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31 December 2010

high spike in birth defects associated with 2004 US military battle in Fallujah, Iraq / Depleted Uranium early suspect


This scientific study is so early in its infancy as to beg criticism, controversy and dismissal. This is The Guardian's article about it; I listened to the BBC World Service's version of the story, with an interview by the lead researcher, a few hours ago.
Notice that the image accompanying The Guardian story is of a 2004 white phosphorous attack, though the study's primary suspect is Depleted Uranium / DU. As a former newspaper editor, I suspect the most trivial reason for the white phosphorous photo: A white phosphorous attack is highly colorful, while  DU armaments are less photogenic, in visible light comparatively invisible.
In any case, the researchers are reticent to blame any particular chemical or armament for the documented rise in birth defects among families in Falluja (also commonly transliterated Fallujah).
I predict DU will be the next generation's Agent Orange. For decades we can expect American and international NGO advocates both for US military veterans, and for native people -- in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans -- who live in former battlefields that were saturated with pulverized DU armaments.
Of particular interest, however, will be the response of the US Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to veterans' claims of health problems blamed on DU contamination. Will the Agent Orange response be repeated? Will it become the model for our postwar government response to scientific research into and medical treatment for exposure to these substances?
In any case, expect much more media and scientific journal coverage of this issue. The scientific and medical truth -- if it ever emerges clearly -- is one thing. The political controversy surrounding the widespread military use of DU is quite another thing.
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The Guardian
(UK broadsheet daily newspaper)
Thursday 30 December 2010
Research links rise
in Falluja birth defects
and cancers to US assault
• Defects in newborns 11 times higher than normal
• 'War contaminants' from 2004 attack could be cause
by Martin Chulov
US Marines prepare for Fallujah offensive White phosphorous smoke screens are fired by the US Army as part of an early morning patrol in November 2004 on the outskirts of Falluja, Iraq, in preparation for an offensive against insurgents. Photograph: Scott Nelson/Getty Images
A study examining the causes of a dramatic spike in birth defects in the Iraqi city of Falluja has for the first time concluded that genetic damage could have been caused by weaponry used in US assaults that took place six years ago.
The research, which will be published next week, confirms earlier estimates revealed by the Guardian of a major, unexplained rise in cancers and chronic neural-tube, cardiac and skeletal defects in newborns. The authors found that malformations are close to 11 times higher than normal rates, and rose to unprecedented levels in the first half of this year -- a period that had not been surveyed in earlier reports.
The findings, which will be published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, come prior to a much-anticipated World Health Organisation study of Falluja's genetic health. They follow two alarming earlier studies, one of which found a distortion in the sex ratio of newborns since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 -- a 15% drop in births of boys.
"We suspect that the population is chronically exposed to an environmental agent," said one of the report's authors, environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani. "We don't know what that environmental factor is, but we are doing more tests to find out."
The report identifies metals as potential contaminating agents afflicting the city -- especially among pregnant mothers. "Metals are involved in regulating genome stability," it says. "As environmental effectors, metals are potentially good candidates to cause birth defects."
The findings are likely to prompt further speculation that the defects were caused by depleted uranium rounds, which were heavily used in two large battles in the city in April and November 2004. The rounds, which contain ionising radiation, are a core component of the armouries of numerous militaries and militias.
Their effects have long been called into question, with some scientists claiming they leave behind a toxic residue, caused when the round -- either from an assault rifle or artillery piece -- bursts through its target.
However, no evidence has yet been established that proves this, and some researchers instead claim that depleted uranium has been demonstrably proven not to be a contaminant.
The report acknowledges that other battlefield residues may also be responsible for the defects. "Many known war contaminants have the potential to interfere with normal embryonic and foetal development," the report says. "The devastating effect of dioxins on the reproductive health of the Vietnamese people is well-known."
The latest Falluja study surveyed 55 families with seriously deformed newborns between May and August. It was conducted by Dr Samira Abdul Ghani, a paediatrician at Falluja general hospital. In May, 15% of the 547 babies born had serious birth defects. In the same period, 11% of babies were born at less than 30 weeks and 14% of foetuses spontaneously aborted.
The researchers believe that the figures understate what they describe as an epidemic of abnormalities, because a large number of babies in Falluja are born at home with parents reluctant to seek help from authorities.
One case documented in the report is of a mother and her daughter who after the 2004 battles both gave birth to babies with severe malformations. The second wife of one of the fathers also had a severely deformed baby in 2009.
"It is important to understand that under normal conditions, the chances of such occurrences is virtually zero," said Savabieasfahani.
Iraq's government has built a new hospital in Fallujah, but the city's obstetricians have complained that they are still overwhelmed by the sheer number of serious defects. The US military has long denied that it is responsible for any contaminant left behind in the city, or elsewhere in Iraq, as it continues its steady departure from the country it has occupied for almost eight years.
It has said that Iraqis who want to file a complaint are welcome to do so. Several families interviewed by the Guardian in November 2009 said they had filed complaints but had not received replies.
The World Health Organisation is due to begin its research sometime next year. However, there are fears that an extensive survey may not be possible in the still volatile city that still experiences assassinations and bombings most weeks.
"An epidemic of birth defects is unfolding in Fallujah, Iraq," said Savabieasfahani. "This is a serious public health crisis that needs global attention. We need independent and unbiased research into the possible causes of this epidemic.
"We invite scientists and organisations to get in touch with us so that we may gain the strength to address this large global public health issue."

City's spike in deformity rates
Birth-defect rates in Falluja have become increasingly alarming over the past two years. In the first half of 2010, the number of monthly cases of serious abnormalities rose to unprecedented levels. In Falluja general hospital, 15% of the 547 babies born in May had a chronic deformity, such as a neural tune defect -- which affects the brain and lower limbs -- cardiac, or skeletal abnormalities, or cancers.
No other city in Iraq has anywhere near the same levels of reported abnormalities. Falluja sees at least 11 times as many major defects in newborns than world averages, the research has shown.
The latest report, which will be published next week in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, says Falluja has been infected by a chronic environmental contaminant. It focuses on depleted uranium, used in weaponry during two US assaults in 2004 as a possible cause of the contaminant. Scientific studies have so far established no link between the rounds, which contain ionising radiation to burst through armour and are commonly used on the battlefield.
The study focuses on metals as a potential conduit for the contaminant. It suggests a bodily accumulation of toxins is causing serious and potentially irreversible damage to the city's population base, and calls for an urgent examination of metals in Falluja as well as a comprehensive examination of the city's recent reproductive history.
- 30 -
31 July 1999: Uranium shells warning for Kosovo alternative maybe: [UK Ministry of Defense] accused of hiding truth
17 May 2004: 'Dirty dozen' toxins are banned by UN pact
22 January 2010: Iraq littered with high levels of nuclear and dioxin contamination, study finds


Mumfacolyte said...

The unexamined suffering that we unthinking have inflicted on innumerable people (and continue to do so)... any efforts to call attention to it are worthwhile. (As it turns out, if you're following the WikiLeaks released material at all, apparently the US acknowledges privately that persons were killed there over in Iraq, even beyond our "troop.")


And then more surgery ahead for Bob. I hope you're holding up well.

Guess I'll quit complaining about my problems for a little while.

Vleeptron Dude said...

Hiya Mumfacolyte, Happy New Year!

I guess we were all raised, with our war toys and our movies about World War II, to think positive thoughts about wars, that they were the cornucopias of Glory and a whole bunch of other assorted virtues.

But all the while we carefully sweep under the rug the inevitable, perpetual terrible things that every war brings with it.

I won't list them here. This post, about the birth defects that quickly followed the ferocious 2004 battle of Fallujah, is example enough for now.

My guess is that for the very few young men who have been authentically touched by a moment of glory in war, almost every one of them, if given the choice, would have traded his glory for peacetime instead.

If Obama wants a chance to be remembered as a great president, he will swiftly end the American military involvement in our two Asian wars.

Otherwise, if they just keep dragging on, Obama will just be remembered as "Bush Lite." There just won't be a clear, obvious difference between the president who declared two wars, and the president who followed him, promising change and hope.

One of the great World War I battlefields in France took so much high explosive artillery that nothing can grow there, nearly a century later.

Much of Vietnam is still cratered like the moon from the intensive American aerial bombing.

From the same series of wars, much of Southeast Asia is still littered with unexploded land mines. To find them, organizations of men and women who have lost legs from land mines spend their lives searching for the live bombs. Land mines are the war weapon that keeps on killing decades after the peace treaty is signed and the diplomats toast each other with champagne.

We now know of the high number of birth defects, but cannot yet say with certainty if depleted uranium or white phosphorous -- or some other chemical culprit -- is the cause. All we know is the sickness that follows every modern battlefield, and lingers even after the world forgets the war itself.

Mars -- the God or the Planet -- has two companions, the godlings (or satellites) Deimos and Phobos -- Panic and Fear. They were named from times when weapons were limited to swords, spears, arrows and catapults. Such a battlefield could recover in a few years. Food and Fiber could grow there again. The battlefield could be forgotten as the war could be forgotten.

Now Mars needs a new godling: Chemos, perhaps, or Toxos. The Greek word for sickness.

Each GI Joe toy should come with vials of stinky chemicals -- safe for children, of course, but vile and disgusting.

Once I recommended a new law -- that the US could not go to war without an environmental impact statement, a science-based and experience-based prediction of the number of suicides, cancers, divorces, increased rates of imprisonment. Maybe the reason for the war would still be "necessary" or "good," and we could still go to war -- but the suicides, the divorces, the cancer clusters would not descend on us 10 and 20 years later as if they were some kind of unexpected surprise.


Oh, about my future surgery ...

Well, I won't sugarcoat it. It's a Biggy. And scares the living crap out of me.

But from the doctors' perspective, it's a very commonplace, assemblyline surgery. So many are lined up ahead of me that the earliest they can get me on the operating table is the end of January.

They advise me about these things as if I were asking what the odds of a casino game are. The odds that I'll croak are almost nil. The odds that I'll survive, and the operation will give me all the physical gifts it promises, are huge. I listened and said, "Okay, I like those odds, I'll play."

So now I'm just suffering from Worry and Fear. Your sympathy is very much appreciated. But sympathize for my worry and anxiety.

Thanks and Happy New Year to everybody who hangs on Planet Vleeptron!

Mumfacolyte said...

I know a fellow just had a similar surgery. He's feeling better than he ever did before, even food tastes better to him.