 cannon would produce significant levels of respirable aerosols. Basic radiation safety and industrial hygiene practices call for personal protective equipment (i.e., gloves and dust mask) and appropriate procedural techniques to minimize exposure during such an operation, but because of the general urgency of the Gulf War situation, maintenance personnel did not follow these peacetime practices and procedures.[310] We have received no reports of rounds jamming in the GAU-12 barrels on the Marine AV-8 Harriers.


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