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Schroeder, Heike*; Heimers, Anna*; Hoffmann, Wolfgang; Frentzel-Beyme, Rainer*

The Sixteenth Conference of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE): Abstracts

*University of Bremen, Germany; †University of Greifswald, Germany

The authors wish to thank the British National Gulf Veterans’ and Families’ Association for cooperation and for support by grants from the World Depleted Uranium Center, Berlin, Germany (WoDUC), as well as its director Prof. Albrecht Schott, for scientific advice.


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British veterans of the Gulf War 1990/1991 or/and the Balkans Wars 1995/1996 and 1999 who suffered from various medical complaints since then volunteered to participate in the present pilot-study. All reported situations during their active service associated with exposure to depleted uranium by inhalation of uranium oxide in its aerosol form. Exclusion criteria were previous radiation, medical use of cytotoxic drugs, heavy smoking, and previous work in badge-monitored occupations. An appropriate control group with respect to all of the multiple warfare agents the investigated veterans had been exposed to (including multi-vaccinations) and ill with comparable complaints, but documented absence of DU contamination, was not available, our own laboratory control was chosen to evaluate the findings of the study. Average ages were 40.1 (29 – 57) and 35.1 (17 – 57), resp.



There was a 5.2-fold increase among the exposed compared to the control (p<0.001).

Among the volunteers no sample was without chromosomal aberrations.

Frequencies of dicentric and ring chromosomes in 8 from 16 cases differ significantly in individual contrasts (Fisher’s exact test: p<.05). Stratification according to deployment did not alter the results.

Major bias in the chromosomal analysis seems unlikely since all volunteers and controls were analysed blindly by the same experienced scorers.

Veterans were exposed besides DU-dust to different agents on the battlefields. However, since dicentric chromosomes are reliable indicators of ionizing radiation, these findings contradict official releases from IAEA, WHO, MOD and DOE, stating that the radiotoxicity of DU would be negligible.

Computer simulations have also calculated only little radiological risk associated with the use of DU weapons, hence, it can only be speculated about the mechanisms behind the observed cytogenetic effects, considering the relatively low specific radioactivity of DU. Modern air sampling techniques have shown hundreds of thousands of DU particles in two selected samples from Kosovo in a few milligrams of contaminated soil, indicating that two years after the end of the war “spots” at different sites hit by DU rounds remain and DU dust was widely dispersed into the environment, since it was discovered even in Hungary.

The environmental impact of DU dust has been pondered, our results indicating persistence of uranium in the organism, which was confirmed by animal experimental evidence.

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.