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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 00:14 GMT
Depleted uranium: The next generation
tank firing
Most UK tanks in the Gulf War carried depleted uranium rounds
By Alex Kirby, BBC News Online environment correspondent and presenter of Costing the Earth

Some UK Gulf War veterans fear their children are suffering because of their own exposure to depleted uranium (DU) weapons.

Several veterans have told BBC Radio 4's environment programme, Costing the Earth, why they are worried.

The Ministry of Defence continues to insist that DU poses no particular risk to parents, let alone their children.

But the programme hears concerns that there may be a higher rate of birth defects among the children of those who served in the Gulf.

One of those interviewed is Kenny Duncan, an Army driver who removed destroyed Iraqi tanks from the battlefield.

No warnings

He tells the programme: "Nobody ever mentioned anything about uranium or depleted uranium when we were there.

"Nobody remembers being told about it at all. It certainly wasn't given in a warning to us."

Kenny and his wife Mandy have three children, all born since the 1991 war. All were born with health problems, which have persisted.

damaged iraqi child
Iraq reports many birth defects
"The problems the kids have are the same as the soldiers'", says Mandy. "They've got bowel problems, chronic fatigue, and a persistent cough, and nothing helps with that."

She believes her husband is now showing early signs of cancer, with a lump on his knee and a nine-month wait to find out what it is.

"I think the kids are going to grow up without a dad", she says. "I don't think the government actually realises how many lives they are ruining, and they need to.

"They're just killing the veterans, and killing their families along with them, with all the worry - and it's not fair."

Tim Purbrick was a tank commander in the Gulf War. He did not use the DU rounds his tank had been issued with. Instead he stored bread and other rations on top of them.

"We were given no warning as to any danger of storing the rounds or firing them", he says.

'A bit dodgy'

"But after the war, we were unloading our DU rounds at a Royal Army Ordnance Corps de-ammunition point in Saudi Arabia.

"All the soldiers there were wearing NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical warfare) protective clothing. We said: 'What's going on here?'

"And their answer was: 'Didn't you know? This ammunition is a bit dodgy'".

Mr Purbrick remains healthy. But his son was born last year with no fingers on his left hand, and a joint missing from his thumb.

serb tank column
DU was also fired in the Balkans
"When the time comes, if he asks why he has no fingers on one hand, I think perhaps there may be the nagging doubt that he could be paying the price for my service in the Gulf", says Tim Purbrick.

"Anecdotally, in a discussion with a military doctor, he told me that early indications from official surveys are that there's a higher incidence of Thalidomide-type abnormalities in the children of Gulf veterans."

'No massive effect'

The Ministry of Defence still maintains that there is no evidence that DU poses a significant risk to the veterans themselves.

And it says that while it cannot guarantee that DU will not produce birth defects in their children, the evidence suggests there is no massive effect.

Kenny Duncan has a jaundiced view of the ministry. "They're sitting around watching veterans die", he says.

"They're waiting for us to die off, so they don't need to pay out money. They'll just tell us nothing and deny everything.

"They don't care about the veterans' health, even though some from the Balkans are starting to get ill. And still they say it's not an issue."

Costing the Earth is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2100 BST on 18 January.

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See also:

15 Jan 01 | Europe
12 Jan 01 | UK
10 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
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