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Public at risk for what’s blowing in the wind via West Hawaii Today

Depleted uranium (DU) is seen as an emerging environmental pollutant introduced primarily by military activity. The previous use of DU within Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) followed by repeated live-fire exercises, as are currently occurring, provide a serious threat to public health.

The 133,000-acre PTA is located on the Island of Hawaii in the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Repetitive shelling, starting in the 1960s in areas of PTA where DU use is known to have occurred in the past, is well documented and presents health risks due to resuspension of dust, potentially contaminated by DU and its oxides.

The risks to those, who may be exposed to contaminated dust through use of the Mauna Kea County Park, Girl Scout camp, Army garrison, and the road adjacent to PTA, need to be measured and addressed. Children, especially, are known to have higher risk as they breathe more rapidly and deeply than adults, may also ingest dust, and have a longer exposure as it takes them a longer time to clear DU. A Pentagon briefing on uranium munitions cites serious concerns for children due to resuspension and long distance redistribution of DU oxides being deposited on playgrounds, schools and backyards and also entering the food chain via cattle grazing on contaminated crops.

We advocate for a well-designed survey to determine the potential harm of live fire exercises at Pohakuloa. It is reckless to understate the risk of DU exposure in relation to the benefits of live fire training when we don’t know the true risk, as there has been no reliable survey. Once we know the true risks, we can consider alternatives. In the meantime and in the interest of public safety, if it cannot be proven that the dust of Pohakuloa is not harmful, then all that can be done to minimize the creation of DU aerosols in that dust must be initiated. We must be clear that the greatest risk would be from DU and DU oxide dust particles, not from chunks of DU as postulated in previous claims. Inhalation is the primary source of risk from DU to the people of the Big Island.

To give a blanket acceptance of the status quo in the name of national security would lead us down a slippery slope of unethical experimentation. This unethical argument was raised during the Nuremberg trials and occurred again during Cold War hearings of the US Congress in 1994. The latter hearing strongly pointed out that mass exposure of communities to unknown risks without their consent is just as “experimental” and unethical as if it were done to individuals in a clinical setting. To be ethical, the rules of informed consent must be followed – with each individual deciding for him or herself if they and their families are to be exposed.

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Contributing authors, writing as private citizens: Lorrin W Pang, MD/MPH; G Michael Reimer, PhD; Douglas L Rokke, PhD/Ret. disabled Major, US Army; Carol J Murry, DrPH – Public Health and Risk in Pacific Islands

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