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Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2006 Jun;3(2):129-35.

The evolution of depleted uranium as an environmental risk factor: lessons from other metals.

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Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska at Kearney, Kearney, NE 68849, USA.


Depleted uranium (DU) is used in both civilian and military applications. Civilian uses are primarily limited to ballast and counterweights in ships and aircraft with limited risk of environmental release. The very nature of the military use of DU releases DU into the environment. DU released into the environment from military use takes the form of large fragments that are chemically unchanged and dust in the form of oxides. DU dust is nearly insoluble, respirable and shows little mobility in the soil. Exposure to DU occurs primarily from inhalation of dust and possible hand to mouth activity. Toxicity of DU is believed to be primarily chemical in nature with radiological activity being a lesser problem. DU has been shown to have a variety of behavioral and neurological effects in experimental animals. DU has been used the Balkans, Afghanistan, and both Iraq wars and there is a high probability of its use in future conflicts. Further, other nations are developing DU weaponry; some of these nations may use DU with a greater radiological risk than those currently in use. The toxicity of DU has been studied mostly as an issue of the health of military personnel. However, many tons of DU have been left in the former theater of war and indigenous populations continue to be exposed to DU, primarily in the form of dust. Little epidemiological data exists concerning the impact of DU on these groups. It may be possible to extrapolate what the effects of DU may be on indigenous groups by examining the data on similar metals. DU has many similarities to lead in its route of exposure, chemistry, metabolic fate, target organs, and effect of experimental animals. Studies should be conducted on indigenous groups using lead as a model when ascertaining if DU has an adverse effect.

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