THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE #14

DAVID’S NOTES:

>>>It’s been a long time since the last Emailite, May 18th, when THE LITTLETON/YUGOSLAVIA ISSUE went out. I’d promised myself to keep these short, but the overwhelming response from readers to Littleton and the war in Yugoslavia created, almost overnight, a gigantic issue. With #14 I return to the shorter epistle.

>>>This issue of the JME could be called: THE CHEMICAL AND RADIOACTIVE RESIDUE OF OUR COUNTRY’S WAR GAMES ABROAD.

>>>Two articles this time and an editorial. First, an article about the chemical chaos our NATO bombs caused in Yugoslavia. Second, an article about the use of Depleted Uranium in the Gulf War preceded by a wry news item repeated from JME #13. Finally a comment from The Editor.

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NATO BOMBS LEAVE TOXIC SLOUGH

by William Booth

Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 21, 1999

PANCEVO, Yugoslavia, July 20:

 

The largest petrochemical complex in the Balkans now feels like a post-industrial ghost town, scarred by hellish fires and choked with twisted debris. No one works here, except the U.N. inspectors who arrived today, and they are very careful where they step.

Just as the scorched and looted landscape of Kosovo is a legacy of the late war, so too are the oil refinery, fertilizer plant and petrochemical complex of Pancevo, which were heavily and repeatedly bombed by NATO warplanes. From their ruptured storage tanks, they bleed a toxic witch’s brew of ammonia, crude oil, liquid chlorine, hydrochloric acid, mercury and vinyl chloride monomers–a component of industrial plastics. The chemicals, some of them highly carcinogenic, burned out of control for days, drifting through the city of 130,000 in clouds of white mist and black smoke, spreading across the landscape and drooling into the canals and rivers that feed the Danube River.

Officials reported “black rain” falling in nearby regions. Teams of technicians and inspectors from the U.N. environmental agency and from FOCUS, a similar group composed of Swiss, Russian, Austrian and Greek members, entered the complex today to scratch in the dirt and dip vials into canals to see what the NATO bombardment wrought. The samples are being sent to laboratories around the world, and recommendations and reports will be issued soon.

Roland Wiederkehr, a member of the Swiss parliament and of FOCUS, said he saw droplets of mercury spattered around the site, while the transport canals beside one of the plants were filled with crude oil. “It was just amazing to see,” Wiederkehr said. The environmental damage at the site will take months, and perhaps years, to assess–along with its potential threat to human health.

Moreover, it will be difficult to determine specific effects of the bombings here, since Pancevo has had problems with lower-level pollution for years. The city itself–about 10 miles from Belgrade on the north side of the Danube–was spared a good measure of the airborne fallout from the air strikes, because prevailing winds blew most of the smoke to the west. But in the days after the initial bombings, government officials suggested that pregnant women leave the city, and some physicians have since suggested that women early in their pregnancies seek abortions.

Before dawn on April 18, NATO bombs hit a storage tank containing vinyl chloride monomers (VCM)–a notorious carcinogen–which burned and produced a white fog that spread across Pancevo. Around sunrise, the Pancevo Institute for Health Protection recorded concentrations of VCM moving through the town that were 10,600 times more than safe industrial levels.

Pancevo Mayor Srdjan Mikovic recalled how the cloud rolled across the city and how people ran into the streets, some wearing masks, to watch it pass. Mikovic said it seemed like something out of a horror movie. “We made a videotape,” he said. “You can see the gas floating through our town.” On June 5, Mikovic sent an urgent appeal to humanitarian and environmental groups around the world, warning them of the cost of bombing the city’s petrochemical plants. “Pancevo has become a ghost city covered with black clouds on the sky and mixed poisons, which rolled through the streets trying to find its victims,” he wrote in an e-mail that day. “The surroundings of Pancevo turned into a huge refugee camp”–a reference to the tens of thousands of people who fled the city because of the smoke.

Mikovic appealed to NATO to stop bombing the chemical facilities. “I am sorry that when I began to warn authorities here and in Europe how dangerous it was to bomb Pancevo that nobody paid any attention,” he said. At his office today, Mikovic offered his guests postcards of Pancevo that showed burning refineries and black smoke floating over the city. “I am sorry I cannot be more merry,” he said. “But look at these.”

During the war, NATO spokesmen described the plants as legitimate military targets, and few allied officials seemed to consider the possible environmental hazards of bombing the petrochemical and fertilizer facilities. The complex was built in consultation with engineers from the United States and Europe, and Mikovic said NATO air strike planners should have known what was in the storage tanks.

Simon Bancov, Belgrade’s inspector for the protection of the human environment, has warned against eating vegetables produced in the immediate area of Pancevo. He also has issued a temporary ban on fishing in the nearby Danube because of the potentially large quantities of toxic chemicals that continue to seep into the river–already one of the most polluted in Europe.

Mikovic said he does not want to sound too sensational about the environmental and health impacts of the bombing. He welcomed the U.N. and FOCUS groups to do their testing and write their reports. “Then the world will know what is the truth,” he said.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

 

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EDITOR’S NOTE: You will, I am sure, remember OAF (Our Anonymous Friend) who was so helpful to THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE during its issues concerned with the Impeachment of the President. OAF has just returned from a couple months in Italy where some ex-patriot artists he met one day over lunch weighed him down with stories about how NATO’s USA supplied weapons containing depleted uranium had been used extensively in the bombing of Yugoslavia and have permanently irradiated that countryside. The folks in Italy were amazed that OAF knew nothing about this. [This is a commentary, alas, on how limited, selective and chauvinistic our news media, including National Public Radio, really is.]

You will remember also a little item from THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE #13 which went:

 

NEWS ITEM:

April 21st, 1999 12:25 GMT – NATO officials have confirmed that NATO forces have used depleted uranium ammunition in air strikes against Yugoslavia.

From OAF then comes the following investigation of the use of depleted uranium in the Gulf War.

 

 

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THE CONTROVERSY OVER DEPLETED URANIUM
by Emily E. Skor,
 Research Intern, Center for Defense Information
eskor@cdi.org (mailto:tfking@aol.com)

[This article has been abridged by The Editor]

The National Gulf War Resource Center (NGRC) released a report March 2, 1998, estimating that as many as 400,000 service men and women involved in Desert Storm may have been exposed to depleted uranium (DU) during or immediately after combat.

Responding to the NGRC report, DoD [Department of Defense] officials denied that the numbers were anywhere near 400,000 people. While admitting that there is “a certain amount of danger associated with it [depleted uranium] from very long-term or careless exposure,” the DoD refuted the allegation that DU exposure can be linked to any post-Gulf War illnesses. . . .

Depleted uranium (DU) is a waste by-product of the uranium enrichment process in which the highly radioactive U-235 isotope is separated from the uranium ore for use in nuclear weapons and reactors. Depleted uranium is 60% as radioactive as natural uranium and has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. The U.S. military became interested in using DU in weapons systems in the 1960s because it is cheaply available in large quantities and outperforms tungsten, the heavy metal the military had been using prior to discovering DU. . . .

DU is particularly effective as an armor penetrator due to its high density and pyrophoric nature (capable of igniting spontaneously). A DU projectile has a higher velocity and greater range than non-DU projectiles. Rather than explode, the DU penetrator will fragment and burn on impact, melting the metal surface and producing a smoke cloud with high concentrations of toxic DU particles. Once oxidized, some DU dust particles remain suspended in the air, others settle around the impacted vehicle. Airborne particles can be carried by the wind for miles before eventually settling on the ground, and any movement through a contaminated area can stir up the particles, re-releasing them into the air.

Depleted uranium is radioactive and has chemical effects on the body similar to those from other heavy metals such as lead and mercury. It is most dangerous when inhaled or ingested — particles smaller than 5 microns in diameter can become permanently trapped in the lungs. Once trapped, a single particle can expose the surrounding tissue to radiation 800 times the annual dosage permitted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the entire body. Depleted uranium has been implicated by medical research with lung cancer, kidney disease, and damage to the liver, respiratory and immune systems.

Depleted uranium was first used in battle in the Gulf War. A 1995 United States Army Environmental Policy Institute (USAEPI) report stated that “more than 14,000 large caliber DU rounds were consumed during Operation Desert Storm.” DoD representatives boast that DU ammunition destroyed a significant number of enemy tanks . . . .

Since 1991 numerous veterans groups have pressured the U.S. government to address the issue of veteran’s illnesses due to DU exposure, but with little to no avail. The government, in a series of studies from 1992-1997, repeatedly declared that only 35 soldiers were wounded in friendly fire involving DU ammunition and “about two dozen” members of a clean up crew were known to have been exposed to DU dust particles.

The DoD denied the possibility of further exposure and denounced arguments that DU exposure had caused illness in some of the Gulf veterans.

In November 1997, the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight released a report concluding, among other things, that DoD efforts to investigate DU exposure have been flawed. . . .

Then, on January 8 of this year, in a dramatic change of policy, the Pentagon admitted for the first time that “thousands” of veterans were exposed to DU particles during and after the Gulf War. This is the first time the DoD has acknowledged the scope of the problem and assumed responsibility for not properly warning Gulf troops of the dangers associated with DU prior to being deployed in the Gulf. . . .

Through various Pentagon sponsored reports, the DoD has denied any existing DU-related illnesses, thus putting off any public discussion concerning the hazardous nature of depleted uranium. . . .

 

 

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READING AI QING

by David Budbill

I’ve been reading the Chinese Communist poet, Ai Qing, this summer. Ai Qing was born in 1910. In 1939, when he was 29 years old, in a time of war, he wrote a poem called “Street.” Part of it goes like this:

I once lived on this street–
Those who lived there have been driven off by the alarms of war:
Child bearing women, sick men, asthmatic old men,
Old ladies raising little babies . . .

Every day was spent in bedlam,
Numberless the people who were shipped in trucks to this small town;
The street teemed with refugees, wounded soldiers, youths dropped out of school,
The ears buzzed with a variety of different dialects.

The street changed, the war made it flourish:
On both sides, vending booths of all types cropped up,
Beancurd shops turned into restaurants, groceries into hotels,
The house opposite my home became a temporary hospital.

One day, the skies above this little town were blotted out with black wings,
One bombing run sent cataclysms through this little town;
The enemy rained down deadly fire and destruction on the street–
Half of the town was left in ruins.

Look: the roof of that house has been ripped off,
Walls don’t come together any more,
The wells are choked with debris,
The rafters have been fired into charcoal.

People have all fled in this disaster
(who’s interested in where they all went?)
. . .

Ai Qing wrote that in the city of Guilin 60 years ago. Those were Japanese bombs falling on that Chinese town.

This summer as I read Ai Qing’s poem, it made me think of the terror and destruction with which the Serbs devastated the Kosovos. It made me think of the terror and destruction we rained down on the Yugoslavs.

Ai Qing’s poem makes me understand once again how–no matter when it happens and no matter how noble somebody says the cause of the war is–the victims of war are always the hapless and helpless and hopeless common people, the ordinary and passive victims of someone else’s hatred and political ambitions.

It must also be said, however, that in places like Kosovo and Rwanda it is the common people and their ethnic hatreds who contribute much of the violence. [How those hatreds get started and are maintained is a question for another time.] The butchered Serb farmers in today’s news sent to their deaths by ethnic Albanians are evidence enough that not all violence in war comes from the hands of the political leaders however much they may encourage that hatred and violence and take advantage of it.

Yet, these massacres notwithstanding, there has been, since August 6th, 1945, a categorical shift in the nature of war, and that shift is almost exclusively the creation of The United States of America.

Until August 6th, 1945, the incomprehensible carnage of war was at least limited to the millions of rotting corpses filling the streets and rivers of a war torn land. It was at least limited to ruined buildings and roads, croplands and factories. With the advent of the atomic bomb, and now the use of depleted uranium in weapons and the bombing of toxic chemical plants, the effects of a particular war fan out genetically over generations.

Every summer here in the mountains of northern Vermont I have a big garden full of organically grown vegetables. I delight in their delicious and salubrious goodness. It’s my guess that almost all the readers of THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE try to eat good food, carefully grown; you all are conscious of the need to put into your body what is good for you–at least some of the time.

Yet while we attend to such things as whole wheat bread and organically raised spinach, chicken and potatoes, our government uses the rest of the world, as it has since August 6th, 1945, as its testing ground for all manner of genetic evil and it does all this in the name of freedom, democracy and most especially free market capitalism.

This evening as I harvest my organically grown collard greens, Swiss chard and Italian kale, which I will blanch and pack into freezer containers and freeze for this coming winter, I will do so sickened and furious that my self-indulgent privilege to put up my organic vegetables stands on the back of the my country’s willingness to lay waste to anything and anyone–including its own soldiers–in the name of it’s own political and economic ambition.

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We are planning to issue JME #15 on August 6th in memory of Hiroshima Day and send you all an editorial by Vermont Public Radio commentator Lois Eby on the world wide disarmament movement. It, unfortunately, seems fitting, appropriate and depressingly relevant to the issues raised here in JME #14.

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