Operation Desert Storm:

Army Not Adequately Prepared to Deal With Depleted Uranium Contamination

NSIAD-93-90: Published: Jan 29, 1993. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed depleted-uranium (DU) contamination of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams Tanks during the Persian Gulf War, focusing on: (1) U.S. soldiers' exposure to DU; (2) Army guidance and training on the proper handling and risks of DU and ways to minimize DU exposure; (3) Army medical evaluations for personnel exposed to DU radiation; and (4) the effectiveness of Army decontamination and disposal of DU-contaminated combat vehicles.

GAO found that: (1) the Army does not know the full extent of DU radiation exposure during the war, but several dozen or more soldiers were exposed to DU primarily through inhalation, ingestion, or shrapnel; (2) the Army and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission believed that combat personnel were not exposed to radiation levels that exceeded acceptable exposure limits; (3) DU protective methods may be inadequate during combat and life-threatening situations; (4) the Army did not sufficiently educate its personnel and disseminate information concerning the hazards of DU exposure; (5) DU educational training was limited to Abrams tank personnel, munitions handlers, and explosive ordnance disposal personnel; (6) the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs have begun testing injured Army National Guard personnel and Abrams and Bradley crew members who could have been exposed to DU radiation; (7) the Army lacked adequate plans for evaluating other personnel who could have been exposed to DU, including those involved with DU-contaminated vehicle recovery; and (8) the Army had inadequate facilities and no formal procedures to decontaminate, dispose of, or quickly repair DU-contaminated vehicles.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD, the Army has developed procedures for recovery, decontamination, and repair or disposal of vehicles and equipment damaged by DU munitions. These plans and procedures are being incorporated into an Army regulation on depleted uranium contamination.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should develop a formal plan for dealing with the recovery of DU-contaminated equipment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD agreed to expand testing to include personnel in the vehicle recovery process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should expand testing to include personnel involved in the vehicle recovery process should the testing of the Army National Guard personnel show that uranium is present in excess of the standards being applied in the medical tests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD, the Army Surgeon General has completed identification and initial testing of soldiers exposed to depleted uranium. No elevated levels of contamination were found. Subsequent medical evaluations will be scheduled as appropriate.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should develop time frames to implement the proposed DU testing policy involving the testing of all crew members inside vehicles penetrated by DU munitions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD, the Army has developed three new training programs to meet the needs of personnel involved with depleted uranium detection and handling.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the appropriate Army training schools provide adequate information and training to personnel who could come in contact with DU-contaminated equipment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD, the services now have plans or guidance in place governing procedures and policies for the safe handling and disposal of equipment contaminated with depleted uranium.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the other military services are prepared to decontaminate and dispose of DU-contaminated equipment and have appropriate training and guidance for personnel who may be exposed to DU.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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