8

I've seen a few articles on depleted uranium rounds possibly causing birth defects in the last few years, but most of the articles have a 'doubter'. From what I can tell, the numbers aren't conclusive.

This environmental health site's paper seems to suggest it's a real thing, but I don't know how much to trust the site.

Would someone with better science and google-fu be able to shed some light on this please?

  • Environmental Health seen to be a good link, searching around let me find many very contradictory articles, with political coloring. WHO seems to see no risk, most other found articles found an evidence, but are possibly not reliable. who.int/mip2001/files/2374/HealthinEmergencies,IssueNo.9.pdf – bummi Jan 24 '13 at 7:31
7

I think that wikipedia pretty much answer the question.

There are some controversies, but it seems that the majority of the studies points toward a correlation between exposure to DU and the risk of birth defects in children.

Depleted uranium - Gulf War syndrome and soldier complaints

Human epidemiological evidence is consistent with increased risk of birth defects in the offspring of persons exposed to DU.[10] A 2001 study of 15,000 February 1991 U.S. Gulf War combat veterans and 15,000 control veterans found that the Gulf War veterans were 1.8 (fathers) to 2.8 (mothers) times more likely to have children with birth defects.[97] After examination of children's medical records two years later, the birth defect rate increased by more than 20%

Anyway, I would like to point out that the primary hazard is chemical and not radioactive (from the same page)

The primary radiation danger from depleted uranium is due to alpha particles, which do not travel far through air, and do not penetrate clothing. Thus, the primary concern is internal exposure, due to inhalation, ingestion or shrapnel contamination. Available evidence suggests that this risk is small relative to the chemical hazard

and

Environmental and Workplace Health : Depleted Uranium

Insoluble depleted uranium is considered the most hazardous form for inhalation as it remains in the lungs. A dose of 1 millisievert would be received from inhaling 8 milligrams of insoluble depleted uranium.

Soluble depleted uranium is the most hazardous form for ingestion as it is absorbed into the body. A dose of 1 millisievert would be received from ingesting about 1400 milligrams of soluble depleted uranium. This route of exposure presents only a small fraction of the potential radiological risk of inhalation for the same amount of intake. The relative radiological risks for ingestion and inhalation are 1:200, if the depleted uranium contains equal amounts of soluble and insoluble forms.

External exposure to depleted uranium presents the least hazard. A person could be completely surrounded by depleted uranium 24 hours a day for a week before receiving a 1 millisievert dose.

  • 2
    Did they rule our factors OTHER than DU as far as the first quote? – user5341 Jan 24 '13 at 18:27
  • @Duralumin I think, with the current evidence, this is the best answer I can hope for. The wikipedia article seems to be well referenced and seems to concur with most other articles/papers. I'll leave it open for a little while longer for discussion, but I'll most likely be marking this answer as correct. – Daniel Jan 25 '13 at 7:39
  • @DVK not just other factors, but placebo effect. Go hunting for something and suddenly you find a lot of it. Well known effect. Start an "awareness campaign" for something and the number of diagnoses (and especially self-diagnoses) skyrockets. Soon as the campaign ends the flood of diagnoses ends. – jwenting Aug 10 '13 at 13:49
  • There were lots and lots of chemicals used in the Gulf war. Is there any study which compares Gulf War vets exposed to DU with Gulf War vets who weren't? (Although maybe all Gulf War vets were exposed, in which case you couldn't do such a study.) – Peter Shor Aug 15 '13 at 21:34
5

I would expect so, but not from a radiological standpoint. Depleted uranium is a heavy metal, like lead and mercury, and so I would expect similar toxic effects.

We are well aware of the dangers lead and mercury pose with regards to birth defects, and we also know uranium is very similar to lead chemically.

Doing a bit of searching, seems most studies focus in on the radiological effects, but I did find http://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q746.html which concludes confirming my expectations: uranium is about as dangerous as lead.

  • Downvoted for poor answer. Depleted uranium is a little more dangerous than lead or even unenriched uranium. For one it's radioactive... – Coomie Jan 24 '13 at 6:24
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    Dangerous and radioactive are not synonymous. Bananas and brazil nuts are radioactive. Granite countertops are radioactive. Depleted uranium may well be more dangerous than lead due to radiation, but you'll need some numbers to back up that claim credibly. – Daniel Jan 24 '13 at 7:00
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    @Coomie: considering I said "not from a radiological standpoint", I'd say that I'm aware of its radioactivity. It's just that its radioactivity is insignificant. – whatsisname Jan 24 '13 at 16:12
  • The starting question references a paper written in 2005 that's published in a decent peer reviewed journal. I don't understand how an opinion written in 2001 that comes with a disclaimer saying " The information and material posted on this website is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may alter the concepts and applications of materials and information described herein." should induce doubt in the 2005 paper. – Christian Jan 26 '13 at 18:07
  • @Coomie: Depleted uranium shouldn't be any more radioactive than untreated uranium. Do you have any evidence for this statement? – Peter Shor Aug 15 '13 at 21:34
-1

There was a documentary on public german TV on this specific subject, given the footage and claims in there that'd be a clear yes, depending on the level exposure to radiation. In the film, the film maker visits a physician in Basra, Iraq, who clearly confirms this hypothesis from his empirical perspective.

If you happen to come across such a used shell, pick it up and bring it to Germany, this will happen. You will get charged with a felony for setting free radiation. Notable fact: The (otherwise renowned) film-maker went to court to get the documentary broadcasted on the public TV channel that had initially ordered it and won. It then was broadcasted only once, very late at night.

Don't wanna sound like a conspiracy-nut, but the effort displayed here to keep this issue out of the average citizen's awareness is a clear indicator it's no good at all. Thus, i find it conclusive you're having a hard time getting your hands on some hard facts and/or research on this specific issue.

  • 1
    Could you put some quotes from your links in the answer? – JasonR Jan 24 '13 at 15:40
-3

Any effect would need to be toxicological since the fetus could not be exposed to enough radiation for any effects to be demonstrated. Multiple longterm studies have confirmed that only direct fetal exposure to quite high doses during the fetal period of organogenesis may cause birth defects. Depleted uranium simply does not emit enough radiation to cause birth defects. No increase in birth defects has ever been shown for subsequent generations or, more suprisingly, for those born to parents who had gonad exposure or fullbody exposure but remained fertile. Go to any reputable science source (CDC, IARP) for confirmation. Of course, conspiracists like to discredit valid science in favor of anecdotes.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    the fetus could not be exposed to enough radiation for any effects to be demonstrated -- The mother could be exposed. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium#Human_exposure says, Incorporated uranium becomes uranyl ions, which accumulate in bone, liver, kidney, and reproductive tissues. – ChrisW Aug 7 '13 at 17:22
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    Welcome to Skeptics. Please provide references to support all the claims you are making. – Oddthinking Aug 8 '13 at 1:21

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