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Keywords:

  • depleted uranium;
  • cancer;
  • Gulf War;
  • Balkan war

Abstract

Recently, several studies have reported on the health and environmental consequences of the use of depleted uranium. Depleted uranium is a heavy metal that is also radioactive. It is commonly used in missiles as a counterweight because of its very high density (1.6 times more than lead). Immediate health risks associated with exposure to depleted uranium include kidney and respiratory problems, with conditions such as kidney stones, chronic cough and severe dermatitis. Long-term risks include lung and bone cancer. Several published reports implicated exposure to depleted uranium in kidney damage, mutagenicity, cancer, inhibition of bone, neurological deficits, significant decrease in the pregnancy rate in mice and adverse effects on the reproductive and central nervous systems. Acute poisoning with depleted uranium elicited renal failure that could lead to death. The environmental consequences of its residue will be felt for thousands of years. It is inhaled and passed through the skin and eyes, transferred through the placenta into the fetus, distributed into tissues and eliminated in urine. The use of depleted uranium during the Gulf and Kosovo Wars and the crash of a Boeing airplane carrying depleted uranium in Amsterdam in 1992 were implicated in a health concern related to exposure to depleted uranium. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.