Sunday, June 29, 2008

My country went to the Middle East, and all I got was this glowing sand . . .

Army Shipping Contaminated Kuwait Sand to Idaho Landfill

By Jill Kuraitis, 4-30-08

The U.S. Army is shipping 6,700 tons of contaminated sand to Idaho from Kuwait. It will arrive at American Ecology in Grandview, Idaho, sometime in May.

Grandview, population 470, is 42 miles south of Boise in Owyhee County.

The sand is from Camp Doha in Kuwait, a former Army warehouse complex used by Army Forces Central Command. The sand absorbed depleted uranium when some spent ammunition was caught in a fire (addition May 1:during the first Gulf War.)

It’s also contaminated with hazardous levels of lead, according to the two military guys who told me the story, whose branch and names won’t be used for obvious reasons. However, it’s no secret, since the story had already been written by Erik Olson in the Longview, Washington Daily News.

Chad Hyslop, spokesperson for American Ecology, did not return New West’s phone calls, but he told Olson that all the sand will be at the disposal site in Grandview sometime in May.

It will take 76 rail cars to run half the sand to Idaho, and then a second trip will be required for the rest. 152 of the smallest size rail cars would build a four-story structure about the size of half a football field.

Andrea Shipley, the executive director of the Snake River Alliance, an Idaho-based grassroots group with a mission to watchdog the energy industry and energy-related government departments, doesn’t like the idea of the sand coming to Idaho. She told New West that “this is a major concern. Depleted uranium is both a toxic heavy metal and a radioactive substance creating health risks that may be far more varied than is recognized in federal regulations today. Safe and responsible clean-up is critical to safeguard the health of Idahoans and our environment.”

The lead contamination, which the Army discovered before the ship carrying the sand to the Port of Longview arrived there, was nearly four times higher than the EPA standard for designating it “hazardous.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, even very low levels of exposure to lead in children can cause learning disabilities, and may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, strokes or heart attacks. Lead is also associated with impaired visual and motor function, growth abnormality, neurological and organ damage, hearing loss, hypertension and reproductive complications.

Whether or not humans might be exposed to the contaminated sand, either during transport, unloading, or processing at American Ecology’s Grandview landfill is not clear. No Army official returned calls. Follow-ups to this story will be posted.

Addition May 1: The full post about depleted uranium on Wikipedia can be found here, but here are two relevant paragraphs.

Depleted uranium (DU) is uranium primarily composed of the isotope uranium-238 (U-238). Natural uranium is about 99.27 percent U-238, 0.72 percent U-235, and 0.0055 percent U-234. Because U-235 is used for fission in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, natural uranium is enriched in U-235 by separating the isotopes by mass. The byproduct of enrichment, called depleted uranium or DU, contains less than one third as much U-235 and U-234 as natural uranium, making it less radioactive due to the longer 4.5 billion year half-life of U-238. The external radiation dose from DU is about 60 percent of that from the same mass of natural uranium.

Depleted uranium munitions are controversial because of numerous unanswered questions about the long-term health effects. DU is less toxic than other heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury, and is only very weakly radioactive because of its long half life. While any radiation exposure has risks, no conclusive epidemiological data have correlated DU exposure to specific human health effects such as cancer. However, the UK government has attributed birth defect claims from a 1991 Gulf War combat veteran to DU poisoning, and studies using cultured cells and laboratory rodents continue to suggest the possibility of leukemogenic, genetic, reproductive, and neurological effects from chronic exposure. Until such issues are resolved with further research, the use of DU by the military will continue to be controversial.

Updates to this story will continue to be posted.

Update May 1: NewWest blogger Irwin Horowitz of 6degrees - named because of his six college degrees including a B.S. From MIT in physics, an M.S. In astronomy and another M.S. In electrical engineering, has a strong interest in nuclear issues and follows them regularly. He told New West that the primary issue with the sand from Kuwait is the heavy-metal toxicity more than the U-238, and the radiation, in the form of alpha particles, doesn’t penetrate skin. Lead, said Horowitz, gets into the soft tissues of the body. “Depleted uranium could enter the body from ingesting it, breathing it in, or through surface skin cuts, so you’d almost have to play in the sand.”

More calls to American Ecology have not been returned.

Original article posted here.

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