DU Cancer Risks 'Infinitesimal', Minister Tells Committee
May 9, 2001, Wednesday 09:47 AM Eastern Time
Andrew Woodcock, Political Correspondent, PA News
The chance of cancers suffered by veterans of the Gulf and Balkan conflicts being caused by exposure to depleted uranium (DU) in ammunition was "infinitesimal", a defence minister said today.
Lewis Moonie - recently appointed minister for veterans' affairs - said that the Ministry of Defence had long been aware of the potential risks of DU.
But he told the Commons Defence Select Committee that these were "minimal compared to the other risks faced by troops in combat or peace-keeping operations".
DU was one of a number of potential factors being investigated by a series of inquiries into illnesses suffered by Gulf War veterans, said Dr Moonie.
The inquiries are not due to report for around nine months, but no evidence had yet emerged to suggest that veterans were suffering from a single identifiable Gulf War Syndrome, Dr Moonie said.
And he said that, given the current scientific evidence, the MoD was not prepared to go to mediation to settle financial claims from veterans claiming to have the Syndrome
He told the committee: "At present, we have not identified a single Syndrome, despite all our efforts. That is why our research is proceeding in so many different branches. At present, I think we have to assume that there is no single Syndrome.
"From the evidence available, a causal link can't be identified between DU and the complaints or pathologies of some peacekeepers, specifically those few who have cancer or leukaemia.
"What we have to be very clear about is that all the scientific evidence on DU is that, were it to produce any cancer at all... it would take years or decades before these cancers would appear.
"The chances of any of these cancers being related to DU is infinitesimal."
Although it was accepted that a number of veterans of the Gulf and Balkan conflicts had grown ill or died, mortality rates among this group were in fact lower than among the population at large, said Dr Moonie.
Veterans will be able to be tested for traces of DU once a reliable test has been selected, which is expected to be done by the end of this year.
He said: "If anybody comes out with a higher than expected level, they will be offered long-term monitoring to make sure that no adverse effects emerge."
The MoD was phasing out the use of DU in the Royal Navy's Phalanx shells, but this was because new tungsten alloys had been shown to offer enhanced range, not because of health fears.
There were no plans to stop using DU in rounds for Challenger tanks, he said, adding: "DU is a remarkably effective penetrator. Nothing has yet proved to give anything like the degree of penetration that DU does."
Copyright 2001 The Press Association Limited