“Area Unsafe”: Depleted Uranium in Hawai’i ranges


Report: Area unsafe

PTA visitors speak up about having to sign a safety waiver

By Alan D. Mcnarie

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 10:38 AM HST

U. S. Army sources have often contended that the depleted uranium left by spent shells on its firing ranges at O’ahu’s Schofield Barracks and Hawai’i Island’s Pohakuloa Training Area pose no danger to the public.

In 2008, Army officials told the Hawaii County Council that DU did not pose a health risk to the public, even though the Saddle Road passes through Pohakuloa Training Area, where DU shell fragments had been found. In a recent letter to Rep. Mazie Hirono, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Addison Davis, IV, wrote that “Many independent scientific studies of uranium in the environment show that DU presents no significant ‘environmental health or safety hazard,’ especially at soil concentration of the DU on Hawaii’s ranges.”

“Based on data gathered and careful analysis of the current situation, there is no immediate or imminent health risk to people who work at Schofield Barracks or Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) or live in communities adjacent to these military facilities from the DU present in the impact areas… Studies conducted by numerous non-military agencies, including the World Health Organization and the Department of Health and Human Services, have not found credible evidence linking DU to radiation-induced illnesses Studies conducted by numerous non-military agencies, including the World Health Organization and the Department of Health and Human Services, have not found credible evidence linking DU to radiation-induced illnesses,” claims the Army’s DU information website, http://www.imcom.pac.army.mil/du.

But the Army took a different position when representatives from several Native Hawaiian groups requested access to the West Range at Schofield Barracks on O’ahu on May 27. Before being allowed into Schofield, all were asked to sign a waiver of responsibility acknowledging, among other things, that they knew DU was potentially hazardous to their health.”

“I fully understand and by my signature acknowledge that I understand, West Range at Schofield Barracks is currently constructing the Battle Area Complex (BAX) which includes clean up of unexploded ordnance (UXO) including potential chemical warfare munitions (CWM) and depleted uranium (DU)…,” the waiver read, in part. “I understand that the ENTIRE RESERVATION IS DANGEROUS AND UNSAFE due to the presence of surface and subsurface UNEXPLODED ORDNANCE and DEPLETED URANIUM; that there may be hazardous conditions and ordnance on or under the surface of the Reservation; and that unexploded ordnance may explode nearby causing serious bodily harm, injury and death and that depleted uranium particles can be ingested from the soil or inhaled by airborne dust that may cause adverse health effects.” [Words capitalized as in original.]

“I signed that form twice,” said Hawaiian activist Terri Mullins, who has made two trips to Schofield because ancient Hawaiian remains had been uncovered during construction of a new training area for the army’s new Stryker attack force — the same force for which rangeland has been purchased for a new training area at Pohakuloa, whose firing range has also been contaminated by DU spotting rounds fired by the so-called ‘Davy Crockett,” a Cold-War-era nuclear artillery piece. Mullins, who represents a Hawaiian group called Kipuka said that on the May 27 trip, she was accompanied by members from the O’ahu Island Burial Council, Hui Malama I Na Kupuna, the Wahiawa Hawaiian Civic Club, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the American Friends Service Committee, Aha Kukuniloko and Hui Pu. All, she said, were asked to sign waivers. Big Island Weekly confirmed that at least one other activist who had been on that trip had signed an identical waiver.

The reference to the hazards of “inhaled by airborne dust” containing DU appears to echo concerns expressed by opponents who think fine airborne particles of DU, called “aerosols,” could cause cancer and other diseases. The Army in the past has scoffed at such risks. Its application to the NRC to legally possess the DU at Pohakuloa, for instance, states that “available information indicates that depleted uranium metal generally remains in the immediate vicinity where initially deposited, with limited migration over the period that the materials are present.

But critics such as Dr. Mike Reimer, a geologist and radiation expert who lives in Kona, disagree.

“It is an alloy and a study by the U.S. Air Force revealed that various DU alloys, not quite the same as claimed to have been used at Pohakuloa, are 100 percent effective in producing tumors in mice that then metastasize the lungs,” wrote Reimer, in an e-mail to Sierra Club researcher Cory Harden. “Solid (or alloyed) U[ranium] as a respirable absorbed particle in your lung will produce a radiation dose much greater than the same size particle of oceanic basaltic rock containing 0.t par per million [of] uranium [In other words, naturally occurring uranium found in Hawai’i’s rocks].”

The most probable vector for exposure to DU on the Big Island, maintained Reimer, was the inhalation of tiny, windborne particles, or “aerosols”: “As long as bombs drop and winds blow in the spotting round test area, there will be aerosol production and transport of DU. Aerosols may form and drop nearby, but they can be remobilized by constant bombing.

“Any DU residue present is limited to impact areas well within the perimeter of operational ranges,” the Army’s DU website maintains. “These areas are not publicly accessible. Very few range and safety personnel access the impact areas of our operational ranges. Those people that work in these areas are trained to recognize potential hazards associated with military munitions.”

Why, if the danger of DU is limited to impact areas, Native Hawaiians visiting a construction site would be warned about it or told that “THE ENTIRE RESERVATION IS DANGEROUS AND UNSAFE,” remains an interesting question.

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