Science

Gulf War syndrome: uranium out of the question

SYMPTOMS. Fatigue, fever, night sweats, diarrhea, memory and concentration problems, chronic pain, erectile dysfunction, etc. the symptoms still affecting American veterans returning from the Gulf War in 1991 are legion: more than fifty have been listed. And they are very far from being an isolated phenomenon which would only concern a handful of the soldiers sent into the theater of operations.

The most common explanation concerned exposures to depleted uranium (DU) munitions, the conflict having been the first to employ them. However, we will have to look for another person in charge according to a study conducted by two epidemiologists and doctors, Randall Parrish (University of Portsmouth (United Kingdom) and Robert Haley (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, United States), and published in the review Scientific Reports. Without a shadow of a doubt, the researchers conclude that there is no incriminating element of AU in the health concerns of veterans. To do this, they employed the ultimate in detector: a highly sophisticated mass spectrometer. The goal: to try to find traces of this isotope in the body of sick people.

No link could be demonstrated

By-product of uranium enrichment plants, DU has been used since the 1990s by the US military. Very dense, it considerably strengthens projectiles, making them capable of piercing tank armor. Only, on this occasion, there was an intense explosion, vaporizing in the air clouds of microscopic shrapnel which could be inhaled by the soldiers on the spot or enter their body in the form of an aerosol via the skin. And about 300 tonnes of DU ammunition was used in Kuwait and Iraq …

Yet, so far, no study – there have been 4 on the issue – has been able to demonstrate a link between excretion in soldiers’ urine of DU particles and the occurrence of side effects. . But, beware, warn the two authors, “All of these studies suffer from major biases. And the fact remains that English and Italian court decisions have already attributed illnesses and deaths to exposure to DU ”.

It was therefore necessary to decide. For the first time in such a study, the two researchers used a “high precision multi-collector mass spectrometer”, an instrument capable of giving results ten times more sensitive than those measured in previous studies. Indeed, they calculated, conventional spectrometers, less sensitive, are totally insufficient to detect low exposures to DU. Armed with their high-tech instrument, the two scientists analyzed 154 urine samples, 106 were from Gulf War veterans afflicted with the syndrome, the rest from veterans of the same conflict but without symptoms and others who were not. in the field.

The syndrome is there and the mystery remains unsolved

Result: In none of the samples, the researchers found a trace of UA. Nothing in those who are sick, no more in the control group of those deployed in the Gulf but returned without the syndrome. The suspect UA therefore seems to be out of the question. But the mystery is not dispelled so far. Because, if it is not caused by DU, there is nevertheless a syndrome linked to this conflict. It is estimated that a quarter of the soldiers engaged in the Gulf would suffer from it, or nearly 200,000 individuals …

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