DU background page (updated 2002)

Sierra Club of Canada Media Release

Wednesday, April 28, 1999 - For Immediate Release

Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons Threatens Environment in Kosovo Region

Ottawa -- Environment and public health groups in Canada are concerned that populations in the Balkan region are being put at risk by fallout from depleted uranium (DU) weapons. In the past week NATO has confirmed that DU ammunition is being used against Yugoslav tanks, according to the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun.

The Sierra Club of Canada and other groups are concerned that the use of Depleted Uranium by American, British and possibly other military forces in the Balkans will result in a repeat of some of the major health and environmental consequences which followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

On Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesperson denied that American forces are presently using depleted uranium in the Kosovo conflict. Harold Heilsnis, Director of Public Communications for the Pentagon told the Sierra Club of Canada that, "To the best of my knowledge we are not using these rounds (DU) in the Balkans. We would not hesitate to use these rounds however, as we are confident they pose no risk to human safety or the environment."

In follow-up to this statement, the Sierra Club of Canada contacted NATO Headquarters in Brussels for further comment. A spokesperson for NATO indicated that a reply would be forthcoming at a future date.

While NATO can use either tungsten steel or depleted uranium munitions in Apache Helicopters and A10 Warthog aircraft, the ballast used in cruise missiles is composed of DU. As with DU munitions, this ballast can aerosolize on impact.

Immediate health risks associated with exposure to depleted uranium include kidney and respiratory problems. Long-term health risks include lung and bone cancer. The environmental consequences of DU weapons residue will be felt for thousands of years as its decay products continually transform into other hazardous radioactive substances in the uranium decay chain.

Elizabeth May, Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada states, "Preliminary evidence from the Iraqi conflict suggests a significant increase in serious birth defects and mutant crops. There is no strategic advantage in poisoning the people and the countryside long after the current conflict will have subsided."

Dr. Rosalie Bertell of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health in Toronto, has stated that, "It is imperative that we all denounce this radiation and toxic chemical warfare. It has now been used by the U.S. and Britain against Iraq and in Bosnia. It is now being used in Kosovo. It has been condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Tribunal. The Human Rights Commission has requested that the Secretary General prepare a written report on DU and certain other weapons of mass destruction."

The Sierra Club of Canada is calling on the Canadian government to 1) explicitly state whether Canadian military forces are using DU weapons 2) take a firm and unequivocal position against their use by any country 3) ensure that Canadian uranium exported to the United States and elsewhere is not being used for military purposes and 4) support the United Nations initiative to have DU weapons permanently banned.

A background document on depleted uranium is included with this release.

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For more information:
Sierra Club of Canada, 613-241-4611

2002 Update:
"During the 78-day Kosovo War in 1999, the U.S. fired 31,000 rounds of DU at Yugoslav armoured vehicles and tanks. There are reports that the U.S. fired 10,800 DU rounds during combat in Bosnia during the air campaign in 1994 and 1995. " Source: CBC News Backgrounder -