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Acts, bills and ATK - our year in the US

On a national level 2005 saw the re-introduction of two bills on depleted uranium in the U.S. House of Representatives. The first bill, H.R. 2410, The Depleted Uranium Munitions Study Act, calls for studies of the health effects of depleted uranium munitions, as well as the clean-up and remediation of manufacturing and testing sites that have been contaminated by DU.
29 September 2006 - Gretel Munroe & Tara Thornton

Introduced by Congressman Jim McDermott, a Democrat from the state of Washington, the bill currently has 37 co-sponsors. Seven of the co-sponsors are from Massachusetts. The bill is in the House, Energy and Commerce Committees, but actually in the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials. It is also in the House Armed Services Committee (Subcommittee on Military Personnel). To have any chance of success, it needs at least 50 co-sponsors.

The other piece of legislation in the U.S. Congress is H.R. 202, The Depleted Uranium Screening and Testing Act of 2005. H.R. 202 would require identification of members of the Armed Forces who have been exposed to depleted uranium during military service and would also require testing for depleted uranium exposure of military personnel who have been identified as having come into contact with depleted uranium.

Introduced by Congressman Jose Serrano, Democrat from New York State, the bill has just 10 co-sponsors, one of whom is Congressman McDermott and another is Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts. Bill H.R. 202 is in the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the Committee of the House Armed Services.

Also on the national scene, last summer the U.S. Department of Transportation declared that it would phase out Exemption DOT-E 9649 over the next two years. After that time all transport of depleted uranium would have to have a placard saying 'Radioactive', 'Explosive' on the train, truck or boat.

This decision followed an 18-month campaign spearheaded by Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action to discontinue the exemption. They were supported by various organizations including the Military Toxics Project, NukeWatch and the Traprock Peace Center. The Department of Transportation stated that it had received more than 200 comments opposing the renewal of the exemption from national and local government officials and members of the emergency services, in addition to interest groups and individuals.

In June the Commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 5-0 to reject a proposal to deregulate low-level radioactive waste. Deregulation would have permitted storage of radioactive waste in landfills, garbage dumps and recycling streams.

On the state level Connecticut and Louisiana passed bills giving returning National Guardsmen and women the right to 'best practice' testing for depleted uranium exposure. A problem with both bills is that there is no provision for paying for the testing. Payment for testing is left to the federal government. However, some 20 other states are interested in passing similar legislation among which are Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin. All three states are currently working on the passage of legislation.

On the legal side, Alliant Techsystems, a manufacturer of depleted uranium munitions as well as other indiscriminate weapons, won an unfortunate legal victory against peace activists from Nukewatch. The background to this is as follows:

Due to a change in the law, worked out by Alliant Techsystems in conjunction with the city of Edina and Edina city lawyers, in December, 12 activists were brought before a judge, found guilty of trespass and required to pay a fine or do community service through the probation department.

Activists had won in three consecutive jury trials, having been acquitted or found not guilty. Their defence of the charge of trespass, for protesting outside Alliant Tech, had rested on Alliant Tech's manufacture of DU and other indiscriminate weapons, which they pointed out, is prohibited by international treaties and international laws.

Alliant Tech and the city lawyers of Edina created a new ordnance that was added on to local law. The ordnance prohibits protesters from having the right to testify before a jury of their peers. The ordnance does not require a jail sentence, which gave cases of trespass the right to a jury trial. Members of the Edina City Council adopted the new ordnance without soliciting community input.

The 12 activists who appeared before a judge new to the bench in December, were found guilty because the judge said she "was bound by the law and how the law had been interpreted by previous rulings". This was a set-back for the cause of declaring DU and other munitions produced by Alliant Techsystems to be indiscriminate weapons.

A total of 70 activists including members of NukeWatch (an ICBUW member), AlliantACTION and the DU Phil Berrigan group have been arrested for trespass against Alliant Tech since July 2004.

Another court case, which was filed in the latter part of 2005, was brought by eight New York State National Guardsmen, all of whom have been ill and all of whom are Iraq War veterans. An additional plaintiff was infant Victoria Matthew, daughter of Gerard and Janise Matthew, who was born with a birth defect. The plaintiffs filed their suit against the United States of America Department of the Army. All eight of the National Guardsmen were exposed to DU dust during their military service and all eight state that they tested positive for DU contamination.

Their lawsuit is wide-ranging and the document states, among other issues, that the U.S. Army was negligent in not warning the plaintiffs about the dangers of DU before arrival in Iraq. It also claims that 'the geographic areas of exposure' (in most cases Samawah, Iraq, where they were stationed near a battlefield), were known or 'should have been known' by the Army to be contaminated with DU before the plaintiffs were exposed. Also, that the Army did not adhere to its own rules and regulations with respect to DU exposure and that Army medical personnel did not 'inform plaintiffs of the true nature and aetiology of their condition, symptoms and injuries'.

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