Army personnel involved in the Iraqi invasion of 2003 have not absorbed dangerous levels of depleted uranium, finds research published ahead of print in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Depleted uranium is used in military combat to pierce armoured vehicles, and spontaneously combusts on impact into fine aerosol particles. These can either be breathed in or eaten/drunk in contaminated food/water.
Levels can be assessed many years after potential exposure, using a special test called plasma-mass spectrometry, and a particular mathematical formula.
The authors tested depleted uranium levels in the urine of four different groups who would have been subject to different levels of exposure.
These comprised 199 soldiers directly involved in fighting, 96 soldiers involved in other duties, 22 medical staff, and 24 people responsible for cleaning up or repairing contaminated vehicles.
The staff were also questioned closely about the circumstances in which exposure might have occurred. The results showed that there were no differences in depleted uranium levels among the four groups. And the findings showed that levels were very close to those that would be expected from absorption of naturally occurring uranium.
In cases where higher levels were found, these were within the normal range for naturally occurring uranium, when re-analyzed.
The findings should help to allay fears about the health of military personnel exposed to radioactive depleted uranium, say the authors.