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Two Diggers contaminated by uranium

Two Australian soldiers who served in the first Iraq war have tested positive to depleted uranium (DU) contamination despite assurances from the federal government they had not been exposed, an anti-nuclear group said.
30 March 2007 - ICBUW

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Any such admission from the government would leave it open to millions of dollars in compensation, said Pauline Rigby, project coordinator for the group Depleted Uranium Silent Killer (DUSK).

Urine samples from each of the men, who served in different areas of Iraq, were sent last year for uranium isotope analysis at the JW Goethe University in Germany at a cost of $1,200 each under the auspices of DUSK and the Uranium Medical Research Centre (UMRC) in Canada, Ms Rigby said.

The results, now being evaluated for publication next month in two scientific journals, showed both men had tested positive to depleted uranium contamination more than 15 years after their return from the first Gulf War.

Ms Rigby said depleted uranium was the toxic and radioactive waste from the nuclear enrichment process. "This is a huge issue about compensation which the government would be determined they will never pay," Ms Rigby said.

A 52-year-old Sunshine Coast man, known only as "Frank" (not his real name), said he was one of those tested. In 1991, he was an army medic in the mountains of northern Iraq, aiding Kurdish refugees fleeing the persecution of Saddam Hussein's forces. He cannot work and has suffered skin rashes on his face, arms and neck, swollen joints, chronic fatigue and dizzy spells but his doctor can only treat his symptoms because he is at a loss to explain their cause.

Frank's wife, from whom he is now separated, had cervical cancer and burning semen syndrome, a condition reported by American Gulf War veterans or their sexual partners since returning from the Persian Gulf. They or their sexual partners have experienced a burning sensation after skin and/or vaginal contact with semen.

But Frank says he only wants recognition from the government. "I'm not looking for millions of dollars in compensation," Frank told AAP. "I just want to be treated fairly and I want our service recognised so that I can clearly have what I am entitled to and so my children can also seek and receive free of charge any and all testing and be honestly told and informed of where they stand."

A Defence spokesperson said the department had no knowledge of the two men who had allegedly tested positive for DU. Australia had not used DU munitions since 1990 and Australian personnel were not in "immediate proximity" to sites in Iraq or Afghanistan where DU munitions were used by Australia's coalition partners. "Accordingly, it is highly unlikely that any ADF personnel received significant exposure to DU residues in Iraq or Afghanistan," the spokesperson said.

Australian Democrats leader Lyn Allison said the federal government had shown it "preferred not to know" when Australian troops were exposed to the dangerous substance commonly used by the US military. She said the government had been asked whether troops would be exposed when sent to the current Iraq war and failed to answer. "The government have paid very little attention to the risks of our troops in Afghanistan and preferred not to know when they were exposed to DU," Senator Allison said. "For the government to now say it doesn't think our troops were in the areas where DU was used is frankly not believable." She said troops in recent conflicts who were tested had received simple and inadequate urine tests. "I think they'll continue to ignore it," she said.