Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Returning soldiers may face tests for exposure to depleted uranium

Feb 07, 2006

Returning soldiers may face tests for exposure to depleted uranium

Activists cite high cancer rates; bill faces finance committees


South Sound military veterans have urged state lawmakers to authorize tests of returning Washington National Guard soldiers for exposure to depleted uranium used in some armor-piercing munitions in Iraq.

Depleted uranium was used for munitions in the Gulf War and to better armor some Abrams tanks. Gases given off by the firing of the ammunition have been said to create a mist or fog of radioactive material that can be inhaled and absorbed into the body, where bone, lymph, liver and other tissues store it.

Briefings to legislators describe the depleted uranium used in the munitions as coming from the leftover material when radioactive isotopes are removed from uranium for use in nuclear fuel.

Activists cite higher cancer rates in Europe’s Balkan war zones after uranium-238 enhanced munitions were used there in the early 1990s. They also cite anecdotal reports of soldiers exposed to the material who now suffer everything from headaches to chronic upper respiratory illnesses, heart attacks, chronic muscle aches and chronic diarrhea.

“Depleted uranium — we’re very fearful it’s going to be the Agent Orange of this generation,” said Jerry Muchmore, a Democratic Party activist from Thurston County who served more than 20 years in the service, in testimony last week before a Senate committee. “We really want to support our veterans. We’d like to see them tested.”

Further study

Col. Ron Weaver of the state Military Department said the Department of Defense screens soldiers for exposure and tests many who are suspected of exposures. He also said his agency has no objections to the further study of returning veterans to gauge their exposure to toxic materials, because, he he said, the health and safety of about 4,000 Washington National Guard troops rotated through Iraq is the paramount concern.

The states of Connecticut and Louisiana have passed legislation to study effects on their troops, according to activists who joined Muchmore at the hearing. But Weaver said the Military Department prefers to see what the other states’ studies reveal — allowing better testing approaches in Washington if the other states’ work reveals more information.

In the meantime, Weaver said, the agency’s staff surgeon has been ordered to monitor test results already being done.

Local voices

Several veterans and Dr. George Hill, a retired Pierce County physician, also called on legislators to approve testing that goes further than what the Department of Defense now authorizes.

Olympia activist Ken Schwilk said after the hearing that the tests typically used are not as sensitive as those used in Europe in the Balkans, and that U.S. troops found clean by American tests have tested positive to exposure using the European test.

Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma, sponsored Senate Bill 6732 (which has a counterpart, House Bill 3103) because she lives in a district with quite a few military personnel. “You saw what happened with Agent Orange. There is a time (after exposure) before it expresses itself. I would like to see the testing done,” Franklin said.

Franklin also would like a base or repository for storing test results so that years from now, those affected could find them. The lawmaker estimated the testing costs are around $150,000, saying: “How do you compare $150,000 with the future of these (soldiers)?”

Uncertain future

The bill was passed out of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee last week on a bipartisan vote, but it now faces an uncertain future in the finance committees. Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen, D-Eatonville, co-sponsored the bill, and Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams of Olympia was the first sponsor of the House version, which got a hearing but was not brought up for a vote in committee.

“It was pretty compelling testimony from veterans and people concerned about the issue. So we did pass it out of committee for further consideration,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, who chairs the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee. “ “I don’t know if we’ll able to see it progress much further. This is a new issue and a new idea, and you know how that works in short sessions especially.”

Keiser added, “It is not an issue that will go away, however. I’m afraid we’ll be dealing with it. It sounds like there are serious health effects for our veterans.”

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President George W. Bush's statement in March 2006 after 3 yrs of war "a future President will have to resolve war in Iraq"


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