Iraq’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation have published a summary report of ex-post assessment of the prevalence of birth defects, still-births and miscarriages in the country obtained through a household survey. Before publication of the report, I criticised in the British Medical Journal (Rapid responses, September 10, 2013) the design of the survey as inappropriate. Post-publication, clarification of the points I raised was necessary and action to finish the study acquiring historical residence and exposure of the cases should be accepted by the MoH in Baghdad and the WHO, and is feasible. Completing the study with clarifications and these data will show its relevance and pitfalls more clearly.
The study was designed with an inbuilt prejudice of “not wishing to investigate correlation with exposure to depleted uranium”; not very scientific. The MoH-WHO study didn’t request information about all environmental exposures and did not consider any other of the complex post-war detritus and situations that could affect reproductive health.
It is not only DU that is a potential teratogen or foetal toxicant; there are a number of other potential long-term and persisting contaminants derived from war as well as war-related candidate-enhancers of reproductive damage. Removing one’s self-imposed blinkers is necessary to see that life style and resources in Iraq are not “untouched” by its decades-long history of sanctions which have hit nutritional levels and health care; attacks by varied weaponry; and the destruction of the country’s infrastructure. To ignore or overlook these factors is not sound from a scientific-public health perspective. However, in the Iraqi MoH-WHO study there appears to have been a resolve “to ignore” by simply not asking. The study was also inept to investigate proofs of familiality in the couples with birth defects investigated; the father’s side of the family was ignored completely.
Consistent with its determination to ignore reality, and instrumental in enforcing it, the report began with a derogatory dismissal as “anecdotal” of the few previous studies except one, which the MoH-WHO described as “credible”. It reviews the impact of DU on reproductive health, referring to information unavailable to the wider scientific community, of the prevalence of birth defects and concluding that DU was not a risk factor for reproductive health.
Apparently, it was necessary to discredit other studies (analytical or genetic studies of a selected group of families with birth defects) which showed contamination of families by metal elements with potential teratogen and carcinogen effects, and frequent presentation of birth defects without familiality. Dismissing and discrediting, rather than disproving by research, is inappropriate scientifically and unconvincing ethically.
To choose a household survey as the basis of a study is a questionable choice per se; it generates possibilities for giving a biased picture. No rationale was given and none of the criteria are documented for the initial selection of areas in which the study was conducted. Previous data were alluded to, as the grounds for these decisions, but the “criteria determined by the MoH to define the areas as exposed to bombing or heavy fighting or not” are not identified; for example, referring to chronology, mapping and type of event by UN or government, or by data of detection of war-detritus.
In addition it is not clear how, within the districts chosen, individual clusters were defined from which individual households were selected at random. These choices need to be clarified to show the soundness of their rationale because of the relevance they have in determining the outcome of the study and the statistics obtained.
Given the clear “prejudicial denial of interest” of the study to seek potential war-related factors for the birth defects, it is legitimate to ask if one way to avoid raising the issue of environmental factors could have been choosing the areas for the survey more carefully.
The MoH-WHO study could have obtained the data relating to the incidence of birth defects within maternities more effectively, as the report’s authors eventually acknowledge. It is known that Iraq’s Ministry of Health had by the end of 2010 started to use a questionnaire in hospitals to register birth defects.
The numerous and qualified staff hired for this survey could have registered incidence levels and obtained family and residential histories from the women delivering in hospitals in 2012 in order to reconstruct the pattern of reproductive damage in the past. Working in hospitals could have had the added benefit of leaving such personnel trained to continue birth defect registration, a goal in itself for public health. Why then did the Iraq MoH-WHO study not help the implementation of the registration process with its potential for collecting valuable data?
It would have been routine in any other country to pose questions about exposures to pesticides, new industrial sites, proximity of housing to waste and sewage plants, open discharges, et cetera. In the specific case of Iraq, it should have been routine to ask about war incidents, petrol fires, past and present malnutrition, use of diesel generators and other environmental factors that are found after war and the destruction of national infrastructure. It would also have been essential to ask the residential history of the people interviewed.
As it is, this report amounts to the normalisation of a situation that, in more than one hot spot in Iraq, has emerged as worrying, observationally; it also ignores the proofs of high environmental contamination produced by research studies.
The avoidance of getting an insight into the observational reports on the contamination of the population by simply dismissing them, rather than investigating the places where these reports originated, is not a good omen for the usefulness or even the transparency of purposes of the Iraq MoH-WHO study. Avoiding investigation of critical areas and an “undocumented choice” of household survey can “normalise” a situation and pushes into invisibility the areas and people more severely damaged. As such, we have not been offered elements to validate the soundness of the Iraq MoH and WHO study scientifically, and await comments from the two bodies.
We need a genuine commitment to provide a sound scientific basis, transparency in the team and preliminary protocols before undertaking, as announced, any follow-up or new studies of this kind. In addition, we need to warn that any option that may exist to repair the damage in affected populations has to be based on the identification of the potential factors for damage to reproductive health; investigations should be directed to assess, or dismiss, the reported contamination of the section of the population of reproductive age and their progeny.
As scientists and doctors, as with the Iraqi people, we were deprived of the chance of working towards remedies as a great deal of energy and an unknown amount of money has been spent on this study to “discover” that, against all the odds, a war after sanctions has an even better impact on reproductive health than life with western standards (with a similar prevalence of birth defects and a lesser prevalence for still-births and premature child loss).
This report looks suspiciously like official “reassurance” for the next country to be served-up with the sanctions-attacks-occupation treatment, as well as those already in receipt of the same lethal cocktail.
The writer is Professor of Genetics at the University of Genoa, Italy
- WHO Refuses to Publish Report on Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq Caused by Depleted Uranium Ammunition (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- How the World Health Organisation covered up Iraq’s Depleted Uranium nightmare (blacklistednews.com)
- Why the WHO report on congenital anomalies in Iraq is a disgrace (alethonews.wordpress.com)
WHO Refuses to Publish Report on Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq Caused by Depleted Uranium Ammunition
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has categorically refused in defiance of its own mandate to share evidence uncovered in Iraq that US military use of Depleted Uranium and other weapons have not only killed many civilians, but continue to result in the birth of deformed babies.
This issue was first brought to light in 2004 in a WHO expert report “on the long-term health of Iraq’s civilian population resulting from depleted uranium (DU) weapons”. This earlier report was “held secret”, namely suppressed by the WHO:
The study by three leading radiation scientists cautioned that children and adults could contract cancer after breathing in dust containing DU, which is radioactive and chemically toxic. But it was blocked from publication by the World Health Organization (WHO), which employed the main author, Dr Keith Baverstock, as a senior radiation advisor. He alleges that it was deliberately suppressed, though this is denied by WHO. (See Rob Edwards, WHO ‘Suppressed’ Scientific Study Into Depleted Uranium Cancer Fears in Iraq, The Sunday Herald, February 24, 2004)
Almost nine years later, a joint WHO- Iraqi Ministry of Health Report on cancers and birth defect in Iraq was to be released in November 2012. “It has been delayed repeatedly and now has no release date whatsoever.”
To this date the WHO study remains “classified”.
According to Hans von Sponeck, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations,
“The US government sought to prevent the WHO from surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers.” (quoted in Mozhgan Savabieasfahani Rise of Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq: World Health Organization Refuses to Release Data, Global Research, July 31, 2013
This tragedy in Iraq reminds one of US Chemical Weapons used in Vietnam. And that the US has failed to acknowledge or pay compensation or provide medical assistance to thousands of deformed children born and still being born due to American military use of Agent Orange throughout the country.
The millions of gallons of this chemical dumped on rural Vietnam were eagerly manufactured and sold to the Pentagon by companies Dupont, Monsanto and others greedy for huge profits.
Given the US record of failing to acknowledge its atrocities in warfare, I fear those mothers in Najaf and other Iraqi cities and towns advised not to attempt the birth of more children will never receive solace or help.
A United Nations that is no longer corrupted by the five Permanent Members of the Security Council is what is needed.
- Selective ‘obscenity’: US checkered record on chemical weapons (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- World Health Organization still stalling release of report on Iraqi cancers and birth defects (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- IPPNW: Israel’s nuclear activities in the Negev contaminate the air all the year (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
America’s war of aggression in Iraq produced many immediate casualties, but recent reports from Iraq are citing another, longer term, cost of war. America’s use of depleted uranium shells is causing record numbers of birth defects and cancer in previous combat areas. Doctors are struggling to cope with the outbreak.
The US military’s use of depleted uranium in Iraq has led to a sharp increase in Leukemia and birth defects in the city of Najaf – and panicked residents are fearing for their health. Cancer is now more common than the flu, a local doctor tells RT.
The city of Najaf saw one of the most severe military actions during the 2003 invasion. RT traveled to the area, quickly learning that every residential street in several neighborhoods has seen multiple cases of families whose children are ill, as well as families who have lost children, and families who have many relatives suffering from cancer.
Uranium is radioactive and a known carcinogen, but whether or not the amount present in the American ammunition used during the war is enough to cause the kind of disease present in Iraq today has yet to be proven conclusively. But if reports are correct, it would be quite a coincidence that the areas presenting the increases in birth defects and cancer are also the ones where heavy use of depleted uranium shells took place.
Dr. Sundus Nsaif says the city has seen a “dramatic rise” in cancer and birth defects since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Nsaif said the alternative location was chosen because there is an active push by the government not to talk about the issue, perhaps in an effort not to embarrass coalition forces… Depleted uranium weapons are known for the ability to penetrate through walls and tanks. One of its most dangerous “side effects” is that when the substance vaporizes, it generates dust inhaled by individuals.
The Pentagon and the UN estimate that US and British forces used 1,100 to 2,200 tons of armor-piercing shells made of depleted uranium during attacks in Iraq in March and April, far more than the [officially] estimated 375 tons used in the 1991 Gulf War, according to a report published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2003.
It would seem the Iraqi people are not quite finished suffering for America’s historic blunder. Those who survived America’s invasion and resulting sectarian war have lived long enough to get cancer or watch their newborn children be crippled from the weaponry used in the war.
The U.S. meanwhile has moved on to thinking of ways to “liberate” other countries.
Depleted Uranium: The BBC’s John Simpson does a hatchet job on Fallujah’s genetically damaged children
Under the title ‘Fallujah’s children’s ‘genetic damage’ that old war horse ‘literally’ of the BBC’s foreign propaganda service, John Simpson, manages not to mention the phrase ‘depleted uranium’ when allegedly reporting on the alarming rise in birth defects that include cancer, leukaemia and a horrific rise in child mortality since the US demolished the city of Fallujah in 2004. And it’s not until right at the end of the piece that the US attack on Fallujah is even mentioned, let alone depleted uranium!
“Even if it’s possible to produce watertight scientific proof that American weapons were responsible for the genetic damage it will be almost impossible for the people who suffered to get any redress. American legislation makes it extremely difficult to sue the US government over acts of war.”
Well that takes care of that little problem then, doesn’t it. I trust the US government will reward Simpson for his slavish support of its wars of conquest and destruction.
Indeed, just look at the title of the video, the phrase genetic damage is in single quotes, thus the damage to the children of Fallujah, which is clearly and obviously genetic in origin, is questioned by the BBC’s spin meister Simpson. Worse, the video shows doctors comparing the effects of depleted uranium on the children of Fallujah with that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and point out that in fact, they’re much worse than the damage inflicted by the Empire’s atomic bombs.
Dan Hind, in his latest piece describes the BBC’s role as follows:
“[The BBC's] journalistic failings derive from its nature as a creature of parliamentary opinion. If the executive and most of Parliament are uninterested in seeing an issue debated then the BBC remains silent. Given the centrality of the BBC in our information system its dependence on cues from an out of control political class lends mainstream coverage of public affairs an increasingly hallucinatory quality. When Westminster wants something – from a war in the Middle East to the privatization of the NHS – the BBC falls into line.” – ‘What If They Held A Constitutional Convention and Everybody Came?‘ By Dan Hind
I wanted to put the BBC video up here, but inconveniently, The BBC decided that us punters who pay for the BBC, are denied that right, so you’ll have to watch it here, but hurry up, who knows how long the BBC will allow us to view it? This in spite of the fact that it states on its website:
Clearly this video is one that the BBC doesn’t want distributed too widely in spite of its disingenuous and downright misleading message (or perhaps because of it?).
Facts in the video about genetic damage (note not alleged genetic damage) to the children of Fallujah in the video that Simpson apparently didn’t notice include:
- A twelve-fold increase in childhood cancers since 2004
- Child mortality in Fallujah 80 per thousand but in neighbouring Jordan it’s only 17 per thousand.
- The ratio of boys to girls born has dramatically altered. Normally it’s a little over a 1,000 thousand boys to 1,000 girls but in Fallujah it’s 860 boys to a 1,000 girls, an effect seen after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- Horrific birth defects (too horrible for the BBC to show)
And even after a specialist talks about “genetic damage” in Fallujah, Simpson tells us:
“Yet the way the survey was done, asking people to fill in forms, means that it still isn’t finally conclusive.”
I’m not sure what Simpson wants here (aside from “watertight scientific proof”), if the survey of 4,800 people, conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health doesn’t fit the bill, what does?
But to add insult to injury, Simpson ends the report by blaming the Iraqi government!
“But even the Iraqi government doesn’t seem interested in finding out the truth, perhaps because Fallujah is a predominately Sunni Muslim town and the government is overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim.”
So Simpson manages to make the alleged Sunni/Shiite divide as the reason why we can’t get at the truth of the situation in Fallujah! Once more, the victims get blamed.
This is outrageous stuff, truly propaganda of the worst kind. Hopefully, if there’s any justice in this world, one day Simpson will be called to account for his crimes of misreporting.
Efforts to determine the health and environmental risks of depleted uranium (DU) weaponry in Iraq have been hampered by the Obama administration. DU, which makes shell and bullet casings harder and more capable of piercing armor, can contaminate the environment and contribute to health problems, including cancer and birth defects.
The Dutch peace group IKV Pax Christi complained in a new report that “Coalition Forces” (read: the United States) have refused to provide information on when and where invading forces fired DU weaponry.
Due to a “lack of transparency” by the U.S., “there is an absence of crucial information on firing coordinates, the quantities and types of DU munitions used; data gaps relating to the efforts undertaken to clean up contaminated sites and material are hindering efforts to assess risks and implement remediation work,” the report reads.
There are reportedly more than 300 sites in Iraq that were contaminated by DU weapons, many of them located in populated areas.
It is estimated that 400 tons of DU ammunition were fired in Iraq, mostly by American units, during the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion. Although the United States continues to use depleted uranium munitions, the report notes that “over the last couple of years the US Army has invested in research into replacing DU rounds in the A-10 with tungsten alloy based munitions, as well as non-DU 105 and 120mm munitions for the M1A2 Abrams tank, referring in their rationale for this move to DU’s potential environmental impact.”
To Learn More:
In a State of Uncertainty: Impact and Implications of the Use of Depleted Uranium in Iraq (IKV Pax Christi) (pdf)
Comments on Dec. 12, 2012 NRC meeting with the Army in Maryland from 10AM-1PM Hawaii time. The public could listen in and make comments/ask questions at the end of the meeting:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will be issuing a license for the mongoose to guard the hen house in Hawaii. The Army will be issued an NRC license to possess Depleted uranium (DU) in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks and the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA). In effect, the NRC is licensing Hawaii nuclear waste dumps and allowing those dumps to be bombed, spreading the nuclear dump debris wherever the wind takes it.
The State Dept. of Health made no comment, nor did it ask any questions following the meeting.
It is a fact that DU exists at Schofield Barracks and PTA, and perhaps other present and former military sites in Hawaii, including Kaho’olawe and Makua Valley. How much is not known. A minimum of 700, perhaps more than 2000, DU Davy Crockett spotting rounds have been fired at Pohakuloa. Less than 1% of PTA’s 133,000-acres have been surveyed. DU cluster bombs, and more than a dozen DU penetrating rounds, DU bunker busters, etc. may also have been fired at PTA and elsewhere. All branches of the US military use DU weapons today.
It’s clear to me that we cannot rely on so called regulators to fix the problem. Nuclear regulators are just as much part of the problem as bank regulators. The DOH is also part of the problem.
Where have our health officials been all these years on the issue. The military in Hawaii has lied and uses deception repeatedly. The US military mission goes before concern for the health and safety of its own troops and Hawaii’s people and land. Uranium is now showing up in Big Island residents’ urine.
Is it related to PTA, Fukushima or what?
The people have a right to know.
Is the military above the law?
What’s needed is a peoples’ movement of non-violent resistance to stop the bombing to protect the people and land of Hawaii against attacks by the U.S. military.
- US military chiefs planned to blow up the moon with nuclear bomb as show of Cold War muscle, physicist claims (independent.co.uk)
- US to supply Israel with weapons worth $650 million (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
By Richard Lightbown | 14 March 2011
Press TV on 4 March 2011 reported that cancer cases in Gaza had increased by 30 per cent, and that there was a link between the occurrence of the disease and residence in areas that had been badly hit by Israeli bombing. Zekra Ajour from the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights told the channel that Gaza had been a testing ground for illegal weapons.
On 20 December 2009 Al-Dameer had published another paper in Arabic on the increase in the number of babies born in Gaza with birth defects, thought to be the result of radioactive and toxic materials from Operation Cast Lead.1 The birth defects included incomplete hearts and malformations of the brain. During August, September and October 2008 the number of cases had been 27. In the comparable months in 2009 the numbers had risen to 47. There was a similar rise in aborted foetuses. Al-Dameer had called for scientific monitoring throughout the Gaza Strip to obtain statistics on deformed foetus cases relating to the intentional use of internationally banned weapons.
Similar dramatic increases in birth defects over a longer period have been recorded in Iraq and have been linked to widespread use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons. (It is reported that local midwives no longer look forward to births as they don’t know what is going to come out.)
Although the epidemiologist Professor Alastair Hay told the BBC in March 2010 that it was difficult to suggest any particular cause for the trend,2 scientific data has been published which contradicts his opinion. A review in Environmental Health in 20053 concluded by saying:
Regarding the teratogenicity of parental prenatal exposure to DU aerosols, the evidence, albeit imperfect, indicates a high probability of substantial risk. Good science indicates that depleted uranium weapons should not be manufactured or exploded.
When later asked in the same interview about white phosphorus, Prof. Hay had replied;
…phosphorus is an essential element in our bodies and so you would I think have to ingest a huge amount to cause any particular problem. But there has been no investigation anywhere that I am aware of to link phosphorus with health problems…
Apparently the professor has not read the Goldstone Report of the previous year which states in paragraph 896:
Medical staff reported to the mission how even working in the areas where the phosphorus had been used made them feel sick, their lips would swell and they would become extremely thirsty and nauseous.
The toxicity of phosphorus is also recorded in a report by New York medical staff:4
Oral ingestion of white phosphorus in humans has been demonstrated to result in pathologic changes to the liver and kidneys. The ingestion of a small quantity of white phosphorus can cause gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Individuals with a history of oral ingestion have been noted to pass phosphorus-laden stool (“smoking stool syndrome”). The accepted lethal dose is 1 mg/kg, although the ingestion of as little as 15 mg has resulted in death.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that breathing white phosphorus for long periods causes “phossy jaw”, a condition in which there is poor wound healing of the mouth and breakdown of the jawbone.5
Depleted uranium in US-supplied bunker-buster bombs
Evidence of the use of depleted uranium against Gaza is tenuous and Goldstone merely recorded in paragraph 907 that it had received allegations which it had not further investigated. Much of this evidence came from Action des citoyens pour le désarmement nucléaire (ACDN: Citizens Action for Nuclear Disarmament). Their report of July 2009 hypothesizes that the GBU-39 bunker-buster bomb is packed with 75 kilogram of depleted uranium. (A UNEP report also ambiguously refers to bunker-buster bombs containing depleted uranium.) The US delivery of 1,000 of these bombs to Israel arrived in early December 2008 shortly before the start of the war. The GBU-39 is considered one of the world’s most precise bombs and Boeing, the manufacturer, claims that the bomb will penetrate three feet of steel-reinforced concrete. (UNEP suggests that it can penetrate reinforced concrete to depths ranging from 1.8 to over 6 metres.) Boeing’s patent on the weapon mentions depleted uranium.6
It is not known how many bunker-buster bombs were used against Gaza but it seems reasonable to assume that the number could run into hundreds. It is thought that they were used mostly in the Philadelphia corridor against the tunnels. Desmond Travers, the former Irish army officer who was a member of the Goldstone Commission, would only say that depleted uranium may have been used during the war, although he did agree that it would have been well suited for attacking the tunnels where maximum penetration would have been desired.7 He was also in agreement with ACDN that the use of below-ground targets would have considerably reduced the levels of aerosol uranium that was dispersed into the air.
Col Raymond Lane, who is chief instructor of ordnance with the Irish armed forces, gave testimony to the Goldstone Commission on weapons used in the Gaza conflict. He told the commission that he had no expertise of depleted uranium and so had not investigated it. He gave no reason for his failure to bring in specialist expertise to investigate the subject.8
In April 2009 Jean-François Fechino from ACDN was part of a four-person team which went to Gaza for the Arab Commission for Human Rights. Samples that the team brought back were analysed by a specialist laboratory which identified carcinogens: depleted uranium, caesium, asbestos dust, tungsten and aluminium oxide. Thorium oxide was also found, which is radioactive, as are depleted uranium and caesium. The analysis also identified phosphates and copper, along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are a health hazard, especially to children, asthmatics and elders.9
Depleted uranium burns at almost 1200 degrees Celsius. (TNT by comparison burns at 576 degrees Celsius.)10 At this temperature the fire vaporizes any metals in the target which in combination with uranium are released into the air in aerosol form. After deposition the aerosols have the potential to contaminate groundwater. (The Gaza aquifer, which is the Strip’s only water source, is also connected to ground water supplies in Egypt, although water only flows into Gaza from Israel.11)
There is empirical documentation that the aerosols can travel up to 42 Km and theoretical documentation that they can travel further. Sderot is about 43 kilometres from the Philadelphia corridor and less than five kilometres from Beit Hanoun. In consequence, it may be that the activities of Israel’s air force have created a greater threat to the Israeli city than all of the 8,000 well-publicized rockets from Gaza ever have.
Depleted uranium accumulation has been recorded in the bone, kidney, reproductive system, brain and lung. It is carcinogenic, toxic to the kidneys, damaging to cellular DNA and causes malformations to an embryo or foetus.
Although an Israeli army spokesman told CNN on 7 January 2009, “I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used.” the chemical had been used by Israeli forces since the beginning of the war.12 The Goldstone Report stated that Israeli sources later claimed their forces had stopped using white phosphorous on 7 January 2009 because of international concerns. This was also untrue as there is evidence that it had been used after that date. Goldstone declared the Israeli armed forces to have been “systematically reckless” in using white phosphorous in built-up areas (paragraphs 884, 886 and 890).
Difficulty in detecting the extent of damage to tissue and organs gave serious problems to medical staff trying to treat white phosphorus injuries. Several patients died as a result. Doctors found that when they removed bandages applied to a wound that still contained fragments of white phosphorous, smoke would come from the wound since the chemical continues to burn as long as it is in contact with oxygen. White phosphorous sticks to tissue so that all flesh and sometimes muscle around the burn would have to be cut out. The substance is also highly toxic (Goldstone paragraphs 892/4/5/6).
An article published in The Lancet included photographs of a young man who was admitted to hospital in Gaza with white phosphorous burns on 30 per cent of his body. The day after admission smoke was noticed coming from the wounds and the patient was rapidly transferred to the operating room for removal of dead tissue and removal of white phosphorus particles. During the operation a particle of the chemical was dislodged and caused a superficial burn on a nurse’s neck. The patient survived.13
Col Lane testified that although white phosphorus gave the best quality of smoke for military purposes it was “horrible stuff” and the Irish army had stopped using it 20 years previously. He recounted how the British army had sea-dumped quantities of the material off the coast of southwest Scotland in the 1950s, some of which had been washed up on the coast of Ireland by a storm in 2007. It had ignited on drying (the colonel had witnessed this himself) and in one instance a child had suffered burns as a result.
Other toxic materials
Mass spectrometry analysis conducted by the New Weapons Research Group (NWRG) found aluminium, titanium, strontium, barium, cobalt and mercury in biopsies taken from white phosphorus wounds at Shifaa Hospital, Gaza. (Aluminium, barium and mercury have potential for lethal and intoxicating effects; aluminium and mercury can cause chronic pathologies over time; mercury is carcinogenic for humans; cobalt can cause mutations; and aluminium is fetotoxic, i.e. injurious to foetuses.)14
White phosphorus bombs are built with alternating sectors of white phosphorus and aluminium. Analysis by NWRC of the powder from a shell near Al-Wafa Hospital in Gaza also found high levels of molybdenum, tungsten and mercury. Tungsten and mercury are carcinogenic, while molybdenum is toxic to sperms.
In a report appropriately entitled “Gaza Strip, soil has been contaminated due to bombings: population in danger”, NWRG also conducted analyses of two craters caused by bombs in 2006 and two others by bombs in 2009. In the 2006 craters they identified tungsten, mercury and molybdenum, while in the 2009 craters at Tufah they discovered molybdenum, cadmium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, copper and zinc. Cadmium and some nickel and manganese compounds are carcinogenic.15
NWRG has further conducted research of hair samples from 95 children resident in heavily bombed areas of Gaza. Again using mass spectrometry the study identified the carcinogenic or toxic metals chromium, cadmium, cobalt, tungsten and uranium. One wounded individual also had unusually high levels of lead. The study found the results alarming and considered the levels could be pathogenic in situations of chronic exposure. Thirty-nine of the examinees were recommended for further checks.16
DIME weapons, soil contamination and cancer
It has been reported that soil in the area of a DIME (dense inert metal explosive) bomb blast may remain barren for an indefinite period of time because of contamination from heavy metal tungsten alloy.17 The same material in trial rapidly caused tumours in 100 per cent of rats when used at both low and high doses, with the tumours spreading to the lungs, necessitating euthanasia.18
DIME weapons were first used against Gaza by Israeli drones in the summer of 2006, when Palestinian medical personnel reported that it significantly increased the fatality rate among victims.19 Shortly after the DIME weapons were also trialled during the first week of the war in Lebanon in July 2006.
The Goldstone Commission was unable to confirm that DIME munitions were used by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead. Col Lane had told the commission in testimony that there was no actual proof. He then went on to testify that he had been given samples in Gaza which analysis in Dublin had shown to contain DIME materials consisting mostly of tungsten with traces of iron and sulphur. He was of the opinion that ordnance had been used that had some sort of DIME component. He also mentioned that he had read of unusual amputations, and that tungsten and cobalt would have this effect. Weaponry had been found with DIME components which was capable of amputation and there are Palestinian amputees, yet neither Col Lane nor the commission was prepared to say that DIME weapons had been used by Israeli forces.
DIME bombs cause a high proportion of amputations particularly of legs, while patients often suffered internal burns as well. The bombs consist of powdered tungsten alloy mixed with an explosive material inside a casing which disintegrates on explosion. The tungsten powder tears apart anything it hits including soft tissue and bone, causing very severe injuries. Tungsten alloy particles, described as “finely powdered micro-shrapnel”, are too small to be extracted from the victim’s body and are highly carcinogenic. (Goldstone, paragraphs 902-4)
No weapons fragments can be found from DIME bombs with standard diagnostic resources, despite the indication of heavy metals from this type of injuries. Mass spectrometry analyses by NWRG of biopsies from amputation injuries revealed aluminium, titanium, copper, strontium, barium, cobalt, mercury, vanadium, caesium, tin, arsenic, manganese, rubidium, cadmium, chromium, zinc and nickel. Doctors reported that it was difficult to determine the extent of dead tissue (which it is vital to remove). This resulted in higher rates of deep infection, subsequent amputation and higher mortality.20
The wide range of heavy metals discovered by analysis in casualties, residents and soil in Gaza suggests that other unidentified weapons may have also been trialled. (The Sensor Fuzed Weapon has been suggested as one such technological perversion that the Israeli forces may have used.21)
The whole Gaza population and their environment, including generations yet to be conceived, have been put at risk of serious long-term injury from heavy metal pollution of the air, soil and groundwater (and possibly the seawater too), while the causal pollution is likely to cross state borders into Egypt and even into Israel. Reassurances of the legitimate and responsible use and the reduced lethality of weapons (an opinion in part shared by Col Lane) are callous and inadequate in the context of the dangerous reality that has resulted. Meanwhile, the impacts of Israel’s illegal assaults on Gaza remain ignored and its deeds uncensored by the wider international community.
1. Kawther Salam, 29 December 2009; Abortions, Cancer, Diseases and… in Gaza; Intifada-Palestine. www.intifada-palestine.com/2009/12/abortions-cancer-diseases-and-in-gaza/
2. BBCNews, 4 March 2010; Falluja Doctors Report Rise in Birth Defects. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8548707.stm
3. Rita Hindin, Doug Brugge and Bindu Panikkar; Teratogenicity of depleted uranium aerosols: A review from an epidemiological perspective; Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source 2005, 4:17 doi:10.1186/1476-069X-4-17. www.ehjournal.net/content/4/1/17
4. Lisandro Irizarry, Mollie V Williams, Geri M Williams and José Eric Díaz-Alcalá, 21 October 2009; CBRNE – Incendiary Agents, White Phosphorus. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/833585-overview
5. UNEP, 2007; Lebanon Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment, p 149.
6. ACDN, 4 July 2009; Report on the Use of Radioactive Weapons in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead. www.newweapons.org/files/ACDN%20Gaza%20report%20updated%204Jul2009%201.pdf
7. Dr Hana Chehata, 9 March 2010; Disturbing Findings of Toxic Uranium Levels in Gaza; Middle East Monitor. http://preview.tinyurl.com/6cdf55k
8. Video accessed from http://blog.unwatch.org/?p=413
9. Palestinian Telegraph, 24 May 2009; Israel Used Depleted Uranium in Offensive on Gaza. www.paltelegraph.com/opinions/editorials/935-israel-used-depleted-uranium-in-offensive-on-gaza.html
10. Sister Rosalie Bertell; Depleted Uranium in the Human Body: Sr Rosalie Bertell, PhD. www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgQ79-oDX2o
12. Human Rights Watch, 10 January 2009; Q & A on Israel’s Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza. www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/01/10/q-israel-s-use-white-phosphorus-gaza
14. Sobhi Skaik, Nafiz Abu-Shaban, Nasser Abu-Shaban, Mario Barbieri, Maurizio Barbieri, Umberto Giani, Paola Manduca, 31 July 2010; Metals Detected by ICP/MS in Wound Tissue of War Injuries Without Fragments in Gaza. www.newweapons.org/files/1860524319368107_article.pdf
15. NWRC, 17 December 2009; Gaza Strip, soil has been contaminated due to bombings: population in danger. www.newweapons.org/files/pressrelease_nwrc_20091216_eng.pdf
16. NWRC, 17 March 2010; Metals Detected in Palestinian Children’s Hair Suggest Environmental Contamination. http://www.newweapons.org/?q=node/112
17. James Brooks, 6 December 2006; US and Israel Targeting DNA in Gaza? The DIME Bomb: Yet Another Genotoxic Weapon, Part II. Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding. http://tinyurl.com/6kq6sd9
18. John F. Kalinich, et al, 15 February 2005; Embedded Weapons-Grade Tungsten Alloy Shrapnel Rapidly Induces Metastatic High-Grade Rhabdomysoarcomas in F344 Rats; ehponline.org www.afrri.usuhs.mil/www/outreach/pdf/tungsten_cancer.pdf
19. James Brooks, 5 December 2006; The DIME Bomb: Yet Another Genotoxic weapon, Part 1; Al-Jazeera. www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27a/308.html
20. David Halpin, 14 August 2006; Are New weapons Being Used in Gaza and Lebanon; Electronic Intifada. http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article5528.shtml
21. James Brooks, 5 December 2006; The DIME Bomb: Yet Another Genotoxic weapon, Part III; Al-Jazeera. www.thetruthseeker.co.uk/oldsite/article.asp?ID=5648
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