of Defence: Report of a Reconnaissance Visit to Develop an Enhanced Environmental
Monitoring Programme in the British-led Sector in Kosovo
London, June 2001:
This paper describes the results of a reconnaissance visit to Kosovo to scope the requirements for the enhanced environmental survey programme announced by the Minister for the Armed Forces in Parliament on 9 January 2001. Although the announcement was made in response to veterans’ concerns over the possible risks from depleted uranium (DU) munitions used by NATO Forces in the Balkans, the risks from other hazardous materials have not been neglected. There is already an established health and safety and environmental health regime in Kosovo and Army Environmental Health Teams in the area have identified potential risks related to air quality, heavy metals and asbestos. Assessments of the potential risks from the use of DU munitions were made before UK troops entered Kosovo and were assessed as very low. Although subsequent findings have confirmed the validity of this initial assessment, there is clearly a need for further work to address veterans’ concerns.
The findings from the reconnaissance parallel those by other NATO partners and international organisations. DU contamination was found to be limited and very highly localised and no contamination was detected in the vast majority of locations surveyed. However the need for a more thorough assessment of the potential risks from low levels of caesium contamination that probably results from the Chernobyl accident was identified. The visit also highlighted some of the practical problems likely to arise during future survey work. These include uncertainty regarding the exact location of DU attacks and the presence of other known physical and environmental hazards such as unexploded ordnance and asbestos. The paper also indicates that surveys for radiological contamination provide opportunities for gathering information on other hazardous materials (such as heavy metals) at little additional cost.
24. The reconnaissance visit has highlighted certain key issues that need to be borne in mind when considering the proposals for the environmental survey. Whilst the reason for the survey is in response to concerns about DU, the issue of caesium-137 contamination also needs to be properly addressed. However, any proposals for environmental surveys need to be considered in the wider context of risks arising from other hazards in the Kosovo theatre. Two such hazards identified during the visit were unexploded ordnance and asbestos. These hazards must be considered as part of a comprehensive generic risk assessment, which will be required to be completed before the survey mission commences and will need to be reviewed in Kosovo in the light of local circumstances.
25. The data obtained during the reconnaissance visit is in good agreement with that reported by other NATO countries and organisations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (Reference 4). The data supports the initial assessment that the risks to UK troops are low as areas affected by the use of DU munitions are widespread and significant levels of DU contamination highly localised. The fact that most of the DU recovered was in the form of intact penetrators, even in the case of the penetrator that had hit a concrete slab, suggests that there is little DU dust produced when a penetrator misses its intended target. Given that a US Government report (Reference 5) suggests that only 10% of the DU rounds fired by A-10 aircraft hit the intended target and that trials have shown that only a percentage of the DU is converted into a respirable form, the amount of DU available for inhalation even during an attack is obviously less than 10% of the total. Those at greater distance would obviously be at less risk as the dust is diluted and dispersed by the wind and weather.
26. The fact that the penetrator found on the ground had corroded to a greater extent than those embedded in building materials is notsurprising.
What the finding does indicate however, is that the corrosion of DU takes a finite time and that this must be allowed for when assessing the possible environmental or health consequences. Further investigations of the rate of corrosion and nature and mobility of the corrosion products would allow more sophisticated risk assessments.
Areas of DU contamination are widely dispersed and there is a likelihood
that DU munitions residues may not be found even when approximate grid
references of attack locations are known. Therefore the maximum amount
of documentary, visual and even anecdotal evidence needs to be collated
in advance if there is to be a realistic chance of finding DU munitions
residues on former battlefields.