Iraq calls for global ban as study confirms depleted uranium cancer risks

img_457Iraq has called for an international treaty banning depleted uranium (DU) weapons in a report to the United Nations as evidence continues to mount of their risks to civilians. Iraq’s report, published ahead of this autumn’s UN General Assembly where DU weapons will be debated, also urges member states and UN agencies to adopt a proactive approach to the issue and condemn the use of the weapons. Iraq is the country most affected by wartime DU contamination, with at least 400,000kg used by the US and UK in 1991 and 2003’s conflicts.

The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) has also called for DU weapons to be banned, just as anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs have been. ICBUW argues that the weapons are inherently indiscriminate and that their legacy persists long after the end of conflict.

“ICBUW warmly welcomes Iraq’s intervention,” said ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir. “We hope that it will act as a reminder that the legacy of these weapons lasts well beyond the end of conflicts and disproportionately affects the civilian population. The complete lack of obligations on the users of DU weapons to clean up their mess leaves civilians at risk of exposure as clearance is expensive, technically challenging and often beyond the ability of countries recovering from war.”

New report: dozens of new studies reveal health risks
Little was known about the risks to civilians posed by DU weapons prior to their first major use in the 1991 Gulf War, with significant uncertainties persisting until the present day. However a new analysis of nearly 50 peer-reviewed studies has concluded that the chemically toxic and radioactive substance can damage DNA and cause cancer, the report calls for urgent studies into the extent to which civilians are being exposed to DU.
All radioactive substances that emit alpha radiation, including DU, have already been classified by the WHO’s specialist International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 1 carcinogens if they get inside the human body. Studies show that DU can also damage DNA and cellular processes in a number of different ways, such as by triggering oxidative damage, breaking DNA strands and binding directly to the DNA itself. Other papers have documented that DU can cause mutations in DNA, change the structure of chromosomes, make cells become cancerous and destabilise the genome.

“These studies contain irrefutable evidence of the damage that DU can do,” said David Cullen, one of the report’s authors. “It is completely unacceptable that this material was used in weapons before the effects were properly understood. We urgently need research to find out how much DU is getting into those people who are forced to live, work and play in areas contaminated by DU weapons so we can make a full assessment of the risks”.

Studies into DU’s impact in the field have been severely hampered in Iraq by the refusal of the United States to release data on where the weapons were fired and in what quantity. The chance release of a handful of coordinates earlier this year indicated that DU had been used against a far wider range of targets in Iraq than was legal and in populated areas, increasing the risks that civilians would be exposed.

Notes:

Iraq’s report to the United Nations
Iraq’s report is available here with analysis of all the reports here. This October, the United Nations will consider a 5th biennial General Assembly resolution on the risks posed by DU weapons. The last, in 2012, was supported by 155 states and opposed by just four – the US, UK, France and Israel. Further information on the legacy of DU use in Iraq can be found in the reports In a State of Uncertainty and Laid to Waste by PAX.

Download the new scientific review
The new study ‘Malignant Effects: depleted uranium as a genotoxin and carcinogen’ is available to download here.

About ICBUW
The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) campaigns for a ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapons and weapon systems and for monitoring, health care, compensation and environmental remediation for communities affected by their use. ICBUW represents more than 160 organisations worldwide and seeks to do for uranium weapons what the International Coalition to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition did for those types of weapons, in essence to develop a uranium weapons treaty that would prohibit the use of uranium in all conventional, i.e. non-nuclear, weapons.

About depleted uranium weapons
For a quick overview of depleted uranium, the weapons and key issues see our briefing: http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/overview

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