That Whole Rigamarole

Sunday, May 25, 2003

The Bogeyman Surfaces

Here's an AP story about the threat of depleted uranium in Iraq. This reporter must be in a pretty quiet neighborhood, if DU is the biggest worry he can document. Let's look at a few excerpts:

Iraqi doctors and scientists — and the United Nations to a lesser extent

I wonder why the UN would be less worried about DU than the locals?
— are worried that birth defects and childhood cancers could surge in the aftermath of the latest conflict, not unlike medical problems in southern Iraq after the mildly radioactive munitions were first used in the 1991 Gulf War.

The DU projectiles were fired more in Kuwait than in southern Iraq, and calling them mildly radioactive is only accurate in the sense that all of creation is mildly radioactive.
"Many in the medical community are worried that malignancies will rise very quickly in the future because so many people will be exposed to depleted uranium residue throughout the country," said Ranna Abdel Karim, a doctor at Baghdad's Children's Hospital.

Doctor, I doubt that you have valid information about any part of that sentence.
Depleted uranium, fashioned from low-level radioactive wastes, is 2 1/2 times denser than steel and 1.7 times denser than lead. This theoretically creates a projectile more able to penetrate the heavy armor of tanks than conventional armor-piercing munitions.

A theory that has been tested repeatedly on Iraqi armored vehicles.
Aside from the United States and Britain, no other nation uses the munitions. Russian military experts say shells made from alloys of hardened steel, lead and tungsten are equally effective in the anti-tank role.

One lesson we should learn from this war is that Russian military advice may not be all that great.
The substance is said to be harmless when sealed in artillery shells or bombs. But when a shell strikes its target, some of the metal burns and oxidizes into microscopic particles. This creates dust that some say is toxic if inhaled or ingested.

It's a heavy metal. Don't eat or inhale it. Kids, stay out of those wrecks (sharp edges are probably a bigger risk than DU.) But it's still not radioactive.
The U.N. Environment Program, while acknowledging its assessments have found no immediate risk, has recommended a scientific investigation of sites targeted by depleted uranium weapons in Iraq.

Hey, it beats working for a living.
"The fact remains that depleted uranium is still an issue of great concern for the general public," UNEP director Klaus Toepfer said.

And thanks to credulous AP reporters, it will probably remain that way.
The Pentagon and many experts contend that depleted uranium, because of its low radioactivity, poses no risk to the health of soldiers handling munitions made from it, or to civilians living in areas where those shells were used.

Is it really too much to expect a reporter to do more than repeat diametrically opposed claims on a technical matter? The only way this story gets published is by studiously avoiding any research into which side has more scientific evidence in its behalf. A story about Iraqi doctors who are worried about djinns or space aliens would be even more interesting and almost as credible. Go find some, AP!
In the decade that followed the 1991 war, Iraqi health officials said they had recorded a 200 percent rise in cancer and leukemia cases, particularly in young children, in Basra. That southern city was close to the battlefields of the 1991 war.

"There is no other explanation for this outbreak of all forms of cancer, including the rarest forms of leukemia, than the radioactivity coming from depleted uranium," said Abdel Karim, whose hospital is the primary health care institution in the country treating children with malignancies.

Didn't this very story just point out that DU has "low radioactivity?" Yes, it did. I hope for the sake of the people of Iraq that we can sack Dr. Karim on debaathification grounds, because that will probably be quicker than getting her on an inability to reason with logic.


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