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President Signs Legislation Containing Rep. McDermott's Depleted Uranium Study

October 20, 2006

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 -- Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. (7th CD), issued the following press release:

When the President signed the Department of Defense Authorization legislation this week, he signed into law an amendment authored and introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott (WA-D) ordering a comprehensive study- with a report due in one year - on possible adverse health effects on U.S. soldiers from the U.S. military's use of DU - Depleted Uranium.

McDermott called it, "A victory years in the making," and he went on to say that, "It is our duty and responsibility to protect and defend the soldiers who protect and defend America." 

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process. Because it is very dense, the U.S. military uses DU for munitions like armor-piercing bullets and tank shells, and as a protective shield around tanks. When used in munitions, DU pulverizes into a fine dust upon impact; it can hang in the air, be inhaled or seep into the soil.

During the Gulf War, the U.S. military used approximately 300 metric tons of DU as munitions. To date in the Iraq War, approximately 150 metric tons have been used. During conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro, about 12 metric tons were used. (A metric ton is slightly more than 2,200 pounds.)

When Rep. McDermott went to Iraq in the fall of 2002 at the request of the Seattle Church Council to see the impact of pre-war economic sanctions on Iraqi children, he was told of birth defects and other medical problems in Iraqi civilians, and some Iraqi medical professionals blamed exposure to DU as a cause. 

McDermott subsequently introduced legislation in the House of Representatives calling for a comprehensive health impact study of DU, but Republicans referred the bill to another committee without a deadline for a response, and, despite bi-partisan support, the legislation was never brought up again.

McDermott refused to accept the Republican attempt to dismiss questions about DU, and he launched a national effort to raise awareness of the need to study DU. He employed speeches, interviews, news conferences, working with groups including Physicians for Social Responsibility, and even appeared on a song in a Punk Rock album in order to raise public awareness.

Finally, in the fall of 2006, McDermott used a parliamentary maneuver to insert a DU study inside the Department of Defense Authorization bill, which Republicans were sure to pass. McDermott's amendment was ruled in order by the Rules Committee, and it passed the House unanimously on voice vote.

McDermott's amendment was introduced in the Senate by Senator Maria Cantwell, and the amendment survived a House/Senate Conference Committee to work out differences in the massive DoD bill.

When McDermott's amendment passed the House, almost immediately he received a letter from James King, the national executive director of AMVETS, the American Veterans organization: 

"This is a very important issue for AMVETS and its membership. 

"Again, thank you for your amendment and your support of veterans and their families." 

McDermott traced his passionate advocacy for a DU study to his own background. 

"My professional life turned from medicine to politics after my service in the U.S. Navy during the 1960s, when I treated combat soldiers returning from Vietnam," McDermott said. 

"Back then, the Pentagon denied that Agent Orange posed any danger to U.S. soldiers who were exposed. Decades later, the truth finally emerged. Agent Orange harmed our soldiers. During all those years of denial, we stood by and did nothing while soldiers suffered. No more Agent Orange!

"If DU poses no danger, we need to prove it. If DU harms our soldiers, we need to know," McDermott said. "We owe our soldiers a full measure of the truth, wherever that leads us."

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