Through our biomonitoring program we are conducting an "Exposure Assessment for Arsenic and Metals in Urine & in Drinking Water in New Mexico" and testing New Mexico veterans and active duty personnel who may have been exposed to depleted uranium in the Persian Gulf War, the Afghanistan conflict or the current war in Iraq.
The "Exposure Assessment for Arsenic and Metals in Urine & in Drinking Water in New Mexico" study is trying to find out at what levels of metals are in people's urine, what levels of metals are in water people drink, and whether there is a relationship between the level of metals in people's urine and the water they drink.
The Depleted Uranium Project tests to determine if individuals have high concentrations of natural uranium and/or depleted uranium in their urine. Depleted uranium is used for bullets, tank armor and explosives. One of the possible side effects of having high levels of depleted uranium is kidney damage.
“The New Mexico Legislature gave us funding to test veterans and active duty military who may have been exposed to depleted uranium,” said Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Vigil. “We encourage military personnel to take advantage of these free tests.”
The Department asks interested military personnel to call to make an appointment. The tests are free. The Department will test the person’s urine for total uranium at its Scientific Laboratory in Albuquerque. If the urine sample tests high for uranium, the Department will offer a follow-up test to determine if this uranium is depleted or natural uranium.
At the appointment, a Department of Health staff member will give a brief questionnaire and take a tap water sample, which will also be tested for total uranium. The water is tested for uranium because New Mexico, on average, has a higher concentration of uranium in drinking water than the rest of the country.
To volunteer or find out more, contact the Department’s Environmental Health Epidemiology Bureau at: DOH-EHEB@state.nm.us or toll-free, 888-878-8992.
What is Depleted Uranium?
- Depleted uranium (also called DU) is made from uranium, an element which occurs naturally in soil, water and mineral deposits and is almost twice as dense as lead.
- Naturally occurring uranium deposits contain over 99% of the isotope 238U, but also have small amounts of 235U and 234U.
- When the more radioactive isotopes (235U and 234U) are removed from the natural uranium, the result is depleted uranium.
What is Depleted Uranium Used for?
- Civilian Uses: radiation shielding for medicine and industry, components of aircraft elevators, landing gear, and rotor blades
- Military Uses: armor-penetrating bullets and defensive armor plating on the M1 Abrams tank
How Does Depleted Uranium Get Into the Body?
- Burning DU-armored vehicles or exploded DU munitions are the primary sources of exposure.
- DU can get into the body by breathing it in the form of dust-like particles or metal fragments through smoke.
- DU can also get into the body through shrapnel that is embedded under the skin.
Are There Studies on Health Effects of Veterans Exposed to DU?
- Widespread use of DU by the military began in 1991 with the Gulf War. Studies on veterans exposed to DU began in 1993.
- Studies have shown that uranium concentrations in urine are higher among veterans with embedded DU shrapnel than veterans without shrapnel or veterans who were not exposed to DU.
- Uranium is known to target the kidneys. Depleted uranium is likely to act in the same manner as natural uranium in damaging the kidneys.
- So far DU studies have shown little to no impairment of kidney function in veterans exposed to DU.
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