'Mutagenic and carcinogenic agents' blamed for soaring infant mortality, cancers

In Fallujah, a city just 50 miles from Baghdad, life has never been the same since April 2004, when U.S. Marines declared the entire area a free-fire zone and proceeded to do what Marines do best. Packing the most destructive weaponry in the world, American soldiers laid siege to the city, deploying depleted uranium munitions, white phosphorus and tons of conventional ballistics.

Operation Vigilant Resolve went on for a full month. Though U.S. forces allowed an estimated 70,000 women, children and elderly leave the city, to this day the campaign to recapture Fallujah is beset with allegations of war crimes.

In the wake of America's "shock and awe" bombing campaign to take Baghdad, radiation detectors as far away as the United Kingdom noticed a fourfold spike in radioactivity in the atmosphere. At the time, the Department of Defense bragged that the substance, a nuclear byproduct with a fraction of the radioactivity as standard uranium, is commonly ingested by Americans, in food, drinking water and the air, allegedly with no ill effects. Officials went on to say its use would cause "no impact on the health of people and the environment."

Today, according to a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [PDF link], rates of cancer, leukemia, infant mortality and sexual mutations in Fallujah are higher than those reported in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear detonations.

"Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs," a report by The Independent noted. "They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents."

Images of Iraqi children born horribly mutated are extremely difficult to look at and not for the feint of heart.

An earlier study by the same scientific journal found that while chronic low-dose exposure to depleted uranium does not necessarily produce a straightforward set of symptoms, large doses can cause acute toxicity in the kidneys.

"Adult animals that were exposed to depleted uranium during development display persistent alterations in behavior, even after cessation of depleted uranium exposure," they summarized. "Adult animals exposed to depleted uranium demonstrate altered behaviors and a variety of alterations to brain chemistry. Despite its reduced level of radioactivity evidence continues to accumulate that depleted uranium, if ingested, may pose a radiologic hazard."

A 2007 study by Chemical Research in Toxicology similarly found depleted uranium particles to be cytotoxic and clastogenic to lung cells in particular.

It was first introduced on the battlefield during the Gulf war in 1990, and has been used in U.S. armor and munitions ever since. It was widely suspected as the culprit in the numerous cases of Gulf War syndrome. According to USA Today, soldiers reported becoming "unusually fatigued, and others said that their joints ached. They experienced headaches, rashes and hair loss, and their memories occasionally failed them. In some cases, the symptoms were severe enough to require hospitalization."

"In Fallujah the rate of leukemia is 38 times higher, the childhood cancer rate is 12 times higher, and breast cancer is 10 times more common than in populations in Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait," researchers write. "Heightened levels of adult lymphoma and brain tumors were also reported. At 80 deaths out of every 1,000 births, the infant mortality rate in Fallujah is more than five times higher than in Egypt and Jordan, and eight times higher than in Kuwait."

The study's data was gathered by passing out surveys to 711 households in Fallujah. From those homes, a total of 4,843 individuals responded.

"This study was intended to investigate the accuracy of the various reports which have been emerging from Fallujah regarding perceived increases in birth defects, infant deaths and cancer in the population and to examine samples from the area for the presence of mutagenic substances that may explain any results," they summarize. "We conclude that the results confirm the reported increases in cancer and infant mortality which are alarmingly high."