Kailua, Hawaii (TFC) – Activists and health experts are expressing concern over the suspicion of continued military use of depleted uranium (DU) and the cumulative toxic effects. Unlike the nuclear bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan during World War II, the dispersal of depleted uranium particles cannot be seen, felt, heard, or smelt post-impact. With a half-life of 4.5 billion years, it seems difficult to comprehend the long-term effects on our planet and its many residents (human and animal alike). According to long-time anti-DU activist and retired registered nurse Lindafaye Kroll of STOP Bombing Hawaii, it is suspected that this military toxin is being used in training operations on U.S. military bases in Hawai’i, but is a worldwide concern. While Kroll actively fights for the end of live-fire bombing drills near her home, she has conducted over a decade of research that clearly shows that DU is a global health and environmental issue.
Hawai’i is considered one of the world’s more desirable vacation spots, particularly for U.S. citizens who require no passport to travel to a tropical paradise. But did you know that Hawai’i is also the most heavily militarized island chain in the world? Among the numerous bases for each branch of U.S. military, there are two live-fire training ranges; the Schofield Barracks on O’ahu and the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) on Hawai’i Island. Another island, Kaho’olawe, was previously used as a weapon testing ground for nearly 50 years. Today, there is no usable fresh water remaining, no human inhabitants, and visiting requires special permission. According to Kroll, the military cleaned up only about 10% of the pollution there and the island is still to this day littered with undetonated explosives. That doesn’t really sound like the tropical paradise you imagined, does it?
There are two main industries in Hawai’i: tourism and the military. Kroll believes that she has been ignored by public officials on the topic of military pollution because to admit it would hurt tourism. Nearly 8 million people travel from all over the world to visit Hawai’i each year. A primary economic driver in the islands could be badly diminished if potential visitors were to know the truth about the high levels of toxic contaminants in the air, water, and soil. Hawai’i is also home to hundreds of endangered and threatened plant and animal species. Especially in danger are the military men and women who are living and working in contaminated areas. The government and military continue to deny that any harm is being done to the archipelago, despite the growing numbers of health problems among citizens and service members.
Kroll fights for the decommissioning and cleanup of military sites in Hawai’i, but also hopes to see an end to the use of depleted uranium weapons worldwide. The U.S. is one of only a handful of nations that does not classify DU as a weapon of mass destruction. Proper testing of the area around the two live-fire ranges has never been completed; the military did a few random soil samples and claimed no elevated radiation was found. Many Hawaiian residents have purchased their own Geiger counters due to governmental reluctance to conduct proper testing; this device can be used to show levels of radiation in the air. While protesting outside the PTA gates, activist Jim Albertini recorded elevated radiation levels of 62-70cpm; over three times what is considered safe, background levels of airborne radioactive material. The live-fire range is located in a wind tunnel between two large mountains – trade winds blowing downslope have the potential to carry pollutants into the most heavily populated areas of the island, including popular tourist destinations.
Another health expert and the founder of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, Dr. Helen Caldicott, has compiled a plethora of evidence on the dangers of DU. An NPRI report cites a World Health Organization (WHO) conclusion that clearly links potential health and environmental hazards to the use of DU:
“Only military use of depleted uranium is likely to have any significant impact on environmental levels… in some instances the levels of contamination in food and ground water could rise after some years and should be monitored and appropriate measures taken where there is a reasonable possibility of significant quantities of depleted uranium entering the food chain.”
WHO also recommends testing and treatment for individuals who may have been exposed to high levels of DU, and reports that children living in areas where DU particles are more concentrated may be at a greater risk. Kroll believes that the prolonged use of DU in Hawai’i has led to a greater incidence of birth defects (1 in 17 children born in Hawaii suffer from visible genetic abnormalities), autism, cancer, and other ill health effects. While many studies exist connecting DU and health problems, the U.S. government fails to acknowledge that the low-level radioactive material is causing any harm to the health of people here in Hawai’i and worldwide, only asserting that more research is necessary to establish a causal link. In 1996, a UN resolution passed banning the use of DU weapons; the international counsel considers it an environmental contaminant and a serious threat to human life.
With so little understood about the long-term effects of a substance that has a half-life as long as the Earth is old, it is irresponsible and dangerous to continue to develop and train with weapons containing depleted uranium. The continued use of DU in Hawai’i threatens the health of over a million residents. Kroll hopes to see proper testing, cleanup, and decommission of all live-fire training in Hawai’i. Please help spread the word about the dangers of using depleted uranium in weapons and ammunition. If you or someone you know has been exposed to DU, through military service or otherwise, please ask to be tested. You can also follow Kroll’s fight on Facebook at STOP Bombing Hawaii and share this information. From all of us fighting to protect the Hawaiian archipelago from further military contamination – mahalo (thank you)!