DEPLETED URANIUM DUST FROM FIRED MUNITIONS: PHYSICAL, CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL PROPERTIES

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Abstract

Abstract—

This paper reports physical, chemical and biological analyses of samples of dust resulting from munitions containing depleted uranium (DU) that had been live-fired and had impacted an armored target. Mass spectroscopic analysis indicated that the average atom% of 235U was 0.198 ± 0.10, consistent with depleted uranium. Other major elements present were iron, aluminum, and silicon. About 47% of the total mass was particles with diameters <300 μm, of which about 14% was <10 μm. X-ray diffraction analysis indicated that the uranium was present in the sample as uranium oxides—mainly U3O7 (47%), U3O8 (44%) and UO2 (9%). Depleted uranium dust, instilled into the lungs or implanted into the muscle of rats, contained a rapidly soluble uranium component and a more slowly soluble uranium component. The fraction that underwent dissolution in 7 d declined exponentially with increasing initial burden. At the lower lung burdens tested (<15 μg DU dust/lung) about 14% of the uranium appeared in urine within 7 d. At the higher lung burdens tested (~80–200 μg DU dust/lung) about 5% of the DU appeared in urine within 7 d. In both cases about 50% of that total appeared in urine within the first day. DU implanted in muscle similarly showed that about half of the total excreted within 7 d appeared in the first day. At the lower muscle burdens tested (<15 μg DU dust/injection site) about 9% was solubilized within 7 d. At muscle burdens >35 μg DU dust/injection site about 2% appeared in urine within 7 d. Natural uranium (NU) ore dust was instilled into rat lungs for comparison. The fraction dissolving in lung showed a pattern of exponential decline with increasing initial burden similar to DU. However, the decline was less steep, with about 14% appearing in urine for lung burdens up to about 200 μg NU dust/lung and 5% at lung burdens >1,100 μg NU dust/lung. NU also showed both a fast and a more slowly dissolving component. At the higher lung burdens of both DU and NU that showed lowered urine excretion rates, histological evidence of kidney damage was seen. Kidney damage was not seen with the muscle burdens tested. DU dust produced kidney damage at lower lung burdens and lower urine uranium levels than NU dust, suggesting that other toxic metals in DU dust may contribute to the damage.

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