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Cancers of the breast, cervix and uterus have increased by 300% over the past 20 years.

Related Gully Coverage

Puerto Rico at the Crossroads
Our complete articles.

A gift to Vieques
A gift for Vieques from Clinton and the U.S. Navy.

Puerto Rico
Depleted Uranium:
The Vieques-Kosovo Connection

by Toby Eglund

February 12, 2001. For years, residents of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques have claimed that there is a link between the use of their land as a U.S. bombing range, and the abnormally high rate of cancers and other serious illnesses. According to Puerto Rico's figures, the numbers of people in Vieques suffering from cancer of the breast, cervix and uterus have increased by 300% over the past 20 years.

Of particular concern is the Navy's use of shells containing depleted uranium (DU), a possible carcinogen. There is evidence the DU shells have been in use for at least a decade, though the Navy only admits to using them in February of 1999, while practicing for the war in Yugoslavia and Kosovo.

The Navy said DU shells were used by mistake, and they made some efforts to recover the radioactive shell casings afterwards. They now say the unrecovered casings don't matter, anyway, because DU is a "natural" material of relatively low radioactivity. "Stories of cancers and illness are just part of a campaign of misinformation by those opposed to our presence on the island," said U.S. Navy Commander John Carrera.

European scientists are not so sure. There is growing anxiety among NATO members over the recent cancer deaths of 15 European troops, and the unexplained illnesses of many more deployed in Kosovo, Yugoslavia, and Bosnia. European critics suspect depleted uranium, though U.S. officials argue that DU is safe.

Uranium AppauvriWhile the scientific jury is still out on that issue, the instant bestseller, "Depleted Uranium: The Invisible War" [Uranium appauvri: la guerre invisible] released in France on January 23, reveals that, in fact, "safe" depleted uranium in U.S. bombs had been contaminated at least six years ago by highly radioactive waste, probably in the munitions plant in Paducah, Kentucky. The U.S. was aware of the problem, but used them, anyway.

The charges of contamination by "Depleted Uranium" authors, Martin Meissonnier, Frederic Loore and Roger Trilling, were confirmed by researchers at a Swiss government laboratory, which analyzed spent U.S. munitions from Kosovo. The lab found that the shells did contain traces of an isotope of uranium which occurs only in nuclear waste. Four other European labs are also analyzing data from samples of soil, water, and spent shells from Kosovo, and their findings are due to be released in March.

Puerto Ricans may be the beneficiaries as Europeans continue to investigate. The Puerto Rican legislature just passed a unanimous resolution asking to be included in any future investigations by NATO, individual countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO). The new revelations may help evict the Navy from Vieques, and bolster the lawsuit filed by the Mississippi-based law firm, John Arthur Eaves, on behalf of 3,600 sick Vieques residents. The firm, which specializes in class action lawsuits involving industrial pollution, will be claiming more than $100 million in damages from the US Navy.

The lawsuit is being closely watched by Europeans critical of NATO's use of DU shells, and by the stricken NATO soldiers and their supporters. If the Vieques people win, an avalanche of European lawsuits against NATO and their home governments may follow. Conversely, any lawsuit against a European NATO member will strengthen the Vieques lawsuit in the U.S.

Related links:

For Depleted Uranium Watch.

For the Irish Times' Ministry knew about arms risk for 20 years charging that the British Military was aware of the dangers of DU.

For the Chicago Tribune's skeptical Uranium Hysteria Sweeps Europe.

For the U.S. Navy's viewpoint regarding Vieques.

For Complete Coverage Puerto Rico

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