The National Catholic Review

The U.S. military has consistently downplayed or denied possible adverse health and environmental effects because of its use of depleted uranium ordnance, yet birth defects and spikes in sometimes odd health problems seem to follow closely behind in communities unfortunate enough to have been the site of the heavy use of such munitions. U.S. and NATO forces used D.U. penetrator munitions in the 1991 Gulf War, the Bosnia war, Serbia and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Now in Fallujah, Iraq, the site of two rounds of intense fighting and bombing raids by U.S. forces in March and April 2004, a University of Michigan study (<-warning: not for faint of heart) funded by the World Health Organization has uncovered "staggering" increases in sometimes bizarre birth defects—babies born with brains and other organs outside their bodies—according to a report in Britain's Independent. The study found that in Fallujah, more than half of all babies born between 2007 and 2010 suffered some kind of birth defect. "Before the siege, this figure was more like one in 10."

The WHO's report is expected to be released next month. The study included nine "high-risk" areas in Iraq, including Fallujah and Basra.

According to the Independent:

Prior to the turn of the millennium, fewer than 2 per cent of babies were born with a defect. More than 45 per cent of all pregnancies surveyed ended in miscarriage in the two years after 2004, up from only 10 per cent before the bombing. Between 2007 and 2010, one in six of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage.

The new research, which looked at the health histories of 56 families in Fallujah, also examined births in Basra, in southern Iraq, attacked by British forces in 2003. Researchers found more than 20 babies out of 1,000 were born with defects in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital in 2003, a number that is 17 times higher than recorded a decade previously. In the past seven years, the number of malformed babies born increased by more than 60 per cent; 37 out of every 1,000 are now born with defects.

The report's authors link the rising number of babies born with birth defects in the two cities to increased exposure to metals released by bombs and bullets used over the past two decades. Scientists who studied hair samples of the population in Fallujah found that levels of lead were five times higher in the hair of children with birth defects than in other children; mercury levels were six times higher. Children with defects in Basra had three times more lead in their teeth than children living in non-impacted areas.

The study's author, the University of Michigan's Mozhgan Savabieasfahani said that there is "compelling evidence linking the staggering increases in Iraqi birth defects to neuro-toxic metal contamination following the repeated bombardments of Iraqi cities." She called the "epidemic" a "public health crisis."

"In utero exposure to pollutants can drastically change the outcome of an otherwise normal pregnancy. The metal levels we see in the Fallujah children with birth defects clearly indicates that metals were involved in manifestation of birth defects in these children," she said. "The massive and repeated bombardment of these cities is clearly implicated here. I have no knowledge of any alternative source of metal contamination in these areas." She added that the data was likely to be an "underestimate", as many parents who give birth to children with defects hide them from public view.

D.U. has been used in munitions because of its armor-piercing capabilities (it was developed to counter Soviet advances in armor plating that resisted penetation by then conventional ordnance). The use of D.U. in munitions has been controversial because of questions about potential long-term health effects to combatants and noncombatants alike; Uranium is a toxic metal and exposure to it can effect any number of organs and biological systems. D.U. bombs and bullets produce contamination when the rounds become an aerosol after impact or after bombs detonate. Combustion of depleted uranium munitions can contaminate wide areas around the impact sites, leading to inhalation by human beings.

Added 10/17: Previous reports on contamination in Fallujah include denials of D.U. use by military sources as well as the difficulty of verifying munition use in the field since record keeping in Fallujah was questionable. U.S. officials previously denied then confirmed the use of white phosphorus munitions in Fallujah.

Comments

Marie Rehbein | 10/18/2012 - 11:03am
I replied with the following to Mr. Helbig's email to me:


Would you say that the birth defect statistics are also incorrect?
I don't believe the article said anything about American men and women who died not being brave.  I do believe it said that there might be a connection between the use of depleted uranium and birth defects.  How can you be sure no depleted uranium was used?

The following was his reply:


I expect that the birth defect statistics are made up.  I doubt that any statistics were kept under Saddam Hussein's regime and that if there were any that they may have been manipulated for political purposes.  I just left a voice mail for Kevin Clarke and I have also contacted the news editor at the Independent in the UK (I could not find the article on that paper's website, so they may not have even written one).  Mozghan Savabiesafahani is not a University of Michigan researcher and it is highly unlikely that the University is doing research for the World Health Organization in Fallujah.  Savabiesafahani has close connections with Chris Busby and Paola Manduca.  Busby is the one with the uranium in hair article and Manduca is a member of the Brussels Tribunal.  None of the three of them tells the truth about much of anything.  Busby has even ripped off the frightened people of Japan - you can read about that here - http://tinyurl.com/8yer3oj
 
I have corresponded with Richard Lowry author of New Dawn, the Battles for Fallujah and with others and researched contemporary reports of the battles as well.  DU was not used because there never was a tank battle in or near Fallujah.  The DU penetrator round, even when fired by a tank from its 120mm main gun, leaves very small holes, about the size of a quarter, in anything other than an enemy tank.  The penetrators heat up when they hit tank armor because they slow down abruptly from very high speed and that speed is converted to heat.  That heat in turn sets off the target tank's on board ammuntion and fuel stores and blows the turret off the tank with that resulting explosion.  When a DU penetrator hits anything else, all it does is leave a hole in it.  The tanks that the Marines had in Fallujah thus fired the High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds to blow large holes in walls and barricades.  Not only was the DU penetrator round useless against such a target, it also was dangerous to infantry men out to 1000 yards in front of the tank because the DU penetrator is a thin long rod held in place by break away sabots and these come off when the penetrator leaves the cannon barrel.  They are also travelling at very high speed and can be lethal to the infantry that the tank is supporting.  As a result, the Marine tanks did not even carry DU rounds let alone fire them.  No one is likely to have fired a DU round in Iraq after April 2003 when they made the drive into Baghdad before the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein.  There also have never been any tank battles in Afghanistan so DU rounds most likely never were used there at all.
 
DU is not used in any bombs or missiles.  The article about uranium in hair in Fallujah is by Busby and it is bogus.
 
The only connection between DU and birth defects is that Saddam Hussein's propagandists showed visiting activists the birth defects and blamed them on depleted uranium.  The resultant photos are all over the internet, but they have never been truthful because they never tell you what the birth defect is or what the real likely cause is.  I began researching these photos when Felicity Arbuthnot used them to illustrate her article in the Ecologist that attacked me.  Even her headline was false - she claimed "They sent Helbig" and there never has been any they unless you consider Google Alerts a "they".  I have been researching depleted uranium for over seven years.  I began doing this because I was trained to predict, detect and protect against nuclear fallout, so I knew that DU was not fallout.  Then I was libelled by Douglas Lind Rokke through his mouthpiece the pretend journalist (he has never worked for a paper, radio or TV station and never even was a blogger) Bob Nichols.  Those lies made me wonder what else Rokke was lying about and I have been researching DU, especially the lies, which are all over the internet, even in the Wikipedia, which is edited by activists in wha I have come to call the anti-DU jihad, and the liars like Rokke, Leuren K Moret, Busby, etc. who tell them.
 
I originally dug into the claims about Fallujah because I knew that common sense would show that DU was not used there because it was useless in a house-to-house, block by block battle.  That made me think that it was proof that the original claims about birth defects really were false because I could show that the same exact claims were being made in Fallujah as Basrah (where there were tank battles in 2003) and that therefore the Basrah ones were also phony.
 
Thanks again for writing.  I will gladly try to answer any other questions that you might have.  I am only one person, but I have a number of people who I have corresponded with over the past seven years and they know answers to questions that I might not yet have thought of.
Palmer Glenda | 10/17/2012 - 11:16am
Mr. Helbig,

Thanks for the close reading of my blog post and for your obvious passion on this issue. I think it is pretty clear that the post is a “report on a report,” in other words I am citing another article and includes no original reporting from me. As a result how responsible I am as a blogger for the absolute veracity of the other content is hard to parse. This is a gray area admittedly and a problem with the blogging form, but it would be no different than a columnist relying on the reporting of another professional to make a point. All the sources for the post are linked to and readers can have a gander at the raw material to make up their own minds.

Obviously I am not a toxicologist or, as is Ms. Savabiesafahani, a researcher in pediatric endocrinology. I cannot independently confirm her research, but the study is being published in an scientific journal and presumably has passed a peer review. I have asked for a clarification of her association with the UofM. Related to this last issue, one mistake that is undeniably my own is a too-loose reference to this as a “University of Michigan” study. In rereading the article in the Independent I note that the reporter makes no such claim, but refers to Ms. Savabiesafahani’s association with the university. I have also contacted the DoD for an explicit confirmation or denial of the use of DU in Fallujah. I will update the blog-post accordingly. Other reports note denials of DU use by military sources as well as the implausibility of a categorical denial since thorough record keeping of munitions used in Fallujah was questionable (http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/406.html).

It is also true that conventional munitions include contaminants, lead and mercury, for example, that may also produce birth defects. As to the fact of increasing rates of birth defects in Fallujah, whatever the state of Ms. Savabiesafahani’s professional deportment, that seems to be confirmed by repeated eyewitness accounts dating back years from multiple sources and previous studies which likewise track a spike in birth defects.

As far as dishonoring service members, I firmly reject that accusation. If U.S. military in the field were issued DU munitions, they were likely unaware of the long-term health implications (or of exposure to conventional munitions residue for that matter)-many of them are suffering chronic health problems themselves which they believe are related to DU exposure-and they can hardly be blamed for the long-term outcomes. I do not see anywhere in this blog post where I suggest culpability or dishonor on their part. It is the obligation of the rest of us through our government to take responsibility for what happened in Fallujah and proceed with whatever mitigation is morally called for.

I would add that personally it is of little import to me whether or not these birth defects and other health outcomes related to the Fallujah campaigns are the result of DU or conventional munitions. The important issue is the whether or not war related contamination has occurred, what is its nature and what should we in the United States do about it.

Kevin
Marie Rehbein | 10/17/2012 - 9:14am
Roger, #3 and #4 above, sent me the following in an email because he read my comment #1, above:


This article is full of false information.  It also dishonors all of the American men and women who died in the battles of Fallujah. Depleted Uranium was never used in Fallujah.  I expect to find that the World Health Organization has not had the University of Michigan do any research there and the WHO has not done any research there either.  I am curious why you believed this to be true.  I am an independent researcher into DU and I have specialized in the lies and the liars, which abound on the internet.  I have intensively researched the battles of Fallujah.  I also think I know who is behind this article and I just called the Editor-in-Chief Mr Turnbull less than a hour ago.  I look forward to discussing this extensively with Kevin Clarke and seeing his well researched retraction!
 
Roger Helbig
Richmond, California
 
Suggest you read about the brave men in New Dawn, The Battles for Fallujah by Richard

Roger Helbig | 10/17/2012 - 7:12am
I see that the study was done by Mozghan Savabiesafahani.  Savabiesafahani is lying about her association with the University of Michigan in order to use the University's prestige as a research institution.  She has done this before with another article about birth defects in Fallujah.  I expect that the University will contact the Editor-in-Chief and demand a rewrite and retraction.
Roger Helbig | 10/17/2012 - 7:08am
I have phoned the Editor-in-Chief Mr Turnbull to get Mr Clarke to retract and rewrite this story.  Depleted Uranium never was used in Fallujah and based on my conversation yesterday morning with the University of Michigan School of Public Health's Dean's Office, I strongly doubt that the University has done any research into birth defects in Fallujah.  If anone would like to learn more about what I find out, please write to me.
Carlos Orozco | 10/16/2012 - 4:21pm
It would be very interesting to know the presidential candidates' opinion on the subject. Along with the trillions of dollars the Federal Reserve uses to bailout the megabanks, this must be one of those taboo issues both candidates must have agreed not to touch on the "debates".
Marie Rehbein | 10/16/2012 - 2:18pm
Gee, what is worse?  Contraception or war making?