Uranium Contaminates Bosnia-Herzegovina
International Daily Newswire, SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina,
March 25, 2003
Original address: http://ens-news.com/ens/mar2003/2003-03-25-04.asp
For the first time, a United Nations research team
has confirmed that depleted uranium from weapons used in Bosnia and
Herzegovina in 1994 and 1995 has contaminated local supplies of drinking
water, and can still be found in dust particles suspended in the air.
Depleted uranium is used in armour penetrating military ordinance because
of its high density, and also in the manufacture of defensive armor
A new report released here today by the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP) records the first instance of depleted
uranium (DU) contamination of groundwater, which was found at one site.
“The findings of this study stress again the
importance of appropriate cleanup and civil protection measures in a
post-conflict situation," said Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the
UNEP DU projects. "We hope that this work will play a role in protecting
human health and the environment in the unfortunate event of future
The new report is based on data collected by a
team of experts on a field mission conducted by an international team
of experts from October 12-24, 2002. They investigated 15 sites that
had been targeted with DU weapons during the 1995 conflict, some within
view of Sarajevo. The sites were independently selected by UNEP on the
basis of data provided by NATO and local authorities.
The team used highly sensitive instruments to measure
surface radioactivity. These measurements revealed the presence of contamination
points and pieces of DU weapons at three sites - the Hadzici tank repair
facility, the Hadzici ammunition storage area and the Han Pijesak barracks.
DU contamination of the air was found at two different
sites, including inside two buildings. Some of these buildings are currently
in use, and UNEP recommends a "precautionary decontamination"
of the buildings in order to avoid any unnecessary human exposure.
The report explains that the air contamination is
due to the re-suspension of DU particles from penetrators or other contamination
points due to wind or human actions.
Most nuclear power plants are fueled with uranium
in which the 235 uranium content is enriched from its naturally occurring
concentration. The uranium remaining after removal of the enriched portion
is called depleted uranium.
The World Health Organization calls depleted uranium
"weakly radioactive" and says a radiation dose from it would
be about 60 percent of that from purified natural uranium with the same
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the UNEP researchers found
that ground contamination occurs at DU penetrator impact points at low
levels, and is localized to areas typically limited within one to two
meters (three to six feet).
DU penetrators buried near the ground surface have
corroded, losing 25 percent of their mass over seven years. The penetrators
will corrode completely within 25 to 35 years after impact, the report
The findings in Bosnia-Herzegovina are consistent
with previous UNEP studies in Kosovo in 2001, and in Serbia and Montenegro
But previous UNEP assessments of depleted uranium
in the Balkans were made shortly after the end of conflict, while in
Bosnia-Herzegovina the seven years that have passed since the conflict
have allowed the corroding DU to penetrate the soil and contaminate
The report found that recorded contamination levels
are very low and do not present immediate radioactive or toxic risks
for the environment or human health.
In the health chapter of the report, the World Health
Organization says claims of an increase in the rates of adverse health
effects stemming from DU cannot be substantiated due to the lack of
a proper cancer registry and reporting system. The existing scientific
data on uranium and DU health effects indicate that it is "highly
unlikely" that DU could be associated with any of the reported
health problems, the UN health agency said.
“These newest findings from UNEP’s ongoing
post-conflict assessment work must not be seen as a cause for alarm,”
said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. “Nevertheless, we
recommend that precautions be taken and in particular, that ground and
drinking water - at and near sites where the presence of DU has been
confirmed - be monitored regularly.”
When DU contamination is found, UNEP advises that
people drink from alternative water sources, and that water sampling
and measurements continue for several years.
The 17 member UNEP team included experts from UNEP,
the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority, Spiez Laboratory of Switzerland,
Italy’s Environmental Protection Agency and Technical Service,
the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Health Organization,
the Greek Atomic Energy Commission, the U.S. Army Center for Health
Promotion and Preventive Medicine, the Nuclear Safety Institute of the
Russian Academy of Sciences, and the UK's University of Bristol. The
mission was funded by the governments of Italy and Switzerland.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All