NZ Herald
NZ Army free of depleted uranium ills

A New Zealand Defence Force investigation has found it unlikely the health
of personnel was put at risk by exposure to depleted uranium munitions in
the Gulf and the Balkans.

The risk was "negligible," Defence Minister Mark Burton said yesterday.

"In summary, based on the available information, the NZDF investigation has
concluded that it is unlikely that any personnel were exposed to residue from expended DU munitions and that if any exposure had occurred it is unlikely to have presented a health risk," he said.

The Defence Force sent 1557 questionnaires to present and former service personnel who were deployed in the Gulf and the Balkans. Only 733 questionnaires were returned and Mr Burton said that indicated a "low level of concern" among personnel who felt they were unlikely to have been exposed.

Some questionnaires were still trickling in and there remained a possibility someone may have had exposure to depleted uranium.

"However, I am advised that knowledge of the exposure areas and movement of NZDF personnel in those areas make it reasonable to conclude the risk is negligible," he said.

There have been fears that veterans exposed to depleted uranium weapons were at more risk of developing cancer and leukaemia after six Italian soldiers who had served in Kosovo died of leukaemia.

European Union and Nato experts have separately concluded that depleted uranium weapons, used by Nato in the Bosnia war in 1994-1995 and in the 1999 war over Kosovo had no negative effect on health.

Mr Burton said Nato medical experts found there was no increase in morbidity and mortality rates for Balkans veterans compared with non-deployed forces and civilians.

The Defence Force survey was initiated in January following the international concern.

Depleted uranium is an extremely dense metal used on the tips of shells against armoured vehicles because of its penetrating power.

New Zealand personnel served in Bosnia for 18 months from late 1994 and three have served as military observers in Kosovo since Christmas 1999.

Mr Burton said there were gaps in knowledge about depleted uranium, particularly the long-term effects. A database would be maintained indefinitely and any present or former service personnel with health concerns would have access to full medical assistance.

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