U.S. Iraq vet warns DU a threat to SDF troops


The Yomiuri Shimbun

Self-Defense Forces troops serving in southern Iraq could be at risk of exposing themselves--and their families--to illness and physical disability caused by depleted uranium (DU) contained in several types of munitions used by U.S. forces in Iraq, a U.S. veteran of the Iraq war said Monday.

Gerard Matthew, a former U.S. Army National Guard specialist, transported equipment including shot-up tanks and destroyed vehicle parts back and forth mostly in and around the southern part of Iraq, where Japanese troops are carrying out their reconstruction and humanitarian mission.

As time went on, he began suffering from severe headaches, which he initially attributed to a lack of water and the oppressive heat in Iraq. But when the headaches and other symptoms continued after he returned home, he suspected something more serious was wrong. Just over nine months later, his wife gave birth to a daughter. She was born with three fingers and most of her right hand missing. He then had his urine tested and it was found positive for DU.

"I came all the way to Japan...to convey the message because you have some soldiers out there as well and they may be susceptible to it," he said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.

DU is a by-product of the process used to enrich uranium for use in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. Its high density, low cost and ability to penetrate vehicle armor make it an attractive choice for use in antitank weapons, but on impact DU particulate is dispersed in the air inside and outside the targeted vehicle. Exposure to uranium particulate, either inhaled or ingested, can lead to serious health problems including leukemia, cancers and neurocognitive effects, as well as birth defects in the children of those exposed, according to Sandia National Laboratories, a laboratory operated by Lockheed Martin that completed a two-year study for the U.S. Energy Department on the potential health effects associated with exposure to DU during the 1991 Gulf War.

"I'm suffering not only those same problems from before, but now I have...a tumor in my pituitary [gland], I have neuropathy in my hands and my feet, I have trouble waking up in the morning at times and I have post-traumatic stress disorder.

"[Our governments] are using cheap stuff and they are hurting us. And...we're hurting innocent civilians and we don't need to do that," said Matthew, 31.

However, the U.S. State Department says on its Web site that "accusations that depleted uranium has caused cancer in Iraqi newborns are groundless," and claims "rumors" of adverse health effects caused by DU ordinance have "proved inaccurate."

The Japanese government also denies that DU poses a risk.

Matthew said he met two Japanese troops and took pictures with them along the so-called Highway of Death in Iraq.

Matthew is part of a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Defense Department filed in January that is now in the 2nd Circuit Court in New York.

"Yes, [the military] has paid for my education, but I would give all of that up to have my daughter with five fingers on her hand and being able to do something like everybody else," Matthew said.

His wife, Janise, who has two healthy children from previous relationships, also spoke at the press conference, giving a word of warning to families of SDF members stationed in Iraq. "Don't fall asleep on your people, your Japanese soldiers, when they actually come back because they might not show exactly symptoms that they are sick. If you have any family members in the military, just watch over them, make sure that they are OK," she said.

Matthew added that he felt "a connection" with the people of Hiroshima when he visited Peace Park on Thursday because "I was exposed to radiation, just like them."