Monday, May 15, 2006

No Iraq War Syndrome yet

On the good news front, researchers have found no evidence of an "Iraq War Syndrome" similar to the "Gulf War Syndrome" that affected veterans of the 1991 invasion.

They examined whether there had been an increase in ill health in soldiers returning from Iraq and compared the mental and physical health of forces who had been deployed and those who had not.

They found only slight increases in symptoms but reserve forces experienced more mental health problems than regular forces.

The most interesting side note is that this seems to knock the legs out from under the "depleted uranium" theory of causation. Depleted uranium, being exceedingly dense, is used in Western tank armor and antitank rounds. The general nervousness surrounding "radioactive" materials led many people to assert that the rounds caused health problems by creating fine dust particles that can be inhaled.

This never made much sense, since depleted uranium is less radioactive than natural uranium. Even uranium miners -- exposed to much higher doses for much longer periods of time -- come out clean.

Depleted uranium weaponry was used as much or more in the Iraq war as it was in 1991. If it was a serious cause of health problems, they would have shown up in the current study. They did not.

Speaking as a former tanker, I'm relieved. I never worked with DU rounds, but the effectiveness of DU -- both as protection and weapon -- is not something I would give up lightly. Even if they posed a health threat, I'd be willing to accept a slight increase in long-term health risks in exchange for surviving the war. It just doesn't make sense to increase your odds of dying now by 10 percent in order to reduce your odds of dying 30 years from now by 5 percent. If you want to live forever, don't volunteer for a combat branch of the military.

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3 Comments:

Blogger QuestRepublic said...

I work with Iraq/Persian Gulf/Vietnam Vets daily at a VA Medical Center.

We see lots of Agent Orange claims but so far very few for the other conflicts that have anything to do with an unexplained or poorly explained syndrome.

Before we clap our hands on DU though, it would be nice to actually do a DECENT study onits effects. Initial reports from Iraq indicate severe potential effects from DU, if you are exposed to the inside of a tank that has been hit by DU. Just handling the DU ammo while it is still intact seems to be, as you imply, relatively harmless.

Since we are using this material in combat though, there will be many strikes where the DU ammo does spray lots of very harmful particles. We need more info on this phenomena.

Cheers

5/17/2006 8:17 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I'm all for continued research on the subject. But I think the burden of proof is on people trying to show DU is a threat.

Also, it seems to me that the danger to a tank crew posed by DU particles is much smaller than the danger posed to them by the actual impact of the DU round.

If we're scattering DU particles all over the battlefield, and those particles pose a long-term health threat to people (especially noncombatants), it's an issue. But there is not yet any compelling, scientifically rigorous evidence that either is the case.

5/18/2006 2:50 PM  
Blogger watcher said...

The problem as I see it is that there is really no good controlled way to test for the effects of DU other than to monitor the health of those exposed to it. I suppose some animal studies could be done, but force feeding animals DU particles isn't exactly the same. I'm all for continued research/observation, and I certainly can't stand when the media blows a POTENTIAL threat out of proportion, but I think we should be extra vigilant whenever our troops are involved. They've already risked so much for us; I'd hate to think that our inaction or poor observation caused them any future troubles.

5/18/2006 9:36 PM  

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