By James Brooks
“Horrific” wounds in Gaza may be warfare of the future
In early July, shortly after the beginning of Israel’s bloody military siege of the Gaza Strip, reports began to appear that Israeli forces were using a new weapon that inflicted strange and untreatable wounds, and significantly increased the death tolls of Israel’s attacks. (1)(2)
Italian investigators have reported evidence that the unidentified Israeli weapon is probably Dense Inert Metal Explosives, or DIME, a so-called LCD (“low collateral damage”) weapon developed by the United States Air Force. (3)
DIME bombs blast a superheated “micro-shrapnel” of powdered heavy metal tungsten alloy (HMTA). Studies indicate that HMTA embedded in the body disrupts biochemistry and rapidly causes cancer. Like depleted uranium (DU), HMTA is genotoxic—it is capable of inflicting genetic mutations. (4-10)
Publicly slated for deployment in 2008, DIME bombs are small but unusually powerful. Their carbon fiber casings make “more of the blast energy…available as blast as opposed to being absorbed in [a] steel case". The carbon reportedly breaks into “thousands of harmless fibers” to prevent unintended casualties from casing shrapnel. (11)
The ‘footprint’ of the DIME blast is much smaller than a conventional bomb’s, because gravity and air resistance quickly drag the dense, finely powdered “micro-shrapnel” to the ground. The blast radius is reportedly as small as 25 feet. (12)(13)
DIME is part of the Air Force’s Focused Lethality Munitions (FLM) program, which is expected to “allow” the targeting of “terrorists” wherever they are, even in places "previously off limits to the warfighter." (14)
The ideal of FLM is to reliably kill every human within the blast zone—one way or another. It is ‘total war’ on a 50-foot circle, within which deaths are not admitted as collateral, but purchased as insurance. Israel’s new weapon “slices” off its victims’ legs, leaving “signs of heat and burns near the point of the amputation”. It’s “as if a saw was used to cut through the bone”, according to Dr. Habas al-Wahid, head of the ER at Gaza’s Shuhada al-Aqsa hospital. (15)
Viewing photographs of the living and dead Palestinian victims of this device, many of whom are children, we notice patches of darkened but unburned skin, possibly where metal powder was driven into and/or through the skin by blast force. A child’s torso is peppered with holes, some of which, judging from doctors’ reports, probably tunnel through to exit wounds in the back. The skin and muscle of one victim is ripped into a blood-encrusted pulp, as if blasted at close range with tiny birdshot. Some of the corpses are unrecognizable. Most of the recent photos of “strange” wounds from Gaza appear to be consistent with what is known about DIME weapons. (16)
The area of a DIME blast should be treated with caution until it has been decontaminated (assuming this is possible). Depending on the local HMTA concentration, soil in the blast area may remain barren for an indefinite period of time, or it may grow plants internally contaminated with HMTA. (17)(18)
The “Who Knew?” Charade
In the scientific literature on tungsten and its alloys, the toxicity of HMTA stands apart. This formula (roughly 9 parts tungsten and one part nickel and cobalt or iron) damages DNA even when powders of the metals are simply mixed together. (4)(5)(9)
Implanting four tiny bits of weapons-grade HMTA in lab mice induced terminal cancer in 100 percent of the subjects. A powdered HMTA recipe was tumor-generating and capable of “genotoxic effects”. At least one experiment found parallels in the way DU and HMTA attack DNA. The results of another suggested that HMTA may pass its genetic damage down to the next generation. (8)(5)(9)(10)
HMTA may be much more carcinogenic than DU when it is embedded in the body—as intended. “Tumors developed rapidly” in rats implanted with pellets of HMTA, but researchers “did not observe tumor formation in the DU-implanted rats.”
Multiple syndromes of heavy metal poisoning have also been attributed to this alloy, including polycythemia, which can be induced by cobalt overdose. Because HMTA contains far too little cobalt to cause the disease by itself, researchers suspected a synergistic effect among or between the metals. (8)
In a 2005 article reviewing the “status of health concerns” about depleted uranium and “surrogate metals” such as HMTA, three scientists at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI) wrote that “medical and political controversies surrounding the use of DU” had spurred “a search for substitute metals in armor-penetrating munitions.” (19)
“[N]ew alloys of tungsten/nickel/cobalt and tungsten/nickel/iron…rival DU in armor-penetrating performance”, and are “among the leading candidates to replace DU in selected munitions”. Some of this ordnance “has already been deployed, although on a relatively small scale.”
The article then reviews the science detailing the alarming health risks of HMTA, much of it conducted by the authors, whom we thank for their work. It then attempts to explain how the military’s favorite “surrogate metal” turned out to be almost as genotoxic as DU, and probably more carcinogenic:
“In many ways the development of substitutes for DU in munitions has followed a pattern similar to that for DU deployment, in that incomplete toxicological information was available prior to their release…it was assumed that many years of industrial use of tungsten and alloys such as tungsten carbide…meant they could be used as safely in armaments.”
We infer that it was reasonable for the military to deploy DU weapons, because the toxicological information was “incomplete”. It’s a strange scientific rigor that requires us to know exactly how a known poison works before we stop giving it to people.
The cold fact is that there never was a scientifically valid reason to “assume” that depleted uranium could be used “safely in armaments”. Quite the opposite; as we shall see in part three, the Army realized more than 60 years ago that finely powdered uranium products could make extremely potent antipersonnel weapons. (20)
We currently have “incomplete toxicological information” about HMTA, but for more than fifteen years we have had clear warnings about the health risks of combining these metals. US weapons scientists should have known as early as 1992 that mixing cobalt with tungsten could greatly increase the resulting alloy’s cancer potential. (21)(22)
It is hardly news that nickel is carcinogenic and genotoxic, and specialists have long noted that heavy metal alloys tend to unpredictably amplify the toxicities of their component metals. With this kind of “incomplete” information at hand, could military scientists have reasonably “assumed” that nickel would be a “safe” addition to HMTA?
Concerns have been voiced about tungsten sport ammunition for several years. Tungsten alloy bullets, some also containing nickel and cobalt (for superior hardness), were found to pose potential environmental hazards in several studies. A probable link between industrial tungsten and leukemia has been identified. Compared to these findings, however, the toxicity of HMTA may be of a different order. (17)(18)
The “who knew?” apologia offered by the AFRRI researchers asks us to assume that the scientists who developed DIME weapons proceeded in sheer ignorance of the existing science. They were so incompetent that they merely “assumed” that they could use any tungsten alloy.
Does this implausibility jibe with the rest of the picture? A multi-billion dollar military weapons program is stung by the “controversies” surrounding its toxic DU-uranium weapons, and is under pressure to produce an expedient alternative. Would this program’s scientists have been allowed to be so cavalier about consulting the literature? Would the replacement metal be chosen on blind faith, without bothering to conduct even simple studies of its potential health impacts?
Logically, we must conclude that the military developed HMTA in the knowledge that it could have significant carcinogenic and genotoxic effects. Did they “assume” that saying “tungsten is safer than DU” would take care of the matter?
Perhaps relatively non-toxic tungsten carbide, famed for its hardness and cutting ability, would not have sufficed for the purposes of the DIME bomb. Focused Lethality Munitions like DIME must kill all of their victims. Slicing off their arms and legs is not enough.
The last installment of this article will trace the roots of HMTA in depleted uranium and decades of US warfare with poisonous, DNA-damaging powders. Then we will return to Gaza to consider the damage done, and the damage to come, if the warmakers have their way.
1) Israel accused of using ‘Dime’ bombs; AlJazeera, 10/13/2006; http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/B79DF070-B20C-47A7-A204-08297E5FC1B2.htm
2) Israel used chemical weapons in Lebanon and Gaza; Jean Shaoul, Centre for Research on Globalization/wsws.org, 10/24/2006 http://wsws.org/articles/2006/oct2006/isra-o24.shtml
3) Italian TV: Israel used new weapon prototype in Gaza Strip; Ha’aretz, 10/12/2006; www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=772894
4) Abstract: Potential late health effects of depleted uranium and tungsten used in armor-piercing munitions: comparison of neoplastic transformation and genotoxicity with the known carcinogen nickel; Miller, AC, et al, PubMed, 11/26/2006; www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=
5) Neoplastic transformation of human osteoblast cells to the tumorigenic phenotype by heavy metal–tungsten alloy particles: induction of genotoxic effects; Miller, AC, et al
Carcinogenesis, Vol. 22, No. 1, 115-125, January 2001, Oxford University Press; http://carcin.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/22/1/115
6) Abstract: Carcinogenic Potential of Depleted Uranium and Tungsten Alloys
Alexandra C Miller, Ph. D., Department Of Defense, Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI); www.deploymentlink.osd.mil/du_library/reports/projects/dod122.htm
7) Depleted uranium-catalyzed oxidative DNA damage: absence of significant alpha particle decay; Miller, AC, et al, Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, Issue 91, 2002 pp. 246– 252; www.afrri.usuhs.mil/www/outreach/pdf/tungsten_cancer.pdf
8) Embedded Weapons-Grade Tungsten Alloy Shrapnel Rapidly Induces Metastatic High-Grade Rhabdomyosarcomas in F344 Rats; Kalinich et al, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 113, Number 6, June 2005; http://www.ehponline.org/members/2005/7791/7791.html
9) Abstract: Effect of the militarily-relevant heavy metals, depleted uranium and heavy metal tungsten-alloy on gene expression in human liver carcinoma cells (HepG2)
Miller, AC, et al, SpringerLink/Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 1/1/2004; www.springerlink.com/content/u8830115617471jl/
10) Preconceptional paternal exposure to radiation or heavy metals like cadmium can induce cancer in unexposed offspring; Alexandra C. Miller, Rafael Rivas, Robert J. Merlot and Paul, Carcinogenesis 5: Environmental and Endogenous Carcinogens/Proc Amer Assoc Cancer Res, Volume 47, 2006; www.aacrmeetingabstracts.org/cgi/content/abstract/2006/1/448-b
11) Air Force seeks a bomb with less bang; Greg Jaffe, The Wall Street Journal/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/11/2006; http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06096/679996-84.stm
12) Cancer Worries for New U.S. Bombs; DefenseTech.org, 5/20/2006; www.defensetech.org/archives/002434.html
13) Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME); GlobalSecurity.org, 10/18/2006; www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/dime.htm
14) USAF Unfunded Priority List (UPL); SAF/FMB POC, FY 2007, February 2006, Page 54; wwwd.house.gov/hasc_democrats/Issues%20109th/
15) Italian TV: Israel used new weapon prototype in Gaza Strip; Ha’aretz, 10/19/2006
16) Effects of Israel’s New Weapon; Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel; www.vtjp.org/report/neweaponimages.htm
17) Possible Health And Environmental Impacts Of Tungsten In Lead Replacement Shot
Paul Harrison and Karen Bradley, MRC Institute for Environment and Health 2005; www.defra.gov.uk/ENVIRONMENT/chemicals/achs/050906/achs0516a.pdf
18) Tungsten Effects on Soil Environments; Nikolay Strigul, et al, UMass, Annual International Conference on Soil, Sediments and Water, 10/18/2004
19) Status of Health Concerns about Military Use of Depleted Uranium and Surrogate Metals in Armor-Penetrating Munitions; D.E. McClain, A.C. Miller, and J.F. Kalinich, NATO, 2005; www.afrri.usuhs.mil/www/outreach/pdf/mcclain_NATO_2005.pdf
20) Memorandum to: Brigadier General L. R. Groves From: Drs. Conant, Compton, and Urey; Midfully.org/War Department, United States Engineer Office, Manhattan District, Oak Ridge Tennessee, 10/30/1943; www.mindfully.org/Nucs/Groves-Memo-Manhattan30oct43.htm
21) Abstract: Comparative study of the acute lung toxicity of pure cobalt powder and cobalt-tungsten carbide mixture in rat; Lasfargues G., et al, Toxicology and Applied
Pharmacology, 1992; http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=5201679
22) Evaluation of the role of reactive oxygen species in the interactive toxicity of carbide-cobalt mixtures on macrophages in culture; D. Lison and R. Lauwerys, SpringerLink//Archives of Toxicology, 6/1/1993; www.springerlink.com/content/k2u94u07558q6224/