Former Head of Defense Depleted Uranium Project Condems use of it in Vieques



February 9, 2000, Jacksonville, Alabama

Professor Doug Rokke, Ph.D., former Director of the Pentagon's Depleted Uranium Project and one of the authors of Pentagon's program for environmental remediation of formerly used defense sites, denounced the U.S. Navy's use of Vieques for many years as a training and test ground for military munitions. Navy officers and enlisted personnel under orders and as part of Navy operations have fired conventional and depleted uranium munitions into the Vieques range resulting in serious adverse health and environmental effects. After a civilian guard was killed in April 1999, Navy officials acknowledged that they willfully violated "the requirements of the Navy's radioactive materials by firing depleted uranium munitions which specify that depleted uranium ammunition is to be used strictly during combat or approved tests and are prohibited from peacetime or training use", according to Luis Reyes in a letter he sent to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's Secretary of Health Carmen Melecio dated 1 February 2000. Mr. Reyes added that Navy officers in Vieques failed to "follow written procedures for issuance and use of ammunition". Moreover, a report prepared by scientists from the University of Georgia revealed that they found barrels containing unknown and potentially hazardous chemicals on ships deliberately sunk off of the coast of Vieques in 15' - 20' of water. These ships were shot up.

"It is imperative that complete environmental remediation of all affected terrain and medical care be provided for all affected residents of Vieques.", Dr. Rokke stated.

Depleted uranium (DU) or uranium-238 is made from uranium hexaflouride which is the non-fissionable by-product of the uranium enrichment process used to obtain uranium-235 for reactor fuel and nuclear bombs. A surprising announcement by U.S. Department of Energy officials on January 29, 2000 acknowledged, after many years of denial, that employees of their facilities had significantly higher incident rates for leukemia; Hodgkin's lymphoma; and cancers of the prostrate, kidney, liver, salivary glands, and lungs. Previous announcements acknowledged respiratory problems at the Paducah, Kentucky facility. These revelations and acknowledgments reinforce the suspected health and environmental hazards of depleted uranium which is manufactured from the main byproduct, uranium hexaflouride, of each of these facilities. It is even more disturbing that in a memorandum dated October 30, 1943, senior scientists assigned to the Manhattan Project suggested that uranium could be used as an air and terrain contaminant. According to the letter sent by the Subcommittee of the S-1 Executive Committee on the "Use of Radioactive Materials as a Military Weapon" to General Groves (October 30, 1943) inhalation of uranium would result in "bronchial irritation coming on in a few hours to a few days". This is exactly what happened to individuals who inhaled DU dust during Operation Desert Storm. The subcommittee went on further to state that "Beta emitting products could get into the gastrointestinal tract from polluted water, or food, or air. From the air, they would get on the mucus of the nose, throat, bronchi, etc. and be swallowed. The effects would be local irritation just as in the bronchi and exposures of the same amount would be required. The stomach, caecum and rectum, where contents remain for longer periods than elsewhere would be most likely affected. It is conceivable that ulcers and perforations of the gut followed by death could be produced, even without an general effects from radiation". Today many who inhaled or ingested DU have bouts of explosive diarrhea and other problems. Today, most of health effects predicted by the subcommittee in 1943 are observed in those exposed to DU during ODS. According to the U.S. Army's official "RESPOND TO DEPLETED URANIUM/LOW LEVEL RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS (DULLRAM) HAZARDS" task number "031-503-1017: Contamination will make food and water unsafe for consumption." This direct quote verifies that the military still is aware as they always have been since 1943 that serious hazards exist from uranium (DU) contamination.

Dr. Rokke stated that each day reveals more evidence that the United States' willful distribution of uranium in Puerto Rico and other locations around the world poses serious risks. Although it is difficult to verify that health effects were caused by DU exposure, accumulating evidence indicates that health effects include: reactive airway disease, neurological abnormalities, kidney stones, chronic kidney pain, rashes, vision degradation, night vision losses, gum tissue problems, lymphoma, leukemia, other cancers, neuro-psychological disorders, uranium in semen, sexual dysfunction, gastro-intestinal problems, and birth defects in offspring.

Responsibility for DU exposures will be elusive while U.S. officials deny or delay medical treatment to all individuals who inhaled, ingested, or have wound contamination. Exposures will continue until removal of all DU contamination is completed. Still, Dr. Rokke added that Department of Defense officials continue to deny any responsibility for this travesty of environmental justice. Dr. Rokke recommended that, the citizens of Vieques and the world must insist that:

1. All individuals who may have inhaled, ingested, or had wound contamination must receive medical assessment and treatment for adverse health effects.

2. All depleted uranium penetrator fragments, contaminated equipment, and oxide contamination must be removed and disposed of to prevent further adverse health and environmental effects.

3. The use of depleted uranium munitions must be banned.

The residue caused by the use of conventional munitions also poses serious health and environmental risks. Conventional munitions residue consists of unstable and unexploded ordnance, heavy metal shrapnel, organic compound residues, and inorganic chemical compound residues. The unanswered question is whether any chemical warfare or biological warfare agents have been used on Vieques. Conventional munitions residues may consist of phosphorous or other pyrophoric materials; napalm; triethalum metal incendiaries; lead styphnate; lead azide; nitroglycerin; mercury azide; mercury fulminate; PETN; Compositions A, B, C; Tetryl; TNT; RDX; HBX; black powder; ammonium nitrate; Favier explosives (reference U.S. Corps of Engineers Missouri River Division, February 10, 1993); HMX; TNB; DNB; NB; 2,4 DNT; 2,6 DNT; 2NT; 3 NT, 4NT; 4-Am-DNT; and 2-am-DNT (reference U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District December 12, 1996); picrates; nitrocellulose; AP; and nitroaromatics (reference SAIC May, 6, 1997). In addition to these contaminants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (reference "Approaches for the Remediation of Federal Facility Sites Contaminated with Explosives or Radioactive Wastes", EPA/625/R-93/013, September 1993) identified similar and additional contaminants. The probable adverse health and environmental effects based on physical and chemical characteristics of these conventional munitions residues mandate a complete analysis followed by thorough environmental remediation of all affected areas on the island or in the surrounding waters of Vieques. Medical care also must be provided for these exposures.

Professor Rokke stated that the recent finding of ships sunk with potential hazardous materials in leaking barrels off the coast of Vieques in 15' to 20' is disturbing. Probable water and thus food chain contamination from these leaking barrels with unknown chemicals and decay of ship construction materials also mandates a thorough analysis of contamination, completion of environmental remediation, and health care for all affected individuals.

Dr. Rokke also denounced the fact that almost eights (8) months have passed since the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on June 16, 1999 from all the US military branches, requesting any and all information about the use of DU on Vieques and the Committee has yet to receive substantive response. "The Navy was forced to admit that they fired DU on Vieques on February 1999. But the fact that it's taken so long for the Armed Forces to categorically admit or deny others uses of DU on Vieques raises suspicion that there have been other uses of DU on Vieques. This wouldn't surprise me, since the Armed Forces have treated Vieques and its citizens as guinea pigs." said Dr. Rokke.

Finally, Dr. Rokke added that environmental contamination caused by deliberate U.S. Navy actions resulting in air, water, and soil contamination with consequent adverse health effects is a crime against humanity and must be immediately corrected. He stated: "All citizens of Vieques, Puerto Rico, the United States, and all other nations of the world must unite to protect our fragile environment and the health of all living things. We also must demand the cessation of all Naval activities on Vieques to prevent further problems in the name of GOD and for the citizens of the world." * * *

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