Exactly what happens to depleted uranium particles

August 1st, 2010

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In the past I’ve made a number of posts and videos mentioning the fact that uranium is a rather common mineral and that it’s been used in a number of consumer products.   Indeed, thousands of kitchen cabinets contain uranium-glazed dinnerware, some of which was mass produced as recently as the 1980′s.

This has been met with a curious response on numerous occasions.   Many concede that uranium is not all that harmful when touched or even ingested but then say “but what about the nano-particles.”   The dust, or “nanoparticles” resulting from uranium combustion are one thing that seems to come up again and again.  They are often credited with nearly magical properties, like the ability to stay suspended in the air indefinitely or to cause horrible health problems even in those far from the location where the uranium projectile was fired.

Indeed uranium tends to be more hazardous when inhaled than when exposure is by other routes, but that’s the extent of the truth to these statements.  Uranium is hardly unique in this respect.  Exposure to dust in general can cause respiratory problems, and certain metallic particles, such as beryllium, are well known to be especially hazardous if inhaled.   By comparison, uranium less dangerous, though it can be a hazard in high concentrations.

What’s so special about depleted uranium projectiles:

Uranium is used for armor-penetrating munitions because it has a number of properties that make it the most ideal material available.  Its use is generally confined to rounds intended to be used against armor, as the difficulties in machining uranium make it more expensive than other materials and its unique physical properties are of less use against softer targets.   Uranium rounds are generally of the kinetic energy penitrator variety, meaning they contain no explosive and simply use their own energy to punch through armor.

Uranium is very heavy, with a density of 19.1 grams per cubic centimeter.  That’s nearly twice as heavy as lead.   The increased mass means that the round has more kinetic energy than a lighter round moving at the same velocity.

Uranium metal also has a very unique property in how it reacts on impact.  Uranium is pyrophoric and auto-ignites when it is ground or ablated.   Solid samples of uranium will not burn under normal circumstances, but granular uranium or uranium turnings will.  When a round strikes armor, tiny particles of uranium break free from the surface and ignite.  The friction of being pushed through the target effectively grinds off a layer of material from the round, which burns, creating an aerosol of burning uranium which surrounds the round and cuts through the armor like a plasma lance.

In addition to this, uranium is extremely hard.  The hardness of uranium combined with he pyrophoric qualities of the metal give depleted uranium rounds a very unique property known as self-sharpening.   Rather than “mushrooming” as most metals do on impact, uranium rounds actually keep their sharpness.   As material peels away from the round, it retains its taper and even becomes sharper.   Maximizing this property is achieved through specialized (and sometimes classified) alloying methods.

Some have described the effect of depleted uranium as being like a laser in its ability to punch a hole through armor.  The projectiles do not themselves contain explosives, but explosions often result from the fuel or munitions stored within a vehicle.   In addition to being highly effective, depleted uranium rounds have the advantage of avoiding unexploded ordinance left on the battlefield or causing extreme collateral damage if the round misses the target.  They also won’t explode in the breach of a gun.

All of these properties make uranium the best material available for armor penetrating munitions.

What happens to the uranium after the round has been fired:

In most cases, the majority of the uranium in a round stays relatively intact, and only a small portion of the metal peals off and burns.   Uranium metal tends to oxidize relatively quickly when exposed to the atmosphere, so the round and any large portions of it will rapidly acquire a layer of uranium oxide.  Once the layer forms, the oxidization process will slow, as the metal is no longer in direct contact with the air.   Because the uranium oxide layer is not a perfectly impermeable material, oxidation will continue, although at a much slower rate.

The process is analogous to a how a piece of iron corrodes when left to weather.   It will quickly form a layer of rust and, over time, more and more of the iron will rust away, but it may take many years for the metal to be completely reduced to oxides.  Like iron, given enough time, uranium will return to a state similar to how it is found in nature.  The most common form of uranium ore is composed of uranium dioxide. This stable form of uranium is ultimately what uranium metal will revert to.

The uranium which aerosols or combusts when the projectile strikes will also revert to an oxide.   The combustion of uranium produces stable uranium oxides, such as uranium dioxide as well as some intermediate products, including uranyl.   Uranyl is a polyatomic ion of uranium in its +6 oxidation state.

Because uranyl is an ion, it will no be found on its own in nature.   Uranyl itself is fairly stable but due to its positive charge, it behaves like a free-radical and will form a compound almost immediately.   In most circumstances, this will be uranium trioxide (also known as uranyl oxide).   Occasionally, a small amount of uranyl nitrate or uranyl carbonate will be created.   Uranium trioxide is also found in uranium ores, though it is not as common as uranium dioxide.  Other less common forms of uranium oxide, such as U3O8 or U3O7 may be present in insignificant amounts.

Therefore, it can be said that when uranium combusts, it is converted to uranium oxides, primarily uranium dioxide, which are very similar to those found in uranium minerals.

Where the dust goes:

The material which does burn is atomized, reduced to dust or “nanoparticles” – which is really just another way of saying “really small dust.”   Some of the uranium particles may bond to the still-molten metal of the armor that the round has penetrated and become embedded in it.   However, much of it will be expelled into the environment.

There is already quite a lot of dust in the earth’s atmosphere.   Tiny dust particles help give the sky its blue color and seed clouds to produce precipitation.    Uranium dust, however, does not tend to stay suspended in the atmosphere as well as other types of dust.  The fact that uranium is so heavy means that it will settle out faster than nearly any other particle of similar size.

The vast majority of dust from a uranium projectile will settle to the ground quite quickly.   Once the “smoke” (composed of uranium dust as well as other dust and debris) has cleared, all the larger particles of uranium will have settled to the ground.  Most of the uranium oxide dust settles out of the air within a maximum of about fifty yards of the impact.   The area around the impact may therefore have a small amount of increased uranium content, but this is not all that significant considering that uranium is already quite abundant in the earth’s crust and therefore already present in soil.   Aside from absence of most of the uranium-235 a few specks of uranium dust mixed in with local dust and soil is generally identical to the uranium already found in the environment.

Only a tiny fraction of the dust produced by the combustion of a uranium projectile will have any chance at remaining suspended in the atmosphere for any significant period of time.   Some of the dust may also be kicked up again after it has settled from suspension.  As distance increases from the site of the impact, the concentration of uranium particles will become lower and lower until they are, for all intents and purposes, negligible.

The odd particle of uranium in the atmosphere is hardly unusual.  Any time that mineral dust is kicked up into the atmosphere, there is likely to be some uranium mixed in.

In addition to the vast amounts of uranium already present in the soils and sands of the world, human activity does contribute some to the amount of uranium present in the atmosphere.   The single largest contributor (by far) is the burning of coal.   In addition to numerous other heavy metals released each year, coal fired power plants blow hundreds of tons of particulate uranium into the atmosphere each year and leave hundreds of thousands of tons more in the ash produced. Though the concentration of uranium in coal is low, the sheer amount burned produces significant uranium releases.

In the event that any tiny particles of uranium manage to stay suspended in the atmosphere for an extended period of time, they will eventually be cleared by the same natural process that removes all other forms of dust from the atmosphere: precipitation.   Tiny particles of dust form the seeds onto which water vapor can condense in the upper atmosphere.  This allows the formation of clouds and eventually rain or snow.  Upon raining out of the atmosphere, the uranium will find its way into the hydrosphere and eventually the world’s oceans, which already have quite a bit of uranium dissolved in them.

Health Effects of Uranium Dust:

There is no doubt that the inhalation of significant quantities of uranium dust poses a health hazard.   Indeed, inhaling any dust at all in large enough quantities is something that should be avoided.  Chronic exposure to metallic or non-metallic dust, even of non-toxic materials can cause damage to the lungs.  Those in occupations that involve grinding, sanding or scraping are therefore advised to wear some type of respirator or dust mask.   Of course, some materials are worse than others due to their toxic or carcinogenic nature.  In such cases, greater precautions may be necessary.

It would certainly not be healthy to be in the immediate area of a depleted uranium round impact when it occurs.  The impact would not only produce uranium dust, but also various metallic and non-metallic debris from the target it hits and any explosives it contains.   Of course, for those who are so close to the target, there would be much greater concerns.  At greater distances, the possibility of inhaling any uranium from such an impact is remote and if any is inhaled, will be of an extremely small quantity.

It is known that sufficient uranium inhalation can cause lung damage and, in some cases, lead to lung cancer, but this has only been shown in cases of fairly large and chronic exposure.  There are other materials which are of far greater hazard when compared to uranium.  Beryllium is well known for its inhalation hazards, which are far greater than uranium.   If beryllium is to be machined, it is important to have proper ventilation and respiratory protection;.   Still, when beryllium is ground or machined, nobody worries that it will contaminate whole regions of the earth’s surface.

By contrast, uranium is less toxic than lead and, although radioactive, its long half-life assures that only a minuscule amount of radiation is produced by a tiny particle.   In circumstances where uranium is being worked with and inhalation is a possibility, general purpose respiration protection and dust control measures are recommended.   Even when uranium dust is produced by activities, it is not necessary to resort to extreme measures of protection, such as negative pressure glove boxes or fully isolated protective suits.   Such measures are may be with materials like plutonium, but uranium is not toxic or hazardous enough to warrant anything beyond standard measure of protection.   Handling of solid uranium metal, in circumstances where it is not being cut, machined or drilled, requires no special protection at all.

Should a particle of uranium be inhaled, one of three things will happen.   Either the particle will be trapped in the mucus membranes of the respiratory system, the particle will be exhaled or the particle will become embedded in the tissue of the lungs.  Most dust particles, especially larger ones, never make it to the lungs if inhaled.  The human body has a very effective system to filter air that is inhaled through the use of mucus and small hairs that line the sinuses and trachea.   Should the dust particle be stopped here it will either be expelled from the body or ingested, in which case, it will pass through the digestive tract with little absorption.   In most circumstances, about 50% of inhaled uranium is swallowed, rather than being deposited in the lungs.  If the particle is tiny enough to avoid being filtered out by the body, it may well remain suspended and be exhaled when the individual takes their next breath.

If the particle becomes embedded in the lungs, it may cause some very minor irritation or damage to surrounding tissue.   The damage from a single particle is generally insignificant, however significant damage can occur if enough uranium is inhaled.   Uranium is primarily an alpha emitter, so radiation produced will only effect the most localized portion of the body, and the long half life of uranium means that it will only produce a tiny amount of radiation exposure.   This exposure, along with the chemical toxicity to cells, is reason for concern, but only if the amount of uranium inhaled is fairly significant – more than the occasional tiny particle.

Tiny particles of uranium which manage to make it all the way to the alveoli of the lungs cannot be as easily cleared from the body.  Some of the larger particles may still be cleared by phlem, while those which are deeply embedded or which are are less than about a half a micron in size are absorbed into the bloodstream. The process of absorbing the uranium typically takes a period of days, for the tiniest “nano”-particles, up to months for larger particles of uranium dust, but once in the body it clears the bloodstream and is passed in urine quickly.

NOTE:  This is being discussed in the context of possible exposure to a tiny amount of uranium, as might occur from the impact of a projectile at a distance of hundreds of meters or more.  In these circumstances the total level of possible exposure is minuscule and thus damage to the lungs is not a major issue.  This should not be taken to mean that more direct exposure to uranium particles is not a health hazard.

The kidneys are quite effective in the removal of uranium from the body.   Concern has been expressed about the danger of kidney damage due to uranium exposure, and kidney damage remains the most prevalent health effect observed in humans as the result of uranium exposure.   The kidneys are, however, capable of handling a certain level of toxic metals before damage occurs.  Renal tube damage has been observed in those exposed to uranium, but only in circumstances where the exposure is extremely high and generally of a chronic nature.   In all but the most extreme examples, the damage is temporary and heals once the uranium exposure ends.  It takes about eight milligrams of uranium absorbed by the body to produce even mild, temporary effects on the kidneys.

Other effects, such as disposition in the skeleton or damage to the reproductive system has only been observed at very very extreme exposure levels.

Standards for inhaled uranium exposure:

In the US, the maximum occupational exposure for uranium by the NRC (of 5% U-235 or less) is .2 milligrams per cubic meter, for a typical 40 hour work weekOSHA’s upper limit is .25 milligrams per cubic centimeter.  This level is significantly lower than the level at which any health effects are detectable, but is much higher than the regional exposure one would expect from the use of uranium projectiles.

For soluble uranium compounds, which are more readily absorbed, the standard is lower at .05 milligrams per cubic centimeter. This is also higher than the average exposure from a projectile used the general region one lives in, but it does not apply anyway, because the dust produced by uranium combustion is not a “soluble” form of uranium.

The WHO considers the standard of one .1 milligrams of uranium per cubic meter of air to be acceptable for the general population.   Surveys by the WHO of sites where depleted uranium has been used have shown that an increased concentration of uranium is only detectable within a very small area around the impact.  The general increase in environmental uranium and background radiation is described by the WHO as “negligible.”   A full survey of several areas in Kosovo concluded “the probability of significant exposure to local populations was considered to be very low.”

It is estimated that the average human absorbs up to 1.1 micrograms of uranium per day, primarily from natural enviornmental sources. At any given time, the average person’s body contains 90 micrograms of uranium, although some may contain significantly more due to the levels in their localized environment.   A total body burden of up to few hundred micrograms is not generally considered to be abnormal or reason for concern.

Sources of Additional Information:
Uranium Lung Solubility – LANL Report [PDF]
Chemical Toxicity Of Uranium
Depleted Uranium Health: Facts and Helpful Suggestions, by Glen Lawrence
Health Physics Society Fact Sheet on Depleted Uranium

Links to even more references on this topic can be found in this previous post.


This entry was posted on Sunday, August 1st, 2010 at 8:52 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Conspiracy Theories, Culture, Depleted Cranium, Enviornment, Good Science, Links, media, Misc, Not Even Wrong, Nuclear, Obfuscation, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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50 Responses to “Exactly what happens to depleted uranium particles”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    A very well written treatment of the subject, and very accurate.

    One point however is that uranium metal oxidized when exposed much faster than iron because, unlike iron alloys, the oxide layer on uranium sloughs away exposing fresh material to the air. Iron oxide on the other hand can, and often does form a protective layer that resists further action. Thus uranium will corrode away much faster than steels.


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  2. 2
    drbuzz0 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    One point however is that uranium metal oxidized when exposed much faster than iron because, unlike iron alloys, the oxide layer on uranium sloughs away exposing fresh material to the air. Iron oxide on the other hand can, and often does form a protective layer that resists further action. Thus uranium will corrode away much faster than steels.

    Yeah, I’ve found that a bit confusing, because although I’m aware that uranium tends to oxidize rather quickly in a natural environment, I’m aware of many examples of uranium projectiles that are more or less intact as one piece of metal under oxidation, despite being in the environment for quite some time.

    I will try to find some of the pics and videos I’ve seen, but from what I’ve seen I’d describe them as looking like a very old railroad spike in terms of metallic condition – there’s a very thick and obvious layer of oxidation covering them but they’re otherwise in one piece and if the oxidation is chipped away there’s still a solid metal core.

    So I find this all a bit confusing. It could have to do with them being embedded in dry sand or soil or it might have to do with some of the trace materials used in alloying the rounds.


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  3. 3
    DV82XL Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    It could have to do with them being embedded in dry sand or soil or it might have to do with some of the trace materials used in alloying the rounds.

    You are mostly right – oxidation rates for both materials are very dependent on the level of moisture. In dry countries the rate is much slower. The point being here is that whatever rate it is in any particular place, it will be faster for staballoys than for steels, all things being equal.

    Nevertheless this is not a reason to suppose that oxidized, and on the ground, that uranium is any more of a hazard, then say the remains of lead rounds, which I venture to guess make up more of the heavy metal contamination in the aftermath of a modern military engagement.


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  4. 4
    Q Says:

    Hardly something to quibble about. Would it be fair to say that uranium oxidizes over a period of years, in a way somewhat similar to steel or iron, but faster?

    Anyways, that’s not the point. The round itself might stay metal for a bit and then turn all to oxides, but it’s the dust and “nanoparticles” they are concerned about, because it seems some have even had to concede that in its solid form uranium is common and generally not very harmful. They insist that the projectile produces some kind of magical nanoparticle or evil dust.


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  5. 5
    DV82XL Says:

            Q said:

    Hardly something to quibble about. Would it be fair to say that uranium oxidises over a period of years, in a way somewhat similar to steel or iron, but faster?.

    The process is somewhat different, and yes perhaps it is only of real interest to someone like me. But at least in the context of the Balkan conflict, (where this nonsense over DU munitions began) the fact that solid uranium would have broken down quickly in the relative humidity there, and thus be washed down into the subsoil, makes the claims of UOx dust from that area contaminating most of Europe hard to justify.


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  6. 6
    Dionigi Says:

    Thanks for all that info. Living and working in one of the more recent battle areas that gives me lots of useful information.


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  7. 7
    drbuzz0 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    The process is somewhat different, and yes perhaps it is only of real interest to someone like me. But at least in the context of the Balkan conflict, (where this nonsense over DU munitions began) the fact that solid uranium would have broken down quickly in the relative humidity there, and thus be washed down into the subsoil, makes the claims of UOx dust from that area contaminating most of Europe hard to justify.

    I have to go to work now. I will edit it to make it more clear and accurate on that one part when I get back


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  8. 8
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Dionigi said:

    Thanks for all that info. Living and working in one of the more recent battle areas that gives me lots of useful information.

    First, thanks for your service.

    Secondly, I doubt that there’s any significant amount of DU being used in recent battle areas. The primary use of depleted uranium is in armor-penitrators. It was used in the opening days of the Iraq war against the tanks of the Republican Guard. It may have been used to a lesser extent against structural targets in general, but as far as anti-personnel weapons and the kind of semi-urban combat and anti-gorilla operations going on now, it’s not really something that’s generally used for that.


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  9. 9
    Dioigi Says:

    At my age I class the battle for Kuwait as recent and have been told that DU was used here. Every worker in the oilfields is given a lecture on the kind of thing which could still be buried (and is still being found during excavations). The oilfields still show many of the scars of the retreat of the Iraqis and also signs of the battles. Discarded helmets, ammunition boxes, remains of clusterbomb packing and vehicle parts. Much has been cleaned up but there are still no go areas where there were minefields but no one is sure that every thing is removed.
    Once again thanks for the site it is one of my daily reads.


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  10. 10
    Calli Arcale Says:

    It would certainly not be healthy to be in the immediate area of a depleted uranium round impact when it occurs.

    Especially since it would likely be either a war zone or a munitions test range, generally dangerous places to be.

    :-P

    (Sorry, that’s the smart-alec in me.)

    It’s a good article. DU is a boogeyman largely because people equate “uranium” with “NOOKULAR” stuff, which is, of course Very Bad. Likewise, “nano” is associated with “super techy powerful stuff”, so if uranium is Very Bad, then uranium nanoparticles would be Super Techy Powerful Very Bad. It’s all about buzzwords. “Nano” today is what “radio” was a century ago.


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  11. 11
    An Actual Scientist Says:

            Q said:

    Hardly something to quibble about. Would it be fair to say that uranium oxidizes over a period of years, in a way somewhat similar to steel or iron, but faster?

    That might depend on how you define “somewhat similar.” They’re not at all the same from the standpoint of materials corrosion rates or resistance. The redox chemistry of the two metals is very different. However, the end result is analogous, even if uranium is more reactive and will happen faster. Uranium oxide is fairly limited in pacifying the surface. To a lay person describing it as the equivalent of rusting is reasonably accurate.

    Of course there will still be metallic uranium for some time, which depends on the kind of conditions that the spent round is in and whether it is somehow sheltered from the environment. Remember, these are moving at very high speed and will go through armor, so they may become embedded in material. Lets say, for example, you have a tank and behind it is an area of dry compacted sand. If the tank is shot with a DU round, chances are it will go straight in one end and out the other and it will then embed itself into the sand and that may protect it from corrosion for some time. It’s possible it also won’t go all the way through and it will be left in the hull of the target, in which case it may also be kept fairly isolated, unless the hulk is hauled off and recycled.

    The thing about these rounds is that you usually don’t find them sitting on the surface. That’s fairly rare. Usually they’ll go burrow themselves into whatever material is behind the vehicle. What happens then depends on the chemistry of the soil as well as moisture and how much air can get to it. So it’s highly variable.

    Given enough time it will eventually revert back to the state it is found in nature. Basically, that’s just oxides. UO2 would be the most ubiquitous, however whether you get other oxide types depends on the redox environment.

    Not that any of this really matters, since it’s the dust people are scared of, apparently.

    Regarding uranium dust in the environment, I can share a little anecdote. In many areas such as where nuclear weapons are stored, around nuclear power plants or research facilities there are outdoor radiation sensors. These are intended to alert the operators to any unusual increase in radiation that might indicate some kind of leak, although it’s unlikely that it would make it that far without being noticed. The simplest of these sensors are just Geiger-Muller type tubes in some kind of weather resistant housing. Occasionally some of them are designed to sample the air for fallout particles and have a little fan that blows air past them.

    One of the issues that arises, especially in areas with certain geology is that windblown dirt and dust can accumulate in and around the sensor housing and this causes it to have a higher than normal reading because the natural radioactive substances that are present (uranium and thorium) give off enough radiation to skew the reading by just enough to make it an issue. They have to be cleaned out periodically because of this.


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  12. 12
    Blubba Says:

    Excellent overview. However, I’m a little surprised you didn’t discuss the alleged teratogenic effects of depleted uranium munitions other than your oblique reference to “reproductive system” damage. There are numerous web sites with pictures of deformed babies that are purportedly the result of exposure to depleted uranium in vivo. The photos are truly heartwrenching. One such web site is

    http://www.thewe.cc/weplanet/news/depleted_uranium_iraq_afghanistan_balkans.html.

    Uranium is teratogenic, but only weakly so, and to my knowledge no reputable organization like WHO or the UN have tied the incidence of birth defects in Bosnia, Iraq and elsewhere to where DU was actually used. Some photos floating on the web of DU babies look like suspiciously like they may have been lifted from 1950s medical books about thalidimide babies or general birth defects (they are grainy and black and white) but I haven’t been able to prove it.


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  13. 13
    DV82XL Says:

            An Actual Scientist said:

    Of course there will still be metallic uranium for some time, which depends on the kind of conditions that the spent round is in and whether it is somehow sheltered from the environment. Remember, these are moving at very high speed and will go through armour, so they may become embedded in material. Lets say, for example, you have a tank and behind it is an area of dry compacted sand. If the tank is shot with a DU round, chances are it will go straight in one end and out the other and it will then embed itself into the sand and that may protect it from corrosion for some time. It’s possible it also won’t go all the way through and it will be left in the hull of the target, in which case it may also be kept fairly isolated, unless the hulk is hauled off and recycled.

    It is my understanding that these rounds do not pass through targets, or become impeded in armour so much as they burn almost completely, the spray of hot metal thus created being a large part of the payload. If this is indeed the case, it is unlikely that there would be many rounds left intact, except those that were clean misses.


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  14. 14
    drbuzz0 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    It is my understanding that these rounds do not pass through targets, or become impeded in armour so much as they burn almost completely, the spray of hot metal thus created being a large part of the payload. If this is indeed the case, it is unlikely that there would be many rounds left intact, except those that were clean misses.

    i’ve heard both. It may well depend on the thickness of the armor whether it burns completely or passes through them largely intact. I agree a clean miss into sand or dirt is much different. There have to be a fair number of misses with certain weapons. For example the A-10 is an impressive tank killer with a better than 2000 rounds per minute Gatling gun that is fired in short bursts. The gun is “aimed” by pointing the whole aircraft at the target. In that kind of situation, where so many rounds are being unloaded, a fair number are probably going to be misses.

    It may also vary a bit depending on whether we’re talking about a dart-style round (such as used by the M-1A1 and M1-A2) or something more like a conventional bullet, as the A-10 or Bradly.

    I’ve been trying to find pictures to give a good illustration of what happens to the round and the vehicle in live fire tests. I’m interested to see how the damage varies between different kind of vehicles an armor and different kinds of rounds.

    Sadly, I have had a lot of trouble finding such things. No matter how I try to word it, every image search I use for pictures of depleted uranium projectile damage and the residual debris brings up mostly pictures of hideously deformed fetuses and young children suffering from disfiguring ailments.


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  15. 15
    T-Squared Says:

    I am a little skeptical that nano-sized particles of uranium would fallout within a 50 yard radius of the impact site. If they truly were nano-sized particles, brownian motion would dominate rather than gravity settling. This would imply that the nano-sized particles would remain airborne much longer than you are suggesting and the main removal mechanism would be washout by precipitation, the nano-sized particles having served as condensation nuclei.

    I suspect, similar to plutonium, it is extremely difficult to create fine aerosols of uranium. The uranium in DU munitions applications that burn off probably come off in relatively large molecular sizes, greater than 10 micron, and the dominant mechanism is gravity settling. This might explain a 50 yard settlement area. (Incidentally, where is the reference that these uranium dust particles settle out within 50 yards of the impact site. Linking us to a blog that makes the same statement without any hard data is not a valid reference.)

    I also don’t think you can make the claim that uranium dust settles well due to their density and then go on to say that coal plants are putting out large quantities of it into the atmosphere. If the uranium particles at a DU munitions impact site fallout within 50 yards, they would be easily captured in an electrostatic precipitator. Most, if not all, coal-fired power plants North America and Europe are equipped with electrostatic precipitators. Electrostatic precipitators not only collect particulate using charged ions, but also act as enormous settling chambers.

    I am inclined to think that what uranium comes out of the combustion zone of a coal-fired boiler ends up in the collected fly ash and is landfilled. Now, if there was a failure of an electrostatic precipitator on a major coal-fired power plant (which can happen from time to time), this may explain the contention of anti-DU activists that they were able to measure increased uranium particles in the atmosphere at the beginning of Gulf War II. (On this latter point, I haven’t ever seen any hard data published on these uranium particle measurements that DU-activists continue to point to as a smoking gun; nor, have I ever seen an in-depth analysis on how these uranium particles were transported from the Middle East to Great Britain. A bit like that 50 yard settling zone claim — no hard data!)


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  16. 16
    drbuzz0 Says:

            T-Squared said:

    I am a little skeptical that nano-sized particles of uranium would fallout within a 50 yard radius of the impact site. If they truly were nano-sized particles, brownian motion would dominate rather than gravity settling. This would imply that the nano-sized particles would remain airborne much longer than you are suggesting and the main removal mechanism would be washout by precipitation, the nano-sized particles having served as condensation nuclei.

    **MOST** falls out within 50 yards. Most is usually going to be in smaller sized particles. You notice I concede that tiny enough particles may stay suspended longer – it’s a bit difficult to really describe where they all fall because we’re talking such vanishingly small quantities.

            T-Squared said:

    I suspect, similar to plutonium, it is extremely difficult to create fine aerosols of uranium. The uranium in DU munitions applications that burn off probably come off in relatively large molecular sizes, greater than 10 micron, and the dominant mechanism is gravity settling. This might explain a 50 yard settlement area. (Incidentally, where is the reference that these uranium dust particles settle out within 50 yards of the impact site. Linking us to a blog that makes the same statement without any hard data is not a valid reference.)

    50 yards is a fairly liberal estimate, actually. I’ve seen references put it at less than this. The WHO says “The immediate area” and the IAEA states that the majority of particles settle from suspension within about two minutes, with only a small portion of the smallest ones carried up to a few hundred yards (http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Features/DU/du_qaa.shtml) Surveys by NATO found that the only detectable increase in uranium occurred within a very short distance (a few meters) of impact and fragments (http://www.nato.int/du/docu/d000500e.htm)

    Indeed, uranium can travel further. It has been shown that tiny atomized uranium can be carried miles by the wind, but as distance increases so does dispersion. By the time you get any significant distance you’re talking about extremely minuscule amounts per volume of air.

            T-Squared said:

    I also don’t think you can make the claim that uranium dust settles well due to their density and then go on to say that coal plants are putting out large quantities of it into the atmosphere. If the uranium particles at a DU munitions impact site fallout within 50 yards, they would be easily captured in an electrostatic precipitator. Most, if not all, coal-fired power plants North America and Europe are equipped with electrostatic precipitators. Electrostatic precipitators not only collect particulate using charged ions, but also act as enormous settling chambers.

    first, I think you might be surprised how large a portion of coal is burned with no precipitators at all and what is burned with minimal precipitators and scrubbers.

    I never said all uranium will settle out immediately. Some a tiny portion may very well travel further, but this is a much larger source. Not only that, it’s blown out a tall stack with hot flu gas.

            T-Squared said:

    I am inclined to think that what uranium comes out of the combustion zone of a coal-fired boiler ends up in the collected fly ash and is landfilled.

    You might also be surprised at how lax the standards for coal ash disposal are. A large portion of power plants just keep it puled up next to them. They may wet it down to keep the dust down a bit, although this can also have the effect of turning it into a heavy sludge, which is a bad thing if it breaks through what’s holding it in place.

    Containment and disposal of coal ash is mind-bogglingly poor in most countries, the United States included.


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  17. 17
    Perry USMC Says:

    Hi -

    Long time reader, but first time I felt I had something I could actually had something worth contributing.

    Depleted uranium rounds, when they hit a target, they can be broken apart and leave a spray of hot metal and little bits of the projectile, as DV82XL says. This happens if you have a depleted uranium round hits a solid enough target. If it hits a well armored tank then this is probably what would happen. They don’t always do this though. If the target is not as hard it can go in one end and come out the other like its barely there.

    The tanks and trucks that Iraq had were pretty bad, Some of them were really just unarmored civ trucks that they tried to turn into APC by just putting panels of steel on them. The tanks they had were usually Russian made but they tried to redo the armor and usually made it worst and not better because they seem to only buy the base model tanks from Russia with basically all the optional armor not on them. Even if it was Iraq you would be surprised how ****ty the steel they use can be.

    A depleted uranium armor penitrator from an M1 tank can go through that like its barely even there. Their armor was outgunned enough they may as well not have had it there.

    the round comes out basically in one piece but the fins usually break off then and sometimes it might be broken into pieces but mostly its there and it looks like a piece of metal.

    If it misses and hits the ground though, it can really dig in like you would not believe. They say that the have been shot into the side of a hill and come out the other forty feet clear through it. if it hits the level ground youre not going to get it back because its going to go in deep


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  18. 18
    DV82XL Says:

            Perry USMC said:

    Hi -

    Long time reader, but first time I felt I had something I could actually had something worth contributing.

    Great comment, there is so much nonsense out there on this type of round it is impossible to filter it properly. Comments from people like you help put things into perspective.


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  19. 19
    An Actual Scientist Says:

    As I remember, most of the uranium that is aerosoled is in the form of particles which are ten microns or larger, which is fairly large and won’t stay in the air very long.

    I think we’re getting a little out of context here. I’m sure some of the uranium, although a very small portion of it, is of a size small enough to get carried some distance, but it would be so extremely dilute and so dispersed that it’s amazing we’re even talking about it.

    What we’re talking about at any distance in terms of suspended particles is going to be maybe pictograms of exposure to someone breathing in the area downwind and there’s no point even taking it that far. We’re all exposed to some level of mineral dust, because we don’t spend our lives in cleanrooms.

    I know some people have gone so far as to start debating the ratio of oxides that are created and how soluble the uranium particles produced are in general. Maybe you could nitpick a bit. It’s all splitting hairs, because it really does not matter. Microgram quantities of uranium are not worth getting bent out of shape over. As is stated above, we’re all exposed to minuscule quantities of it every day anyway.


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  20. 20
    Ray1952 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    It is my understanding that these rounds do not pass through targets, or become impeded in armour so much as they burn almost completely, the spray of hot metal thus created being a large part of the payload. If this is indeed the case, it is unlikely that there would be many rounds left intact, except those that were clean misses.

    As I understand it, the mass of the projectile that actually burns ranges from 10 to 40% but it supposedly can be up to more than 70% but that seems a but extreme to me. It may break apart though. If it hits hard armor its a very violent reaction that splatters molten bits of metal every which way and I have no idea how much of the round is going to come out. If it hits the ground, it probably stays in one piece.

    None of this actually makes a difference though.

    The post is well thought out, but won’t change any minds I’m afraid. Too many places for people who don’t really understand this to make a fuss.


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  21. 21
    Timeshifter Says:

    Regarding “uranium is less toxic than lead,” my understanding is that this is still very much an open question on the issues of carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, related reproductive and immune system affects, and neurotoxicity because there have been no quantitive studies of those aspects of uranium chemical toxicity in humans, or even enough such studies in laboratory animals to make a good enough guess. The problem with measuring carcinogenicity in humans is that it can take 20 years for cancers to become apparent. There is some peer reviewed data from Navaho and other miners suggesting that uranium might be a fairly substantial cause of cancer and reproductive affects. Can anyone provide more detail on these points?


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  22. 22
    I'mnotreallyhere Says:

    Great article and some fascinating feedback.

    But Steve…

            drbuzz0 said:

    First, thanks for your service.

    Secondly, I doubt that there’s any significant amount of DU being used in recent battle areas. The primary use of depleted uranium is in armor-penitrators. It was used in the opening days of the Iraq war against the tanks of the Republican Guard. It may have been used to a lesser extent against structural targets in general, but as far as anti-personnel weapons and the kind of semi-urban combat and anti-gorilla operations going on now, it’s not really something that’s generally used for that.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorilla
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guerrilla

    There are enough problems with anti-DU campaigners without the pro-wildlife crowd complaining about needless violence against primates.


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  23. 23
    DV82XL Says:

            Timeshifter said:

    Regarding “uranium is less toxic than lead,” my understanding is that this is still very much an open question on the issues of carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, related reproductive and immune system affects, and neurotoxicity because there have been no quantitive studies of those aspects of uranium chemical toxicity in humans, or even enough such studies in laboratory animals to make a good enough guess. The problem with measuring carcinogenicity in humans is that it can take 20 years for cancers to become apparent. There is some peer reviewed data from Navaho and other miners suggesting that uranium might be a fairly substantial cause of cancer and reproductive affects. Can anyone provide more detail on these points?

    In general the argument that animal studies cannot be held as definitive in relation to the human response is somewhat of a strawman. While this may be true in some cases with complex toxins, when dealing with heavy metals, animal studies are very accurate models for humans.

    As for the miners, the overwhelming bulk of the evidence seems to indicate that any health issues they acquired from mining pitchblende was from radon, and radon daughters uptake, not uranium exposure per se.

    Most of the health hazards associated with uranium are well known, and well documented. Any questions that remain open are in the minds of antinuclear, anti-DU activists, who simply will not accept current medical opinion on the matter when those positions do not suit their agenda.


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  24. 24
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Timeshifter said:

    Regarding “uranium is less toxic than lead,” my understanding is that this is still very much an open question on the issues of carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, related reproductive and immune system affects, and neurotoxicity because there have been no quantitive studies of those aspects of uranium chemical toxicity in humans, or even enough such studies in laboratory animals to make a good enough guess. The problem with measuring carcinogenicity in humans is that it can take 20 years for cancers to become apparent. There is some peer reviewed data from Navaho and other miners suggesting that uranium might be a fairly substantial cause of cancer and reproductive affects. Can anyone provide more detail on these points?

    In terms of the acute toxicity of uranium, one of the problems we face in getting very accurate numbers for humans is the toxicity is low enough that we have basically no documented examples of someone dying from uranium poisoning. Only on very rare occasions has a person even gotten to the point of having symptoms of toxicity from uranium.

    We can pump animals full of uranium in the lab to study it. However with people, ethics boards seem to have a problem with that.

    Compared to lead, uranium does not appear to have much effect on the nervous system, which is important. When people have been subjected to high doses of uranium it seems that the most significant effects are to the kidneys. This is true in animals too. This is very important because the nervous system can’t really heal from damage but the kidneys do have some ability to do so.

    Some evidence comes from the use of uranium therapeutically in the early 20th century. Uranium, in the form of uranyl nitrate, was successfully used to treat diabetes in humans. Basically it was found to be an effective and fairly safe way of intentionally causing the renal tubes to open up and start excreting more sugar than they normally would. This helped remove excess sugar from the body. It appeared to do less damage and harm in general than other heavy metals.

    Of course, by modern standards, this is a terribly crude way of treating diabetes, but it does stand as one of the best examples we can look at of uranium exposure in humans.

    We can also look at uranium exposure from drinking water. There are areas where there is significant uranium in drinking water naturally. What appears to happen there is less health effects than we see with drinking water contaminated with lead or mercury.

    As for the Navajo uranium miners – from the data we have it appears that their problems are more related to radon exposure. That said, there likely are some who suffered from respiratory illness as the result of uranium inhalation, but that’s really an issue of inhaling a real lot of it over many years.


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  25. 25
    hgnnn Says:

    in some documentaries about this topic they claim that DU is often contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive transuranic elements causing far more intense radiation . do you have any reliable informations about this?

    the 50ft radius of contamination may be too much in an open area but in an urban enviroment the particles can move virtually everywhere


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  26. 26
    drbuzz0 Says:

            hgnnn said:

    in some documentaries about this topic they claim that DU is often contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive transuranic elements causing far more intense radiation . do you have any reliable informations about this?

    There are no transurics in natural uranium (at least not beyond a tiny tiny trace so tiny it’s not detectable except by the most sensitive methods).

    This is based on the claim that some of the uranium that goes into depleted uranium comes from the re-enrichment of uranium recovered from spent fuel reprocessing. It’s remotely possible that some of the depleted uranium from France or the UK came from irradiated fuel, although that seems highly unlikely to me since depleted uranium used for munitions is supposed to come from first run enrichment which creates more DU anyway. it’s impossible that this would be the case with US-sourced spent fuel.

    Even if it came from reprocessed fuel, there should be only miniscule amounts after the separation, re-refinement, fluoridation and defluoridization of the material.

    I have also not seen any validated and documented evidence of this at all.

            hgnnn said:

    the 50ft radius of contamination may be too much in an open area but in an urban enviroment the particles can move virtually everywhere

    Do you have any evidence of this?


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  27. 27
    DV82XL Says:

            hgnnn said:

    in some documentaries about this topic they claim that DU is often contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive transuranic elements causing far more intense radiation . do you have any reliable informations about this?

    The process of enrichment of uranium, for which depleted uranium is the tails, or leftover portion, contains no Pu or other transuranic elements.

    Apparently some the tailings from some re-enriched uranium, obtained via reprocessing of spent fuel, was left in the equipment had been used to enrich natural uranium, and some trace was found in some of the rounds. This was not wide spread, and since reprocessing has stopped, was not reoccurring. Of course this was blown all out of proportion by the anti-DU zealots, but it is unclear if these rounds ever made it into combat at all.


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  28. 28
    Dr KNOW Says:

    Beyond Treason:

    go to 31:25 into this film

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2205254052040284660#


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  29. 29
    DV82XL Says:

            Dr KNOW said:

    Beyond Treason:

    go to 31:25 into this film

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2205254052040284660#

    Beyond reason

    Not one single sustainable fact – an hour and a half of my life I’ll never get back.


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  30. 30
    TomT Says:

            Dr KNOW said:

    Beyond Treason:

    go to 31:25 into this film

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2205254052040284660#

    You didn’t bother to read the article above did you? If you had you would realize that the entire speech at the time mark you mention is disproven by the the very article you are posting the comment in. The speaker demonstrates a distinct lack of understanding about the actual science and embraces the buzz word bad science that Ehm is trying to claim is real.

    While there are plenty of things that can cause serious illness on a battle field depleted uranium is not one of them and people focusing on it are doing themselves and anyone ill no favors by misdirecting effort against something or treating something that couldn’t possibly be the source of their problem.

    But we are back to the human desire to find something to blame and since DU has the scary word uranium in it people like to embrace it for the warm fuzzy feeling it gives them that they have found their culprit and can now focus on it. When instead they misdirect their efforts against something that had zero to do with their illness and waste time and resources on something wrong. Never looking at what might really be the cause of any illness or problem they have.


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  31. 31
    Sigivald Says:

    “[...] significant can o cure if enough uranium [...] “

    I think you got bitten by autocomplete or an editing error there, just FYI.


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  32. 32
    Dr KNOW Says:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2205254052040284660#

    31:25


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  33. 33
    DV82XL Says:

    Do you think reposting the same link that has already been shown to be of no value is going to improve it? The video is pure rubbish. It is outright propaganda.


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  34. 34
    Dr Know Says:

    Just keep brushing your teeth & swallowing the good old tap water:-

    http://www.prisonplanet.com/fluoride-truth-on-australian-tv-fluoride-retards-the-brain.html

    If you swallow enough then you will start to believe your own DU hogwash.

    DU emits Beta Alpha & Gamma – not just Alpha.


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  35. 35
    DV82XL Says:

            Dr Know said:

    DU emits Beta Alpha & Gamma – not just Alpha.

    So what? So does your own body. The issue isn’t if radiation is present or not, the issue is the intensity, which in the case of DU is very, very low.

    It’s the does that counts, and no-one is going to get a serious dose from even inhaled DU dust from the radiation alone.

    May I suggest that before you form an opinion on a subject, you take steps to understand it.


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  36. 36
    Matthew Says:

            DV82XL said:

    So what? So does your own body. The issue isn’t if radiation is present or not, the issue is the intensity, which in the case of DU is very, very low.

    It’s the does that counts, and no-one is going to get a serious dose from even inhaled DU dust from the radiation alone.

    May I suggest that before you form an opinion on a subject, you take steps to understand it.

    You know, I’d love to see a comparison of rads from various sources:

    1 mg of DU when swallowed
    1 banana
    1 hour on an airplane
    1 day in a room with lost of granite (say US capitol building)
    1 year in Colorado
    etc


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  37. 37
    Finrod Says:

            Dr Know said:

    Just keep brushing your teeth & swallowing the good old tap water:-

    http://www.prisonplanet.com/fluoride-truth-on-australian-tv-fluoride-retards-the-brain.html

    What an appalling article. I hope today/ronight was taken to task for pushing such rubbish. They may well have been. Quackery is coming under increasing scrutiny in Australia..

    Dr Know, running around complaining about the contamination of our precious bodily fluids isn’t helping your case. Not that your case is worth anything anyway.


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  38. 38
    Matthew Says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0he-LZNzVg0


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  39. 39
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Dr Know said:

    Just keep brushing your teeth & swallowing the good old tap water:-

    http://www.prisonplanet.com/fluoride-truth-on-australian-tv-fluoride-retards-the-brain.html

    If you swallow enough then you will start to believe your own DU hogwash.

    Yeah…

    And you just keep not brushing your teeth and we’ll see whose fall out first

    BTW: Just a wild guess here, but I bet you also believe that the government is spreading “chemtrails” in our skies to do evil.


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  40. 40
    matthew Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    Yeah…

    And you just keep not brushing your teeth and we’ll see whose fall out first

    BTW: Just a wild guess here, but I bet you also believe that the government is spreading “chemtrails” in our skies to do evil.

    Doc, we all know that chemtrails are merely a cover for the REAL conspiracy: the construction of an army of unstoppable hamster warbots! (now where did I put that amateurish youtube video which proves everything…)


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  41. 41
    Dr Know Says:

    I have to laugh – President Obama isn’t even called Barrack Obama —->

    His genuine real name is

    Barry Soetoro

    And regarding brushing your teeth – please do brush your teeth at least twice a day – but do not use Fluoridated toothpaste.

    Use this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthymol

    And stop drinking the Fluoridated water. Please.


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  42. 42
    DV82XL Says:

            Dr Know said:

    I have to laugh – President Obama isn’t even called Barrack Obama —->

    Only opens his mouth to change feet


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  43. 43
    Dr Know Says:

    European Countries Banning the Use of Fluoride:-

    http://100777.com/node/210

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOZ6c0krQgg


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  44. 44
    DV82XL Says:

    Thread is about depleted uranium particles, bonehead. It isn’t your personal soapbox for whatever paranoid fantasies are floating through your mind at any given moment.


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  45. 45
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Dr Know said:

    I have to laugh – President Obama isn’t even called Barrack Obama —->

    His genuine real name is

    Barry Soetoro

    Without agreeing or disagreeing with that -

    It has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the toxicity of uranium or the mobility of uranium in the environment or the nature of uranium munitions.

    Zip. Zilch Nada.

    Likewise the Roswell Incident, Project Jennifer, the Kennedy Assassination, the creation of the state of Israel, the Freemasons, 9/11, the Vietnam War, the sinking of the Andrea Doria and the fluoridation of water also have NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.


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  46. 46
    Dr Know Says:

    Here is the connection boneheads -

    Both the Fluoridated Toothpaste & Tap water — And the Depleted Uranium —- Are taking YOU out by SLOW KILL.

    And the guy who is running your ****-hole of a country – is not even the guy you were told he is.

    HA HA HA HA HA!


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  47. 47
    TomT Says:

            Dr Know said:

    Here is the connection boneheads -

    Both the Fluoridated Toothpaste & Tap water

    And the Depleted Uranium —- Are taking YOU out by SLOW KILL.

    And the guy who is running your ****-hole of a country -

    is not even the guy you were told he is.

    HA HA HA HA HA!

    Ah then might I point you to this important reminder for your health. http://www.dhmo.org/ given your other topics you may want to read this and take action to protect yourself.


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  48. 48
    Matthew Says:

            TomT said:

    Ah then might I point you to this important reminder for your health. http://www.dhmo.org/ given your other topics you may want to read this and take action to protect yourself.

    Yeah – with time, DHMO will even eat through steel!


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  49. 49
    Ray1952 Says:

            Dr Know said:

    Here is the connection boneheads -

    Both the Fluoridated Toothpaste & Tap water

    And the Depleted Uranium —- Are taking YOU out by SLOW KILL.

    Hmm. Well, I’ll be coming up on my 58th birthday in another month and a half and I’m in quite good health and my dental health is also pretty good (a few cavities, which you expect by such an age, but nothing major not even a root canal) and I’ve been drinking fluoridated tap water pretty much my entire life.

    So how exactly do you figure it’s killing me? If it’s a slow kill, it must be really really damn slow, because as things are, It’ll probably be a couple more decades before the flouride kills me. Then again, there’s a good chance something else will have killed me first.

            Dr Know said:

    And the guy who is running your ****-hole of a country -

    is not even the guy you were told he is.

    HA HA HA HA HA!

    And your conspiracy theories of the president have what to do with this? Considering fluoride was being added to water before he was even born…

    I hardly care. I didn’t vote for the man, but still, these nutty conspiracy theories are so ridiculous, it makes me wonder what the hell is going on in the head of people like you.

    You see connections where there aren’t any. Presidential conspiracies ->depleted uranium ->fluoride. This is a sure sign of psychosis.


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  50. 50
    R.J. Moore II Says:

    Very interesting piece.
    What is it that inspires the conspiracy nuts to post here?


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