Opinion

Depleted Uranium

I was stunned. I read it again. Sure enough, there in the How Your U.S. Lawmaker Voted report put out by Roll Call to the media was a listing of the vote in the third week of May on the 2009 military budget. I had quickly scanned the first part. "By a vote of 384-23, the House on Thursday authorized a $601 billion military budget for fiscal 2009, including $70 billion to fund war in Iraq and Afghanistan for part of the year."

It was the next part that had me reaching for the telephone. Voting yes: Inslee, Larsen, Baird, Hastings, McMorris Rodgers, Dicks, McDermott, Reichert, Smith."

McDermott? Our own Baghdad Jim McDermott, who is the most predictable "no" on defense spending in the whole Congress? I don't recall that he has ever voted for a defense budget. I clip and file the weekly reports on all votes taken.

I tried to get hold of one of our other House members to see if it was true, and if so, if anybody in our delegation had fainted when it happened, or called for a doctor to see if McDermott was showing signs of Alzheimer's but couldn't connect with anyone. So I called McDermott's press secretary, Mike DeCesare.

Yes, he said, it was true. It had to do with an amendment McDermott previously got into the 2007 defense budget calling for a study of the effect on health of the use of Depleted Uranium by our troops in combat in the Gulf War and Iraq.

According to material DeCesare sent me, Depleted Uranium is a dense and toxic low-level radioactive material used by the U.S. military to super-harden munitions to penetrate armor. Upon impact, the munitions pulverize into a fine dust that can be inhaled into the lungs when breathing, or fall to the ground as a microscopic dust where it can remain in the soil and leach into the ground water over time.

Hundreds of tons of DU were used during the First Gulf War and the beginning of the Iraq war. When McDermott, who is a medical doctor as well as a psychiatrist, visited Iraq in 2002, doctors there told him they had an epidemic of childhood leukemia, up 600 percent in ten years. Children were born with physical deformities and there were anecdotal reports of soldiers and civilians inexplicably stricken with cancer.

McDermott remembered when the Pentagon denied Agent Orange, the defoliant used in Vietnam, posed any danger to U.S soldiers exposed to it, but decades later it was proven harmful. He wanted a study on the danger of DU completed within a year. His amendment ordering the study passed the House unanimously and was in the 2007 budget bill. (Obviously, he voted for the amendment, but he still was a no on the budget). Now, however, he wants a report from the Secretary of Defense describing what's being done to implement the recommendations of that study. And he figured, DeCesare said, if he could get it in the 2009 defense budget, he would vote for the budget.

The study recommends that the Army review the accuracy of the acute-exposure data in the report, determine whether vehicles perforated by DU munitions need decontamination, limit hours of exposure for personnel in perforated vehicles and issue protective equipment, including respirators, and monitor the health of those with several hours of unprotected exposure in perforated vehicles if they can be identifiedÂ…

"If DU poses no danger, we need to prove it," McDermott said. "If DU harms our soldiers, we need to know. We owe our soldiers a full measure of the truth, wherever that leads us."

Way to go, Jim.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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