ALBANY, N.Y. (December 5, 2007) -- A new scientific analysis conducted by researchers from the University of Leicester in the U.K. and the University at Albany provides evidence that depleted uranium (DU) can be detected in people more than two decades after exposure. The tests, conducted on people likely to have had a significant DU aerosol inhalation exposure and contact with a former munitions factory in Colonie, New York, revealed significant levels of DU in urine. In addition, environmental tests revealed that sizeable DU remains in area household dust, despite a recently completed federal cleanup of the munitions site.
The biological study, published in the January 2008 issue of Science of the Total Environment, shows a significant proportion of tested individuals sustaining internal DU contamination as a result of exposure to DU emissions from the former NL Industries factory in upstate New York. Positive results found in former employees and residents who lived or worked in proximity to the plant during its active phase of emissions from 1958 to 1982 revealed DU in 100 percent of workers and up to 20 percent of the residents tested. The results are significant, since no previous study has documented evidence of DU exposure to aerosols more than 20 years prior.
Randall Parrish, professor, Dept. of Geology, University of Leicester and NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, British Geological Survey, Keyworth, UK said, "Our study has shown that it is possible to detect and potentially quantify the historic exposure of residents to aerosol DU oxides from the NL plant. The amount of DU aerosols released from the NL plant is comparable to the aerosolized DU from the entire 1991 Gulf War, and considering the attention paid to Gulf War veterans and their health concerns, I feel it is entirely appropriate to look at Colonie health issues in much more detail."
NL Industries emitted at least five tons of DU aerosols into a residential and commercial area from 1958 to 1982 from its factory at 1130 Central Avenue (Rte. 5), in Colonie, New York. DU is a toxic chemical due to its heavy metal and radiological properties. NL used DU to manufacture armor-piercing munitions (projectiles) and other products.
Scientists also conducted tests of household dust in homes and a business near the NL Industries site and discovered DU contamination in excess of the federal site cleanup standard. The startling results came just two months after the federal government ended a "clean up" of the site and surrounding neighborhood and 27 years after the New York State Supreme Court closed the NL Industries factory for illegal uranium emissions.
Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health & the Environment at the University at Albany, said, "DU is a radioactive substance, and we know that ionizing radiation causes cancer and birth defects. Uranium also has toxicity independent of the radioactive component, but less is known about these effects. Study of the health of exposed individuals is necessary."
John Arnason, professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University at Albany said, "Because DU occurs as microscopic particles that are potentially harmful when inhaled, resuspension of contaminated dust is a concern. The particles are similar to those produced in test ranges and battlefields where DU weapons have been used, making study of the NL Industries site critical to understanding this problem."
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