Thursday, May 15, 2008

Uranium and Led--Kuwaiti’s Sand Heads for Idaho

Uranium and Lead Kuwaiti’s Sand Heads for Idaho

By Kevin Stoda, in Kuwait



Over the past two weeks, for the first time, news was shared in Kuwait that sand that has been contaminated since the 1991 U.S. Coalition War in Kuwait has now been shipped to U.S. soil and is currently heading to Idaho.

The sand’s contamination resulted from U.S. military vehicles and munitions combining in a combustive accident at the end of that war.

The shipment was undertaken somewhat in stealth after Kuwait first asked for its removal some years ago. The U.S. military had refused to agree to pay for the shipping.

Finally, Kuwait has apparently contracted to have the contamination shipped out.

According to one KUWAIT TIMES article, “The sand coming to Idaho from Camp Doha, the US Army base in Kuwait, was contaminated with uranium after military vehicles and munitions caught fire during the first Iraq war in 1991. Depleted uranium, twice as dense as lead, has been used as a component in armor plating to protect tanks and for armor-piercing projectiles.”

According to American Ecology, the U.S. company subcontracted to ship and store the 6700 tons of led and uranium contaminated sand, “Radiation from the uranium in the sand has been measured at about 10 picocuries per gram. The Idaho facility is permitted to accept material with more than 16 times that level, or 169 picocuries per gram. In a letter to Army officials on Sept. 13, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission deemed the radiation levels ‘unimportant quantities’ and approved the plan to dispose the sand in Idaho.”

One official, working for the storage area in Idaho, noted, "We've received tens of thousands of tons from the US military that has higher radioactive levels than this shipment."

On the other hand, at least one Idaho government employee was annoyed when the shipment arrived in the states.

Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director, Brian Monson, stated “The company is permitted to receive the material and contacted his office three months ago. ‘They always give us an alert if it's something out of the ordinary.’”

According to the KUWAIT TIMES, “the company notified Monson again this week when military officials tested the sand and found traces of lead. ‘It was only until the last hour we realized we might be dealing with a hazardous material,’”


SHIPPING NUCLEAR WASTE FROM MILITARY BASES

The U.S. military has international commitments to bring home its contaminated garbage from bases all over the world.

In this recent shipment of 6700 tons of led and uranium contaminated sand, most officials see more danger to American soils caused potentially by the large amounts of lead—rather than the lower amounts of uranium.

Currently, State Department of Health personnel are at the American port in Washington state “to test radiation levels and to ensure none of the sand spills.” American Ecologly representative Chad Hyslop said.

“U.S. Customs agents also were on hand to inspect the cargo,” Hyslop continued.

“The sand became contaminated with low levels of depleted uranium following a fire at Camp Doha during the first Gulf War in 1991,” according army sources and Hyslop, “The Army then discovered potentially hazardous levels of lead in the shipment.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate candidate in Idaho, Larry LaRocco, requested that Idaho’s Governor, C.L. (Butch) Otter, and the Lt. Governor, Jim Risch, halt “the 150 rail cars loaded with radioactive sand from entering Idaho. His staff hand delivered letters to each office.”

One Boise magazine cited that same U.S. Senate candidate as arguing, “Accepting this waste in the United States is poor public policy and environmentally unsound for Idaho.”

In his letter the governor, LaRocco wrote, “Let’s not turn Idaho into the world’s dump.”
According to the NEW WEST magazine, “LaRocco also notes past leaders, former Gov. Cecil Andrus and former Gov. Phil Batt, took firm stances against bringing hazardous materials to Idaho. He urged Risch to put aside partisanship and follow their examples. In November 2007, American Ecology’s PAC gave $2,300 to Jim Risch’s Senate campaign. The PAC had previously given $1,000 to Risch’s 2006 race for Lt. Governor. Since 2002, the AE PAC has given more that $20,000 to the campaigns of Otter, Risch, Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, and Reps. Bill Sali and Mike Simpson.”
LaRocco claims to have personally called the company, American Ecology, dozens of time but has not been allowed to even speak to the company’s communication director.

SNAKE RIVER ALLIANCE & KUWAIT
Snake River Alliance is a nuclear watchdog group in Idaho.
According to one statement on its website, the Snake River Alliance executive director, Andrea Shipley has claimed, “The fact that this was shipped [from Kuwait] with hazardous levels of lead and this was not exposed until it came to the port in Washington is a major concern. Idaho authorities, particularly DEQ, must continue adequately monitoring this waste to know exactly what will arrive in Idaho. Safe and responsible clean-up is critical to safeguard the health of Idahoans and our environment.”
Shipley continued, “Depleted uranium is both a toxic heavy metal and a radioactive substance creating health risks that may be far more varied than is recognized in federal regulations today. When depleted uranium is exposed to the elements it becomes volatile, so the safest and most responsible clean-up is essential.”

Finally, the executive director of the Snake River Alliance noted, “Most importantly, the use of depleted uranium in armor piercing shells and bullets shows an inextricable link between the reusing of nuclear waste and warfare. There is no viable solution for nuclear waste at this time.”
Here in Kuwait, it is interesting to note that once-again neither the Kuwaiti government nor the U.S. military are willing to share how expensive the contract was to ship 6700tons of uranium and lead waste back to the USA.
On the other hand, many in Kuwait have now publicly and privately voiced relief that some of the depleted uranium left-over from the 1991 war, known in the U.S. as “Operation Desert Storm”, have been taken away.
Most Kuwaitis don’t speak openly about depleted uranium these days, but if prodded, most have worries and seem to concur with the view shared by doctors who visited the Gulf in the early 1990s and noticed the high rate of birth defects and deformations.
One writer, Cynthia Arbuthnot, had shared in Scotland, that she finds governments everywhere cover up or stonewalling her on her calls for more data and information.
Arbuthnot wrote in 2001, “Since I discovered that depleted uranium weapons had been used, every attempt to find out the truth has been met with a wall of lies. Many of those who have investigated this - and this includes the top experts in the world - have been threatened, shot at and fired from their jobs. I have been receiving death threats for five years now, some of them imaginative, some boring.”
Referring to her visit to Iraq and Kuwait in 1991, Arbuthnot reminisced, “When I arrived in Iraq, doctors were already reporting a rise in congenital abnormalities in the newborn and a threefold rise in cancers and leukemias, especially in children. Birth defects and illness were also affecting Gulf veterans. Their search for answers and treatment has been met with bureaucratic stonewalling and lies. As they have attempted to find answers for themselves and for the sick and dying, their homes have been raided by the Ministry of Defense Police. Computers, disks and documents have been removed.”
Just a few months prior to the shipping of 6700 tons of contaminated sand from Kuwait in April, a contact of mine here in Kuwait (i.e. someone who has researched this issue of DU weapons for years) had met with a Harvard researcher who has claimed that Kuwait was suffering no damage from after-affects of depleted uranium.
The contradiction between this so-called expert’s statement and two governments’ willingness to ship 6700 tons of sand to Idaho screams for more research and public accountability in the USA and Kuwait
Is the U.S. doing enough research on this matter?
Is the USA publicizing the research or scrawling it away in the Bush Presidential Archives in College station, Texas—which will not be open to the public or researchers for another quarter of a century?
In the meantime, here is one website, which follows the DU issue. You can get recent reports of DU base and DU testing site closures, etc. at DU CURRENT ISSUES:
http://www.wise-uranium.org/dissti.html

NOTES

Arbuthnot, Cynthia, “Depleted Uranium: My Battle for the Truth”, http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0114-02.htm

“Contaminated Sand from Kuwait Heads to U.S.”, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MzgwNTU1MTUz

Kuraitis, Jill, “LaRocco to Otter, Risch: No Contaminated Sand to Idaho”, http://www.newwest.net/city/article/larocco_to_otter_risch_no_contaminated_sand_to_idaho/C108/L108/

Olsen, Erik, “Crews Moving Contaminated Sand from Ship to Rail”, http://www.tdn.com/articles/2008/04/29/area_news/doc4816651072f72767559743.txt

“Snake River Alliance”, http://www.snakeriveralliance.org/News/Articles/tabid/122/ctl/ArticleView/mid/471/articleId/2826/Tons-of-Waste-Shipped-to-Idaho-from-Kuwait.aspx

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