Aussie troops report uranium sickness
23 June 2003
Australian servicemen and women who served in the recent Iraq war were reporting symptoms of uranium sickness, a United States nuclear weapons expert said.
Dr Douglas Rokke is a former US Army nuclear health physicist and was formerly the Pentagon's expert on the health effects of depleted uranium ammunition.
Speaking in Melbourne on Monday, Dr Rokke said Iraqi women and children and American and Iraqi military personnel had reported respiratory illnesses and rashes after the recent conflict, and he had also been told of Australian servicemen and women with similar symptoms.
"That's the reports I received from the US Army medical department. That's something that needs to be verified and looked into," he said.
"When American soldiers are sick and the Iraqis are sick there's nothing that says an Australian soldier is going to be isolated when he goes through those areas and he is not going to become ill.
During operation Desert Storm in 1991 Dr Rokke led a team assigned to clean up uranium contamination caused by friendly fire.
"What we saw can be described in only three words - Oh my God! The wounds were horrible, the contamination was extensive," he said.
"Although myself and my team members wore respiratory and skin protection, that protection we know today does not provide any adequate protection against the inhalation, the ingestion, the absorption of uranium compounds."
He said he now suffered rashes, respiratory problems, kidney problems and cataracts related to his exposure to uranium.
Dr Rokke is in Australia to speak against the use of depleted uranium weapons, which he describes as a crime against humanity, creating a toxicological nightmare.
He is campaigning for the outlawing of depleted uranium munitions, medical care for those who have been exposed to uranium and a clean-up of exposed environments.
He will speak at public meetings and meet government officials and returned service groups while in Australia.
"What I have learned from my work is that uranium munitions must be banned," Dr Rokke said.
"When we can no longer clean up the environment and we can no longer provide medical care for anybody that's exposed, then that weapon must never be used in conflict."
Jacob Grech, of the OzPeace Network, said while Australia did not use depleted uranium munitions, the country exported between 2500 and 3000 tonnes of uranium to the United States each year for energy.
"It's the waste energy products that is used in the manufacture of these munitions.
"From the very start, before they are even made, Australia and the Australian government is complicit in the production of these weapons."
"We'd like our government as a bare minimum to put Australian service veterans from the first and second Gulf wars, as well as Afghanistan, through rigorous testing to get a baseline study of exactly what the health effects are of depleted uranium and other chemical toxins ... and treat them," Mr Grech said.
"So far our government has been furphying, it's been releasing reports which parrot the Pentagon line six to 12 months later, it's been in a state of denial."
Mr Grech said he had not yet had reports of service personnel from the most recent conflict suffering uranium sickness, but there were a lot of veterans from the first Gulf war displaying symptoms.
"I think what we are going to see with Australian returned service people from the Gulf and Afghanistan is 20 years down the track exactly what happened with agent orange in Vietnam," Mr Grech said.