Soldier exposed to depleted uranium in training dies of leukemia caused by toxic weapon residue
By Mark AndersonÂ
Several young U.S. Marines in the same California hospital ward are suffering from the same aggressive form of leukemia, and the cancer may be linked to exposure to depleted uranium (DU). DU is a super-dense radioactive material thatâ€™s mainly used as plating on U.S. munitions, functioning as an extremely effective kinetic-energy penetrator to pierce armor.
At least one Marine, Eric Renner of Oregon City, has died from this form of leukemia. However, Renner reportedly never even went to Iraq. Itâ€™s believed DU exposure during live-fire training brought on his illness.
Rennerâ€™s father, Steve, went public with his concerns about DU after hearing that another Marine, 22-year-old Andy Rounds, may have been exposed to DU when a munitions dump exploded at his base in Iraqâ€”an event that resembles the incident at Camp Doha in the first Gulf War that spread enough DU particles and shrapnel around to qualify it for current-day research on DUâ€™s role in Gulf War Illness (GWI), otherwise known as Gulf War syndrome.
â€œRoundsâ€™s treatment is not being covered [financially] by the military because he was not diagnosed until after he was out of the Army,â€ reported KPTV Channel 12, a Fox News affiliate in Portland, Ore. that ran this story regionally. Matters concerning DU rarely make the national news. The state of Oregon is covering Roundsâ€™s expenses.
The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness, a VA-chartered panel meeting in Dallas, put DU on its research list but demoted it to a relatively low priority. The committee, with $15 million a year in funding for five years through fiscal 2010, is studying GWI diagnostic techniques and proposed treatments.
A doctor at the Dallas meeting told AFP that GWI was limited to the first Gulf War, and is not linked with the current conflict. This opinion was later disputed by Dr. Doug Rokke, who served as a DU cleanup specialist in Gulf War I, is himself sick from war exposures and opposes the continued use of DU, which started in Gulf War I by the U.S. military.
Rokke insists the government needs to follow its established procedures and regulations pertaining to DU exposure (medical testing of urine and feces should be done within 24 hours of suspected exposure to DU aerosols, residue and shrapnel from combat), and he is calling for the military to follow its own guidelines and clean up the environment in the Persian Gulf, as well as in the Balkans and anywhere else DU has been used.
The Israeli military uses DU as well. Scores of civilians in or near battle zones have been plagued by myriad illnesses, including cancers and birth defects at least partly attributable to DU contamination of soil, water, food, etc., Rokke says, based on his military experiences.
Meanwhile, as KPTV noted, the U.S. military denies a link: â€œThe military says it has done extensive research and found no connection between depleted uranium and leukemia.â€ Military spokesmen routinely refer to DU as having â€œlow levelâ€ radiation that is â€œharmless.â€
Back when Renner visited his dying son at a California military hospital, â€œfour other Marines in the same ward were said to be fighting the same cancer,â€ KPTV reported. â€œI thought it was kind of strange,â€ Renner was quoted as saying by KPTV, which on Aug. 2 posted its report on this matter on its web site, complete with a video link. â€œThis is a bigger problem than anybody really knows.â€
Renner, who hopes speaking out about the DU-leukemia connection will help prevent more cases, told KPTV, â€œMaybe thereâ€™s no conclusive evidence, but based on what Iâ€™ve seen and read, there is some responsibility on the militaryâ€™s part and on the governmentâ€™s part.â€
As for then-Private Rounds, in 2004, he was servingÂ at a post near Kirkuk, Iraq. Rounds says that he and a few friends were walking one night when the sky lit up, due to a munitions dump filled with old weapons that exploded on his base. Because of brain damage and treatments, Rounds barely remembers the incident. But his mother, Lisa Rounds, believes that whatever exploded that night might have poisoned the surroundings.
â€œWhy would a healthy, young guy get leukemia when itâ€™s mostly very young children who have a genetic predisposition to it or old people whoâ€™ve been exposed to radiation for many years?â€ she told KPTV.
Tests showed that Rounds had a white blood cell count of more than 400,000, 40 to 50 times that of a normal count, diagnosed as AML, or acute myelogenous leukemia. Rounds had been out of the military for about two years when he passed out on the floor and was rushed to the hospital, the incident that led to his diagnosis.
Doctor Tibor Kovascovics, a doctor at the Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute, was quoted as saying that â€œhe cannot make a connectionâ€ between Roundsâ€™ military service and his leukemia.
Rokke, however, told AFP recently that DU exposure can manifest itself in many ways, from chronic fatigue to respiratory problems, nervous disorders such as ALS (Lou Gehrigâ€™s disease), fibromyalgia, immune system disorders, rashes, decalcification of teeth and cancers. He stresses that unless soldiers are properly checked for DU exposure right away, following established procedures that he says are ignored, time quickly passes and it becomes harder and harder to pinpoint what caused a soldier to develop a given illness.
Mrs. Rounds, contacted Aug. 7 by AFP, said that the purpose of getting her sonâ€™s story out was to sound the alarm. â€œThey have got to stop treating the soldiers like theyâ€™re widgets in a machine,â€ she said. She wants other soldiers and parents of soldiers to know that Rounds, whose health unfortunately was worsening as of Aug. 7, â€œstarted with a sinus infectionâ€ which seemed relatively minor, at first.
Everyone in this situation, even if it seems like a minor illness initially, should immediately get a CBC (complete blood count) â€œbefore it snowballs,â€ she stressed.
Asked if she thinks DU is the culprit, Mrs. Rounds replied, â€œOh, definitely,â€ adding: â€œA lot of people would choose not to join the military if they knew they were going to be exposed.â€