Wednesday August 8 5:39 PM ET
No Signs Swedish Soldiers Were Exposed to Uranium
By Kristin Demos

STOCKHOLM (Reuters Health) - Tests to confirm that Swedish soldiers who served in Kosovo were not exposed to depleted uranium have found that they actually have lower uranium levels than soldiers who stayed in Sweden.

Swedish Armed Services researchers tested a total of 400 Swedish soldiers--200 who had spent 6 months in Kosovo and 200 who were waiting to go to Kosovo but were never sent.

Soldiers who had not performed a tour of duty in Kosovo had four times the average level of uranium in their urine as soldiers who had just returned from Kosovo, according to a report released Tuesday from the Swedish Armed Forces. Despite the difference, none of the soldiers had unexpectedly high levels.

``I was a little surprised. I expected the numbers to be the same because I knew for sure that we weren't exposed to depleted uranium,'' said Ann-Marie Goransson, surgeon general of the Swedish Armed Forces. ``But, there are differences in background radiation, and I didn't think about that.''

Background radiation refers to the low levels of radiation that exist in the environment. Nordic countries, along with Canada, have higher background radiation levels than Mediterranean countries, Goransson told Reuters Health. Another reason for the decreased uranium levels might be that soldiers in Kosovo were drinking bottled water, mainly from Greece where the background radiation would be lower than in Sweden.

The Swedish study was ordered in January after news media carried reports that soldiers could have been exposed to depleted uranium (DU) in Bosnia and Kosovo from munitions used by NATO forces. DU is used to harden amour-piercing ammunition.

There have been some reports suggesting that radiation emitted from DU has health effects including leukemia and other cancers. But other studies, including one ordered by the European Commission, have concluded there is no evidence exposure to DU munitions causes cancer.

``There was an outcry in the press last winter about uranium levels in soldiers who had been in Kosovo,'' Goransson said. ``We decided to not have people worry in Sweden, and so we wanted to prove that this was not a problem with soldiers in Sweden.''

By looking at NATO coordinates, Goransson was able to see that Swedish soldiers were potentially exposed to DU in only one area in Kosovo. She and a team of scientists visited the site and found no traces of radiation in the soil. Swedish soldiers were later tested for uranium levels.

``We're very happy about these results,'' Nina Rehnqvist, deputy general of the National Board of Health and Welfare, told Reuters Health. ``It was very good that the test was done.''

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