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Uranium as a Cause of Lung Cancer

Uranium is a radioactive element that occurs in water, soil, or mineral deposits. It includes three isotopes: Uranium-234 (U234), Uranium-235 (U235), and Uranium-238 (U238); natural uranium when it is dug out of the ground has these isotopes.

"Depleted uranium" is a waste product that results from the production of enriched uranium for atomic bombs and nuclear reactors. In natural uranium the fissionable isotope U235 makes up 0.7 percent of the mass and U238 is about 99.3 percent. Nuclear reactor fuel has to have a higher concentration of U235. In the enrichment process the residual material from which U235 has been extracted becomes “depleted uranium”. It is 70% as radioactive as natural uranium.

Depleted uranium (DU) is used in military applications for armor penetrators and armor plates due to its high density and physical characteristics. It has been used for many years in weapon systems. The use of depleted uranium in Operation Iraqi Freedom has shed light on the use of it and policies regarding exposure.

The Link Between Depleted Uranium, Lung Cancer, and Other Health Conditions

There have been several studies in regards to increased lung cancer risk and the link to depleted uranium.

In studies of uranium miners, a high incidence of lung cancer was found; however, it has been attributed to radon decay rather than uranium. This conclusion was based on the argument that uranium is only mildly radioactive and that it would take inhalation of a significant amount of the uranium dust to increase lung cancer risk.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell, author of an article titled, “Gulf War Syndrome, Depleted Uranium and the Dangers of Low-Level Radiation”, (published on the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility website) has a different view on the subject after her research led her to learn more about the military use of depleted uranium and an increase in Gulf War Syndrome cases.

Dr. Bertell learned that the uranium bullets used were made from depleted uranium because it made them dense, gave them the ability to pierce light-armored vehicles, and were inexpensive to produce because they were made from a waste product.

Depleted uranium bullet fragments can break up into small pieces once in the body, thus making them difficult to remove. According to Dr. Bertell, just handling the radioactive bullets can cause long-term health issues. She argues that even if radiation levels are low, they can still pose damage to living tissue.

According to Dr. Bertell’s research, low doses of radiation should not be taken lightly since they can contribute to a multitude of conditions. Some of these include tissue damage related to respiratory, digestive and urinary tracts, reproductive health problems and brain lesions. If fragments remain in the body, they can continue to irradiate nearby nerves and organs.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the following are other potential health effects that may be related to depleted uranium exposure:

  • the proximal tubules of the kidneys are the primary site where damage occurs from DU toxicity
  • lung tissue damage that can lead to lung cancer (increases with higher radiation doses)
  • effects on skin or inflammation of skin

Depleted Uranium At-Risk Jobs

Workers involved in mining or milling occupations where uranium is present, primarily get exposure through inhalation. Mining workers are in environments where there are increased levels of the substance. Although the overall mining and processing activities of uranium decreased in the 1990s, there was an increase in nuclear power plant activity for alternative energy purposes that contributed further to uranium-related issues. These activities heighten the chances for inhalation exposure.

Those in the military are also at an increased risk for contact with depleted uranium. Significant exposure may occur when veterans are in armored vehicles that are hit by DU munitions, or when working in vehicles or areas that have already been contaminated by DU. Many veterans have also been affected in incidents where friendly fire has been involved.

Help for Veterans With Lung Cancer

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, please call us at 1-800-258-1054, for a FREE evaluation to determine if you are qualified for compensation. This compensation is in addition to any VA claim for which you may be eligible.

Guidelines Regarding Depleted Uranium

The World Health Organization has established guidelines for exposure levels of depleted uranium as it pertains to the general public. For more information contact the World Health Organization.

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