Concerns Turn To Balkans War Pollution
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Concerns Turn To Balkans War Pollution

Hartford Courant
June 16, 1999

Advocates of environmental and radiation safety are demanding that the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization clean up potential environmental messes in Yugoslavia caused by NATO bombings.

Doug Rokke, a physicist who formerly was director of the U.S. Army team monitoring depleted uranium during the Persian Gulf War, recently wrote the Army Material Command, ``license holder for uranium 238,'' to demand that the Pentagon clean up depleted uranium in Yugoslavia left over from the firing of ammunition during the bombing.

Whenever such ammunition is test fired at military sites in the United States, Rokke said, the Army cleans it up and the firing sites are fenced off to protect the public from dangerous exposures. Rokke is now a health physicist in the U.S. Army Reserves.

But Lt. Col. Steve Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman, said of Yugoslavia, ``[Depleted uranium] saw very limited use, and we don't think it poses any significant hazard.''

Nonetheless, Rokke's demand is being echoed by International Physicians Against Nuclear War in Germany, New York City's International Action Center and other advocacy groups worldwide.

Xanthe Hall, international campaigns director for the physicians' group, and Deirdre Sinnot, a spokeswoman for the Action Center, said Tuesday that the United States and NATO should bear responsibilty for ensuring that Yugoslavians are protected from depleted uranium and other hazardousleftover weapons.

Sinnot said the U.S. should pay for the cleanup because it used depleted uranium and selected most of the bombing targets.

``The deliberate use of uranium- 238 munitions in an area to be reoccupied by civilians, unaware of hazards or without the ability to protect themselves, places them in undue risks or hazards,'' Rokke said Tuesday.

Cleanup of depleted uranium would involve removing bombed equipment from populated areas, soil and water testing and cleanup of areas with large amounts of depleted uranium debris. Such a cleanup could cost millions of dollars.

Campbell said it should not be assumed that all the armored vehicles destroyed by NATO were hit with depleted uranium rounds. He said he did not have figures on how many depleted uranium rounds were used during thebombing.

Rokke and other experts say that dust and smoke from explosions of the ammunition when it hits its armored targets causes air and water pollution that can cause cancer and serious kidney damage.

Hari Sharma, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, recently did a study of the use of depleted uranium during the gulf war. He said there is likely to be an increase of 20,000 to 100,000 fatal lung cancers among allied and Iraqi war veterans and Iraqi citizens from the firing of depleted uranium rounds by U.S. anti-tank guns during the war.

The United Nations has sent a mission to Yugoslavia to examine the environmental and humanitarian crisis there, but it has not taken a position on how to best protect the health and safety of those affected by the bombing.

James Sniffen, a U.N. environmental spokesman, said the United Nations has a recent request from Vladislav Jovanovic, Yugoslavia's charge d'affaires, seeking the United Nation's help in cleaning up the country's ``environmental catastrophe.''

But Sniffen said the United Nations still has to send a second mission to Yugoslavia to assess damages and report to officials in New York and Geneva.

A representative of the World Health Organization in Geneva said the agency has not yet conducted site inpections in Yugoslavia, but intends to conduct soil and drinking water tests.

President Clinton and the Pentagon have said NATO's only responsibility for cleanup is land mines and unexploded cluster bombs.


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