31 May 2005 With depleted uranium being a contaminant in Iraq, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said today it will train Iraqi scientists and other nuclear experts in measuring the material and try to answer questions left hanging after it conducted studies in the post-conflict Balkans and in Kuwait.
“UNEP believes an assessment in Iraq would add to our understanding of how depleted uranium (DU) behaves in the environment and the possible associated health risks,” it said.
UNEP, together with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (WHO), held a one-day seminar on DU today in Amman, Jordan, for representatives of UN agencies, donor governments and senior employees from Iraqi and Jordanian ministries and will conduct technical training on measuring it tomorrow and the next day.
DU is twice as dense as lead and is used for munitions and defensive military armour plate, as well as for aircraft counterweights, medical radiation shields and containers for transporting radioactive materials. It can be found in great localized concentrations in countries that have suffered recent high-technological warfare.
“Depleted uranium has been used in medical and industrial applications for decades but only since its use in military conflicts in the Gulf and the Balkans has public concern been raised about potential health consequences from exposure to it,” especially for peacekeeping forces, humanitarian workers and local populations living and working in contaminated areas, WHO said in a 2001 report.
In the Balkans, levels were generally so low that they did not constitute a health or environmental hazard, while localized DU sites could be detected and precautions taken, UNEP said.
Areas needing further study in Iraq included whether DU on the ground could filter through the soil and contaminate groundwater and whether DU dust could be suspended in the air by wind and human activity, with the risk that it could be breathed in, it said.
On another Iraqi environmental matter, UNEP said it was assessing the environment of the Iraqi Marshlands, also known as the Mesopotamian Marshlands, and building local capacity, as well as managing for now the re-flooding of the area.