The great John Pilger has an article in The Guardian on the detrimental effects on the health of Iraqis of the U.S. use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions. Pilger writes that among the doctors he spoke with, there was little doubt that DU was responsible for the increased rates of cancers and birth defects in Iraq.
I found this part interesting:
Recently, Hans von Sponeck, former assistant secretary general of the United Nations and senior UN humanitarian official in Iraq, wrote to me: “The US government sought to prevent WHO from surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers.” A WHO report, the result of a landmark study conducted with the Iraqi ministry of health, has been “delayed”.
I wrote an extensive paper on the U.S. use of DU back in 2005, and also wrote about the World Health Organization in that paper. Here’s the relevant excerpt, some additional background:
In January 2001, the World Health Organization responded to requests from Iraq for an international inquiry into the use of DU by announcing that it was planning to perform a study to determine whether the increases in cancer and birth defects were attributable to DU. The WHO had sent a mission to Iraq in 1995 to look at the cancer issue and provide advice. A second mission was sent in August 1998 to advise on potential investigations into the growing cases of leukemia. But no study on the relationship between DU and the growing health concerns in Iraq had ever been performed. The growing concern in Europe over the weapons (which could not be dismissed as Iraqi “propaganda”) played no small role in Iraq’s pleas for an investigation finally receiving some attention from the international community. In August, the WHO announced that it would send a delegation to Baghdad to investigate the reports of increased rates of cancer and birth defects. A WHO spokesman said, “The Iraqis have been saying for a while that there has been an increase in cancers caused by depleted uranium. If we have determined there has been an increase, then we will look at possible causes.”
According to Dr. Alim Yacoub, dean of the medical school at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, the WHO project was blocked by UN sanctions, which prevented the necessary radiology equipment from being imported. I contacted Dan Fahey to ask if he had any information on what became of the WHO mission, and he said that according to one of his sources, the project was blocked by the government of Iraq, which wanted a level of control over the study that was unacceptable to the WHO. For example, Iraq wanted to choose which sites and hospitals could be visited and did not want any samples removed from the country. Dr. Michael Kilpatrick said in a Department of Defense briefing that “The World Health Organization went into that area [around Basra] and took a look at what it would take to do the appropriate epidemiological medical studies to understand why are people ill in this area of the world. They laid out that requirement of that kind of study and said the World Health Organization is capable and willing to do this. And the government of Iraq said no.” Little has been reported on what became of the WHO mission, and just what occurred is largely unknown and shrouded in ambiguity.
In February 2004, Scotland’s Sunday Herald reported that a WHO sponsored study concluding that inhalation of DU could lead to cancer was “suppressed”. Dr Keith Baverstock, the principle author of the report, which was completed in 2001, and the WHO’s top expert on radiation and health for 11 years, alleges that it was deliberately kept secret. “Our study suggests that the widespread use of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq could pose a unique health hazard to the civilian population,” Baverstock said, adding that “There is increasing scientific evidence the radioactivity and the chemical toxicity of DU could cause more damage to human cells than is assumed.” According to one WHO official, “The article was not approved for publication because parts of it did not reflect accurately what a WHO-convened group of international experts considered the best science in the area of depleted uranium.” In other words, it was not considered fit to print because the report contradicted earlier findings. Among the report’s conclusions were that DU particles, which can be blown around by wind, are likely to be inhaled by civilians for years to come and that once inside the body, its radiation and toxicity could lead to the growth of malignant tumors and an increased risk of cancer.