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Afghans' uranium levels spark alert
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
A small sample of Afghan civilians have shown "astonishing" levels of
uranium in their urine, an independent scientist says.
Critics suspect new weapons were used in Afghanistan
He said they had the same symptoms as some veterans of the 1991 Gulf war.
But he found no trace of the depleted uranium (DU) some scientists believe
is implicated in Gulf War syndrome.
Other researchers suggest new types of radioactive weapons may have been
used in Afghanistan.
The scientist is Dr Asaf Durakovic, of the Uranium Medical Research Center
(UMRC), based in Canada.
Dr Durakovic, a former US army adviser who is now a professor of medicine,
said in 2000 he had found "significant" DU levels in two-thirds of the 17
Gulf veterans he had tested.
In May 2002, he sent a team to Afghanistan to interview and examine
The UMRC says: "Independent monitoring of the weapon types and delivery
systems indicate that radioactive, toxic uranium alloys and hard-target
uranium warheads were being used by the coalition forces." There is no
official support for its claims, or backing from other scientists.
It says Nangarhar province was a strategic target zone during the Afghan
conflict for the deployment of a new generation of deep-penetrating
"cave-busting" and seismic shock warheads.
The UMRC says its team identified several hundred people suffering from
illnesses and conditions similar to those of Gulf veterans, probably because
they had inhaled uranium dust.
Bomb damage was widespread
To test its hypothesis that some form of uranium weapon had been used, the
UMRC sent urine specimens from 17 Afghans for analysis at an independent UK
It says: "Without exception, every person donating urine specimens tested
positive for uranium internal contamination.
"The results were astounding: the donors presented concentrations of toxic
and radioactive uranium isotopes between 100 and 400 times greater than in
the Gulf veterans tested in 1999.
"If UMRC's Nangarhar findings are corroborated in other communities across
Afghanistan, the country faces a severe public health disaster... Every
subsequent generation is at risk."
It says troops who fought in Afghanistan and the staff of aid agencies based
in Afghanistan are also at risk.
Dr Durakovic's team used as a control group three Afghans who showed no
signs of contamination. They averaged 9.4 nanograms of uranium per litre of
The average for his 17 "randomly selected" patients was 315.5 nanograms, he
said. Some were from Jalalabad, and others from Kabul, Tora Bora, and
Mazar-e-Sharif. A 12-year-old boy living near Kabul had 2,031 nanograms.
Troops and aid workers could be at risk
The maximum permissible level for members of the public in the US was 12
nanograms per litre, Dr Durakovic said.
A second UMRC visit to Afghanistan in September 2002 found "a potentially
much broader area and larger population of contamination". It collected 25
more urine samples, which bore out the findings from the earlier group.
Dr Durakovic said he was "stunned" by the results he had found, which are to
be published shortly in several scientific journals.
He told BBC News Online: "In Afghanistan there were no oil fires, no
pesticides, nobody had been vaccinated - all explanations suggested for the
Gulf veterans' condition.
"But people had exactly the same symptoms. I'm certainly not saying
Afghanistan was a vast experiment with new uranium weapons. But use your
The UK Defence Ministry says it used no DU weapons in Afghanistan, nor any
others containing uranium in any form.
A spokesman for the US Department of Defense told BBC News Online the US had
not used DU weapons there.
He could not comment on Dr Durakovic's findings of elevated uranium levels
in Afghan civilians.
Can someone now claim that the birth defects, cancer cases, and high mortality in Iraq is not casued by the depleted Uranium used in the Gulf war...!
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