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A 'silver bullet's' toxic legacy

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Pentagon spokesmen said yesterday that US troops are being given no new DU protection training for any Iraq campaign. In the mid-1990s, US troops were required to wear full protective suits and masks within 50 yards of a tank struck with DU bullets. Those rules, based on Nuclear Regulatory Commission safety guidelines, were dramatically revised in the late 1990s.

In most cases, the rules now say, any face mask is sufficient. Pentagon officials note their policy has been "inconsistent," but admitted in 1998 that their "failure" to alert soldiers to the risks before the Gulf War resulted in "thousands of unnecessary exposures." The latest rules, a US Army spokesman said yesterday, "reflect the most current ... data regarding DU."

Critics charge that the official downplaying of DU's dangers keeps the magic bullet in the arsenal, while thwarting DU-specific compensation claims by Gulf War vets.

The Iraqi battlefield will be "very dangerous" in the aftermath of a new war, says Asaf Durakovic, a former chief of nuclear medicine at a veteran's hospital and head of the private Uranium Medical Research Center. In the peer-reviewed journal "Military Medicine" last August, he published results that 14 of 27 ill Gulf War vets had DU in their urine nine years after the war.

Testifying before Congress in 1997, Dr. Durakovic predicted DU will ensure that "battlefields of the future will be unlike any...in history," and "injury and death will remain lingering threats to 'survivors' of the battle for ... decades into the future."

Though DU clearly enhances the chances of victory, some say the price is too high. Risks are difficult to quantify, but US military and expert reports indicate DU can be a hazard that may cause cancer, and that total soil decontamination is impossible.

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