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NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory

News headlines relating to Depleted Uranium in the media

DU exposure testing and assessment

NIGL has been testing for DU exposure using high precision, high sensitivity uranium isotope measurements in urine, bone and teeth for more than four years. In addition to research into human exposure in sites of DU pollution, NIGL has measured for the UK's Depleted Uranium Oversight Board (www.duob.org), more than 350 urine samples from potentially exposed individuals who served in the Gulf and Balkans conflicts of the 1990s. The intention is ultimately to provide a definitive measure of whether any significant DU exposure is likely to have occurred. NIGL has also conducted one-off testing for many other individuals for this purpose, including around non-military sites of DU pollution. Currently NIGL is engaged in a limited survey of DU uptake into humans in Iraq, in collaboration with Iraqi medical colleagues keen to assess the extent of DU pollution there. The test NIGL uses was developed in house and is the most sensitive and definitive urinary uranium test worldwide, and it has been independently verified for accuracy for all U isotopes (234U, 235U, 236U, 238U) by blind quality assurance control measurements. Any enquiries, whether for research or screening are welcome.
  Highlights:
  • NIGL DU tests on urine have been used in a High Court case to resolve a civil lawsuit.
  • DU tests have revealed DU exposure for samples that fall far below the detection limit of alternative testing using ICP-MS.
  • DU has been detected in individuals exposed to moderate and high levels of inhaled DU oxide more than 25 years ago.
  • NIGL DU testing has led measurement performance in simulated urine interlaboratory uranium isotope trials run by the EU’s IRMM.
  • DUOB completes veterans’ testing programme.
  • DUOB interlaboratory method for veterans’ testing published in Health Physics.

Follow the links below for more detailed research information on depleted uranium.

Pollution and health research

Analysis capability

Pollution and health research

The controversy as to whether DU poses a significant environmental health risk is an emotive topic, with the extensive media attention not sufficiently matched by good scientific studies or at times sensible media analysis. While DU clearly is a hazardous material, the extent to which its public health risks are widespread and significant is entirely a function of the extent of exposure, primarily via inhalation. There are to date no robust studies of the health of significantly inhalation-exposed individuals, and there appear to be no studies planned to significantly redress this issue. Research at NIGL in collaboration with UK and international colleagues is addressing this issue from the point of view of documenting exposure, studying the environmental modification of DU aerosol particles, reconstructing aerosol dispersion and initiating collaborative health studies in areas of known DU environmental pollution.
  Highlights:
  • Detailed study of historic DU pollution around a munitions factory in the US reveals much more extensive pollution signal than previously known.
  • Study of Iraqi children’s teeth initiated to attempt to develop some information on the extent of DU uptake into the human population.
  • Degradation and dispersion of DU aerosol particles around a point source being studied by a joint BGS-University of Leicester-NIGL PhD project

Analysis capability

Uranium isotope analysis, including all minor isotopes (i.e. 234U, 235U, 236U) can be done on any environmental or biological material (fossil, bone, urine, teeth, water, plants, soil, organic matter, etc.). The capability is the most sensitive available anywhere, with the ability to make such measurements on as little as a few tens of picograms of uranium and a 236U detection limit of less than 1 femtogram (10-15g). Methods involve low blank chemical processing as necessary, multicollector plasma ionisation mass spectrometry and laser ablation of solids. In the near future, plutonium isotope analysis will be added to capabilities to supplement the uranium measurements. These capabilities offer a wide application to nuclear, environmental and health research.
  Highlights:
  • Blind testing of uranium isotope capability in 50 doped urine samples accurately identified all DU and 236 U-doped samples.
  • Samples measured as part of the IRMM NUSIMEP interlaboratory comparison campaign were accurate and precise in comparison with certified values for all uranium isotopes.
  • Measurements used in High Court case to assist in settling civil lawsuit involving allegation of DU contamination.
  • Inhalation exposure to DU more than 25 years prior successfully verified in individuals using the NIGL urine test.
  • Physical and isotope characterisation of aerosol DU oxide particles added to capabilities.
  • Methods published in Health Physics in 2006.
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© NERC 2014. This site is hosted by the British Geological Survey but responsibility for the content of the site lies with NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (NIGL) not with the British Geological Survey. Questions, suggestions or comments regarding the contents of this site should be directed to Professor Randall R Parrish.