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Hazardous material

(November 18, 1999, Gazette)

By Karen Shewbridge

Memorial University researcher Pat Horan will soon finish groundbreaking work on depleted uranium and its effects on war veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. Ms. Horan said the results of her analysis of the urine of war veterans who are ill with Gulf War Syndrome should be finished in about a month.

Ms. Horan, Earth Sciences, gained international prominence last spring when she found proof that a Dutch fireman had been exposed to depleted uranium while cleaning up the crash site of an Israeli EL-AL cargo plane. The plane crashed into an apartment building when it went down in Holland in 1992.

Since then Ms. Horan says people have started getting sick.
“The clean up crew started getting sick, the people in the apartment complex, there has been more infant mortality and infants born with defects. People (like the fireman) are dying of rare cancers and other weird diseases they didn’t see up until now and people want to know why.”

A Dutch environmental watch group out of Amsterdam, called Stichting Visie, originally contacted Ms. Horan to find out if there was DU in the dust collected from the hangar where the remains of the plane were stored.

Ms. Horan says when she released her results of the hangar dust analysis in September 1998, there was a huge reaction in Holland. The findings proved that the fireman who died from a rare form of cancer had been exposed to DU through the dust during the clean-up. The results also showed that the majority of uranium in the dust was DU from the crash.

Once the initial results showed DU in the dust, the same group sent her the cremated remains of the fireman to analyze, soil from the apartment complex, as well as dirt from the chemical dump site where they believe the depleted uranium was disposed of after the crash.
Ms. Horan is now completing her examination of the fireman’s remains to help gauge the effect the exposure to the DU had upon the man’s body before his death in December 1998.

The project geochemist said one of the reasons she was asked to look for the depleted uranium is because prior to the mid-1980s, it was commonly used as ballast in the tails and wings of most airplanes, including the Boeings.

DU is the result of taking uranium 235 out of uranium oxide to make fuel rods for nuclear reactors. According to Ms. Horan it was a great way to get rid of a nuclear plant byproduct, it takes up little space, and yet is heavy enough to make excellent ballast.

“The uranium is quite hard and is also used in military weaponry because it will pierce tanks easily, quickly ignites and destroys the inside of the tank. So when the plane crashed everything burst into flames including the depleted uranium, creating a great cloud of ash, smoke and chemicals. The depleted uranium was also stuck to the plane wreckage.”

EL-AL has admitted there were other chemicals on the plane including DMMP dimethyl methylphosphonate, a main component of serin nerve gas. But as doctors begin to understand the effects of DU exposure on the human body, the work continues to determine if these rare cancers are caused by the presence of DU in the body.

Ms. Horan says uranium eventually complexes with the phosphates in the bone, settling in the bone after making its way through the body, so she has spent intense time-consuming effort in developing an accurate and precise technique of analyzing depleted uranium in the bone as well as in urine, organs and cremated ash.

Her work is recognized and recommended by prominent nuclear physicists across the United States.

Ms. Horan says much of her work is confidential and the results belong to the group requesting the research. She is not at liberty to discuss or release the information to the public unless it is the group’s intention.