US Army Environmental Policy Institute
In response to a Congressional request, the Army Environmental Policy
Institute (AEPI), acting under the direction of Office of the Assistant
Secretary of the Army (Installations, Logistics & Environment),
conducted a study to determine:
- The health and environmental consequences of using depleted uranium
(DU) on the battlefield.
- Remediation technologies that exist or might be developed to clean up
- Ways to reduce DU toxicity.
- How to best protect the environment from the long-term consequences of
In response to this request, AEPI assembled a team of health,
environmental, legal and systems professionals. These experts conducted
a literature review of scientific studies concerning depleted uranium.
They also interviewed scientists, engineers and military officials, as
well as soldiers involved in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Their
purpose was not to verify the technical performance of DU weapon systems
but to assess the health and environmental consequences associated with
the use of DU. A summary report of the findings of this study, Summary
Report to Congress (Appendix A), was prepared for Congress and made
available in June 1994.
Scope of This Technical Report
This technical report, intended for scientific experts and advisors, is
being published to document the sources used in preparing the Summary
Report to Congress and to provide more detail regarding some of the
physical, chemical and radiological health and environmental effects of
the DU used in Army weapon systems. This technical report repeats (and
in some cases, embellishes) the findings and conclusions presented in
the Summary Report to Congress; no new findings are introduced here.
After an exhaustive review of weapon systems containing DU, AEPI
concluded that the Army has done an excellent job attending to the
environmental and health impacts of these systems. The following
findings were first published in the Summary Report to Congress in a con
densed form. They specifically address the four areas of concern raised
in the original congressional tasking.
Health and Environmental Consequences of Battlefield Use
A battlefield may be contaminated with many dangerous substances. The
impact of DU contamination on the battlefield is a new issue and is not
well-defined. Relative to many other hazards, such as unexploded
ordnance, the hazards from DU contamination are small.
Remediation Technologies to Clean Up DU Contamination
DU remediation technologies may involve one or more of the following
processes: excavation and earth moving, physical separation, chemical
separation and in-place stabilization. Very few remediation technologies
have actually been used to clean up DU-contaminated sites. The Army
continues to identify and evaluate alternative remediation technologies.
Ways to Reduce DU Toxicity
No available technology can significantly change the inherent chemical
and radiological toxicity of DU. These are intrinsic properties of
Protecting the Environment from Long-Term Consequences
The Army has implemented range management and DU recovery systems and is
improving these systems. The Army is also developing models to better
describe the environmental fate and effects of DU. DU migration on test
ranges in the United States appears to be insignificant because the soil
and water conditions on the ranges tend to prevent the formation of
The following conclusions, reported in the summary document and expanded
in this technical report, describe additional efforts that would lead to
an even higher level of health and environmental security relative to
DU. However, Army environmental goals must support the Army mission,
contribute to readiness and serve the collective national best
interests. Thus, investment in DU management is tempered by resource
realities among competing needs. The conclusions fall into the following
categories: general recommendations, those relating to test ranges and
battlefields, and those relating to environmental policy.
- The Army or DoD should designate a single office, independent of DU
systems development or use, to improve management and control of DU
health, environmental and regulatory issues.
- The Army should revise its regulations and policy documents to
explicitly link DU acquisition, use, safety and health, disposal,
demilitarization, and environmental management.
- The Army should determine the full life-cycle cost of DU weapon
systems. This analysis must take into account not only production costs,
but also demilitarization, disposal and recycling costs; facility
decontamination costs; test range remediation costs; and long-term
health and environmental costs.
- An Environmental Assessment (EA) is normally used to assess the
incremental impact of systems at a specific site; however, within the
DoD acquisition process, an EA can also be item-specific (pertaining to
a specific weapon system). Use of the same term for two entirely
different types of assessments could lead to an inappropriate conclusion
that the requisite environmental documentation has been prepared.
Test Ranges and Battlefields
- The Army should continue to improve training programs for the wide
variety of soldiers and support personnel who may come in contact with
DU or DU-contaminated equipment. At a minimum, the Army should include
armor, infantry, engineer, ordnance, transportation and medical
personnel in this training.
- Before Desert Storm, the probability of human survival in a vehicle
hit by a DU penetrator was estimated to be quite low, but fortunately,
the actual survival rate for U.S. soldiers in vehicles that sustained
friendly fire DU strikes was 80 to 90 percent. For this reason, in
future conflicts where either side uses DU weapons, the Army should
anticipate managing patients with DU-contaminated wounds.
- The Army should continue to investigate equipment modifications and
procedures that will minimize exposure to the chemical and radiological
hazards of DU, including the development of: a combat-oriented document
that would define protective techniques for medical and maintenance
personnel; standard markings for all weapon systems containing DU;
experiments and analyses to better define the risks of DU
internalization to recovery and maintenance personnel; and continue to
evaluate potential DU contamination in gun tubes and crew compartments
from gun bore gases or flashback incidents.
- The Army should review all current environmental documentation on DU
and consider preparing a programmatic Life-Cycle Environmental Document.
- The Army should encourage Congress to revise the Low-Level Radioactive
Waste Policy Act allowing allocation of waste according to the value
added in each phase of development, testing and fielding a weapon
system. Under this approach, a proportional share of the waste generated
during testing would be charged against the waste disposal capacity of
the states that receive economic benefit from the process.
- The only systematic DU contamination of Army land occurs during the
research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) cycle for DU
ammunition. The following actions could help the Army better manage DU
contamination of test ranges:
- Plan site remediation activities on Army installations to be
consistent with long-term land-use goals. Develop a strategy to address
the long-term liabilities from DU contamination.
- Fund recovery, recycling and waste disposal programs.
- Develop waste disposal options, including volume reduction, waste
minimization, waste form modification and waste disposal facilities.
- Separate high-explosives ranges from new DU ranges.
- Require catch boxes on all DU ranges; maximize recovery of DU
penetrators at test ranges; maximize DU recycling within the Army ( DU
testing will always produce wastes).
- Provide a means to ensure timely disposal of DU waste from test
- Environmentally and financially sound remediation of DU contamination
on Army test ranges requires tools to conduct site assessments, apply
fate and effect models, and estimate environmental risks and costs. The
Army needs to:
- Expand funding of site investigations.
- Evaluate the effectiveness and cost of remediation technologies
(proposed and existing).
- Evaluate the environmental fate and effects of DU on U.S. test ranges.
- Review environmental and health hazard data obtained to date to ensure
that they are consistent and scientifically defensible.
- Review DU particle data from Army studies and elsewhere to determine
data gaps and conduct experiments to generate the requisite data to fill
- Develop a better understanding of DU particles generated from impacts
- Develop environmental fate and effect models to determine relative
risk as a function of migration.
- The Army should be prepared to provide guidance to other governments
on the health and safety risks associated with DU for affected
battlefields. This guidance may include information on environmental
measurement, monitoring, migration and remediation techniques.
Actions to implement the policies suggested by the findings and
conclusions in this report should be weighed against the costs
associated with the environmental safety and health issues presented.
Decisions must be framed in the broadest context to consider whether the
studies proposed have the potential to mitigate the real costs of
remediation and health management as related to Army DU weapon systems.
Gary N. Greenberg, MD MPH Sysop / Moderator Occ-Env-Med-L MailList
gary.greenberg at duke.edu Duke Occupat, Environ, Int & Fam Medicine
OEM-L Maillist Website: http://occhealthnews.com