Many readers voice their skepticism:
Having watched that video I was strongly impacted by the imagery and claims of higher rates of birth defects, especially the claim that the levels are 14 times that of those that were observed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. So I decided to look for estimates on what those levels would be, and found that the level hadn’t changed in those Japanese cities. Here’s the link I found, which includes sources in scientific literature. I’m a bit baffled why Democracy Now would relate these.
The soldier’s story could have been true though, as a heavy metal uranium is very toxic, especially to the kidneys. He might have inhaled a lot of it. (Full disclosure: I work as a research scientist in nuclear fusion computations.)
Seriously, whenever you see the name Dahr Jamail, you need to be very skeptical of the assertions that follow. Briefly, Jamail has blamed depleted uranium for health problems without any evidence at all. But it’s not hard to find actual research linking birth defects in Fallujah to the more prosaic but plenty nasty elements lead and mercury. “Uranium” and “Hiroshima” probably get more pageviews than plain old lead, but I would think that these recent victims of our past warfare would be better served by accurate reporting than by an anti-nuclear ideologue’s sensationalism.
Is there really an increase in birth defects, or just an increase in reporting?
Do Iraquis traditionally just kill babies with birth defects, as is true in many parts of the world, but have recently publicized the defects for some reason? What mechanism of action is proposed to explain these effects?
There is natural uranium virtually everywhere; it’s one of the three NORM materials (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials) that occur in rocks and soil worldwide, a product of the earth being formed of material produced in a supernova explosion more than 4.5 billion years ago. Everyone is exposed to it every day, more so in certain locations than in others. Depleted uranium (DU) is actually only very slightly radioactive; the uranium decay products (which are themselves much more radioactive than the uranium itself) have been removed in the uranium mining/production/enrichment process and only slowly grow back in.
If there are birth defects occurring at 14 times the rates observed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then it’s not because the DU is radioactive – folks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were truly HEAVILY exposed to radiation. If Fallujah itself has a high rate of birth defects, which has not been established, then why? Why not other sites where DU munitions are tested? For example, are there high rates of birth defects in the communities surrounding Fort Irwin, California, or other areas where DU munitions are commonly tested in the continental US? How have the “tracers” who linked the putative increase in birth defects to DU, eliminated chemical contamination from other sources as the cause of the birth defects?
If birth defects are indeed caused by DU, perhaps it’s because of the chemical action of uranium somehow interfering with development (rather than due to radiation, which truly is not an issue with DU). In which case, testing on mice or other mammals would show up that effect quickly. The only way to learn anything in medicine is by randomized, double-blind testing. I’m not proposing testing on people, of course, but on animal surrogates. Why isn’t Democracy Now advocating for such testing? Could it be that their “issue” is really anti-war activism, rather than concern for the Iraqui citizenry?
It’s possible to be anti-war without being unscientific. Of course, agitprop is more effective than reason; quoting Mark Twain, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”