From: Samir Krilic, Associated Press
Published June 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Commission Reports on Effects of Depleted Uranium on Bosnia's Environment

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — A parliamentary commission to report on the effects of depleted uranium on Bosnia's environment said Thursday it needed more experts, funding and modern equipment to complete its investigation.


Work by the Depleted Uranium Investigation Commission was also hindered by a legacy of the country's 1992-95 war -- minefields.


The commission held its first public hearing on its work almost 10 years after NATO bombed Bosnian Serb forces to halt their siege of Sarajevo. The final peace agreement divided the country into a Bosnian Serb ministate and a Bosniak-Croat Federation, linked by joint state institutions.


The 10-member commission was established to determine whether the bombing munitions containing depleted uranium had contaminated the soil, plants and water, or had any effect on people's health.


"Our research and the results are still in status quo. We do not know much," said commission member Stevan Jovic, who represents the Health Ministry of the Bosnian Serb-run part of the country.


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The investigation found some areas where soil, water and even the air were contaminated, but not badly enough to threaten the environment or human health. However, the commission's work was far from finished, he said.


"The lack of modern equipment, experts and funds prevent detailed scientific research into the effects" of depleted uranium, a slightly radioactive heavy metal used in munitions for its effectiveness in piercing armor.


According to the Bosnian government, some 10,800 of such rounds were fired in Bosnia. Buried in the soil, such ordinance can contaminate ground water.


"In some of the sites we have found that the level of contamination is not as alarming as presented in the public, but the danger still exists," said commission member Fadil Alispahic, representing the Defense Ministry of the Bosniak-Croat Federation.


Some locations suspected of being contaminated could not be reached because of mines and other unexploded ordinance from the war, he said.


U.S. Defense Department officials and many experts contend that depleted uranium, because of its low radioactivity, poses no risk to the health of soldiers handling munitions made from it, or to civilians living in areas where the shells are used.


The commission said it would need more time and funding to finish its work in locating and decontaminating dangerous sites, but did not say how much time or money would be needed.


NATO also should provide more information on the exact bombing locations, members said, though the commission has yet to request the details it needs beyond those it already knows.


"We need to continue gathering information in cooperation with the international community, especially NATO, who should let us know what were the locations bombed with munition containing depleted uranium," Alispahic said.


Earlier speculations that the ammunition may have affected people's health prompted several governments, including the Italian and Portuguese, to investigate conditions for their peacekeepers serving in Bosnia.


Source: Associated Press


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