The moon began wearing a halo when the sky turned from black to blue as Koko and I went walking this morning. Peachy puffs floated past on their way to join the steel-gray clouds huddled atop Makaleha and Waialeale, while over the sea, salmon-pink streaks turned first hot pink, and then an intriguing lime-green, as the sun prepared to rise.
Venus kept on shining, even as the world brightened and flushed rosy, and we were refreshed by a brisk trade wind that whistled down the street, rustling leaves and allowing bits of gold to shine through the trees.
Since delving into the topic of depleted uranium, I often wonder just what is blowing in the wind. While doing research for the story that I published yesterday in The Hawaii Independent, an activist told of being up in the Saddle Road area of the Big Island in the midst of an intense windstorm and picking up very high radioactivity readings on a monitor. That’s where the Pohakuloa Training Area and its DU stash lies, in the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and it’s an area that is subject to fierce winds that blow in both directions.
So is DU oxide dust from PTA getting blown around the island, and Islands? Most likely. Is that cause for worry? The Big Island County Council was sufficiently concerned to pass a resolution in 2008 that calls, in part, for:
[A] complete halt to B-2 bombing missions and all live firing exercises and other actions at PTA that create dust until there’s an assessment and clean up of the depleted uranium already present.
Now in addition to the DU found at various training areas, the military is regularly bringing back equipment from Iraq that is contaminated with this stuff. Despite its claims that there’s nothing for folks to worry about from DU oxide lying on the ground and floating on the breeze, the Army has developed a protocol under federal hazardous material laws for dealing with vehicles that may have DU residue on them. As I reported, citing the Army fact sheet:
”Those identified as contaminated with DU are wrapped in plastic and tarps (encased) to prevent the spread of any removable contamination or residues. They are then shipped through the Port of Charleston, South Carolina, to the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland. Here, the vehicles are assessed for decontamination and repair, or for recovery of parts.”
But Major Doug Rokke (Ret.), the former director of the U.S. Army Depleted Uranium project, said that process doesn’t always do the trick. In a written statement, he said:
“Even after extensive depot level cleaning, I found DU and other radiological, chemical, and biological contamination in vehicles years later.
And what about the clothing and personal items of soldiers who have been in the battlefield? How is it cleaned?
In response to the objection voiced by some Big Islanders about Strykers and other vehicles from PTA and Iraq participating in the Hilo Veteran’s Day parade, Dr. Helen Calidicott, the outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons and power who helped found Physicians for Social Responsibility and taught for years at the Harvard Medical School, also issued a statement:
”Depleted uranium 238 is a deadly carcinogenic and mutagenic poison that remains radioactive for over 4.5 billion years.
When used in battle it is converted to tiny aerosolized particles that are inhaled into the terminal bronchi, translocated to the thoracic lymph nodes, and also deposited in bone, kidneys and excreted in the semen where almost certainly the uranium can cause birth defects.
The incidence of childhood cancer in Basra has increased 700% since these weapons were used there in 1991 and the incidence of severe congenital malformations has also risen 700%.
Uranium particles will contaminate the cradle of civilization for eternity inducing more and more cancer, especially in children, genetic diseases and congenital malformations.
Such US military policy is beyond a war crime."
Dr. Lorrin Pang has also raised the issue of nanotoxicity in regard to DU, which he termed “yet another unknown.”
When I think back to all the things we’ve released either unknowingly, or intentionally, that have been found to cause serious harm to humans and the environment, I can’t quite understand why we’re so being cavalier about something potentially poses such a dangerous threat.
Shouldn’t we be exercising caution until we know for sure?
And that goes for the activists who are planning to protest the Hilo parade. If you’re concerned about DU, why would you want to place yourself anywhere near it?