From: Rosalie Bertell,
To: Bulletin of Atomic Scientist
Sent: Wednesday, February 16, 2000 4:10 PM
Subject: Human Hazard of DU
I have sent the enclosed letter the Dr. Frank Von Hipple relative to his article in the Bulletin.
Dr. Rosalie Bertell, President
International Institute of Concern for Public Health
710-264 Queens Quay West
Toronto ON M5J 1B5 CANADA
16 February 2000
Dr. Frank Von Hipple
Center for Environmental Studies
Princeton NJ 08540 USA
It is a long time since we met in Japan, and I have watched you provide honest independent comments on the nuclear problems over the years. This make it painful for me to write this letter. I hope that you will understand the spirit in which it is written.
The paper which you wrote for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist has been very harmful to the cause of the Gulf War veterans. You probably know that there are some 120,000 of the regular troops sick, and 9,600 have died since the war. I am not counting the reserves, who were older when called to war. The Gulf War vets also have documented extraordinary damage to their offspring. It has long bothered me that the physicists have usurped radiation health as their "field" as if it meant nothing more than calculating the deposit of energy in tissues and applying ICRP parameters. Physicists are rather good at calculations, and this gives their theories an aura of mathematical certainty! As a mathematician, I object to this as an abuse. Applying mathematical models to the human body is much more complex than filling out a formula in a Health Physics Textbook.
The difficulty with your calculations, and those of the Rand Corporation and the author of the article in Science and Global Survival, is that you and they depended on knowing the solubility of the DU, its behaviour in the body, and its biological half life. With these three assumption wrong, the conclusions are also wrong.
When the DU weapon strikes a hardened target, the friction causes a flame which reaches between 1000 and 5000 degrees centigrade. This is sufficient to convert much of the uranium dioxide into a ceramic. This ceramic DU is not the same as the non-ceramic uranium oxide which one meets in uranium mining, milling or processing. It is much more resistant to dissolution in body fluid, and has a significantly longer biological half life.
I have been helping the
vets for the past three years. I was astonished to find that they are secreting
depleted uranium in urine eight and nine years after their exposure. Given
these facts, one can either posit very large original dose, beyond what
everyone considers to be reasonable, or throw out the assumed 500 day biological
half life. Some other biological mistakes in your theory include expecting
vets with DU shrapnel will provide insight into the plight of the veterans
who have this radioactive glass aerosol in their lungs. This is like comparing
apples and oranges. Apparently the constant motion of the lungs grinds
the glass into even smaller particle than were inhaled, and the phagocytes
are able to pull it into the thoracic lymph nodes. The soluble portion
passes the lung-blood barrier and then circulates in the blood. Because
of the long biological half life of this glass portion, the excretion through
the kidneys is very slow and would not be likely to cause gross!
kidney damage. Whether or not bone will store this ceramic uranium is another unanswered question.
There is more, but if you could find it in your heart to admit your limitations in the areas of medical science and biology, and give the veterans a break with their difficult position arguing with the military brass who like these new weapons, it would go a long way toward restoring your very good reputation with the biomedical community.
I really think you owe this one to the veterans. I was truly surprised to see you "jump on the band wagon", really adding nothing to the other two documents, but reaching a much broader more trusting audience. Were you invited to write the paper by the Bulletin?
Best wishes in spite of our differences!
Dr. Rosalie Bertell
cc Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist
Scientific and Human Rights
INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF CONCERN FOR PUBLIC HEALTH