Pohakuloa Depleted Uranium studies “fall far short”

The Sierra Club Moku Loa chapter has been doing excellent work bird dogging the Army over its handling of the DU contamination at Pohakuloa.   Cory Harden posted the following letter and attached review of the Army’s studies by an independent scietist.

“I am particularly concerned that what is proposed by the U.S. Army for future studies at PTA will fall far short of providing the best information possible at this time, or for that matter, provide any information that can be used to develop a real rather than a speculative risk assessment.” From Mike Reimer, PhD, Kona geologist, retired

Michael Reimer
75-6081 Ali`i Drive RR-103
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
March 6, 2009

Colonel Howard Killian, Deputy Director
U.S. Army Installation Management Command
Pacific Region
132 Yamanaga Street
Fort Shafter, Hawaii 96858-5520

Dear Colonel Killian:

I have had an opportunity to review the reports released from DU studies at Schofield Barracks and Pohakuloa Training Area. I also spoke with Dr. Lorrin Pang, some members of the Community Advisory Group, and met contractor Dr. Jeff Morrow.

I agree with your statement that you mentioned in a previous communication we had, and that is to let the science speak.

In that light, I am particularly concerned that what is proposed by the U.S. Army for future studies at PTA will fall far short of providing the best information possible at this time, or for that matter, provide any information that can be used to develop a real rather than a speculative risk assessment.

DU is an issue of evolving study results and knowledge. There are some points that are immutable fact. We know that DU is present at Schofield and Pohakuloa. As I recall, the Army does not dispute the point of potential health risk. Therefore, we must take the best information we obtain today and use it to address the concerns about the level of health risks from potential exposure to DU.

The citizens of the Big Island are concerned. This is a natural, often fearful, reaction anytime the word radiation is mentioned in our society. Yet, we live in a world with ubiquitous and unavoidable natural radiation, from cosmic rays to the foodstuffs that provide our sustenance. According to the position of the U.S. EPA, any and all ionizing radiation has the potential of causing cancer. Thus, there has to be a reasoned balance between unavoidable exposure and elective exposure.

The past use of DU on the Big Island places exposure to that type of radioactive material in the “unavoidable exposure” category. This brings forth the question then of how much additional risk does it pose to the people of the Big Island including the military personnel stationed and working at Pohakuloa.

I believe that with adequate study, this question can be answered with reasonable assurance. As I mentioned, I do not believe the currently planned study has the capacity to answer that question. The reason for my belief is that the study design is to measure total uranium and to show that it is below standards set by World Agencies for regulated exposures. This may present itself as a feel-good approach, but it is unfortunately misleading even with the rudimentary information we have today about the form and occurrence of uranium in the natural environment. In other words, the study as currently planned still leaves the door wide open on determining excess health risks, if any.
The attached commentary contains suggestions on what additional information could be collected to help determine the risk. It is fair to assume that the information about the use of DU is as accurate as it can be. That is, the only use was in the Davy Crockett spotting rounds, no use of penetrating munitions occurred, that is the 20mm or 30 mm rounds from various Gatling configurations, smaller caliber rounds, or larger caliber armor penetrating munitions. It assumes that DU does not remain from any breach of containment if used as ballast or armor reinforcement, or any other possible presentation of DU.

My comments are intended for a reasonably informed individual about DU issues; it is not overpoweringly technical but does use various standard abbreviations, chemical, isotopic, and radiological inferences and acronyms. For example, I use DU for depleted uranium and its various components, and natural uranium or NU for naturally occurring uranium. I am not suggesting that the uranium has a chemical, physical, or radiological difference. However, it is different in form and that is a significant difference for risk assessment. In addition, unless specifically mentioned, I do not separate radioactive decay into the three common particles, alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. Of special note is my use of the term “form” in describing uranium. Unlike the Hawaii Department of Health presentation (November 2007), I use form not to refer to the element uranium (and isotopes) but to describe its occurrence in a matrix – natural, alloy DU, or oxidized DU.

This is a commentary; it is not a formal, peer-reviewed technical report although it may in some instances give the appearance of a peer review for the program. I do not duplicate information that can be found elsewhere and except in unusual or compelling circumstances, I do not provide references. For detail not presented here, I am sure various contractors you have will be able to address and clarify the concepts more fully. However, I am also willing to further explain my commentary for those issues that might be seen as some in a gray area of meaning.


Michael Reimer, Ph.D., geologist, retired

Distribution: Sherry Davis, Corey Hardin, Hawaii County Council, Pete Hendricks, J. Morrow, Ph.D., L. Pang, M.D., LTC Richardson, S. Troute

Read Dr. Reimer’s full comments on the Army’s Pohakuloa Depleted Uranium study

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