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Gulf War soldiers may have 'inhaled uranium'
PARIS, France -- A former U.S. army doctor claims that many Gulf War veterans suffered from renal and other diseases as a result of inhaling particles of depleted uranium used in anti-tank shells.
Dr Asaf Durakovic said he had treated many patients still suffering from diseases as a result of being exposed to the toxic material while fighting in the Gulf War.
"According to some estimates, 320 tons of depleted uranium were exploded during the (1991) Gulf War," Dr. Durakovic told reporters after speaking at a conference of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine.
Durakovic said depleted uranium was used as a coat on shells to ease penetration of thick armour.
When the shells hit their intended target, the uranium coating exploded into multiple particles, which, he said, "became part of atmospheric dust."
He said: "Because of the omnipresence of small sub-micron radioactive dust in the Persian Gulf, uranium that was liberated by impact (with tanks)...evaporated at temperatures higher than several thousand degrees centigrade.
"Some of those particles were inhaled and stayed in the lungs...where they can cause cancer, and some entered into the bloodstream and affected kidneys and bones."
A spokesman for the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) told CNN.com it was aware of independent tests which showed that veterans are excreting unusually high levels of uranium in their urine.
But the spokesman said the evidence so far was "inadequate" to be able to draw a conclusion about depleted uranium exposure on Gulf War veterans.
'Political pressure to halt research'
Durakovic, who held the rank of colonel, is now with the department of Nuclear Medicine at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington.
He said that he had come under "political pressure" from U.S. authorities to halt his research shortly after the Gulf War, when the U.S. military first challenged the notion that a mysterious 'syndrome' was affecting the health of returning veterans.
Some medical studies have linked Gulf War syndrome, whose symptoms range from flu to chronic fatigue and asthma, to the multiple vaccines given soldiers during the war to counter possible Iraqi chemical weapons attacks.
Both the U.S. and British governments have resisted claims by Gulf War veterans that such a syndrome exists and are conducting their own studies.
"I don't claim uranium contamination is the (main) cause of the Gulf War syndrome," Durakovic said, "but the veterans show high levels of depleted uranium in their bodies and studies about this must be intensified."
The MoD spokesman said: "We are aware of suggestions that independent tests have indicated that UK Gulf War veterans are excreting unusually high levels of uranium in their urine.
"We are very keen to see scientific, robust and properly validated, peer-reviwed hypotheses, methodology and full results from depleted uranium work."
So far, the spokesman said, no such material had been made available to the MoD although they had requested it.
"But the bottom line is we welcome any additional evidence," he added.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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