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Radiation levels safe at Pohakuloa, Army says

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The Army said yesterday that the results of a depleted uranium study at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island show radiological doses "well within limits" considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Army studied the potential health risk posed by residual DU in Pohakuloa areas where past and current weapons firing has taken place.

Depleted uranium, a weak radioactive heavy metal, was used in aiming rounds for the Davy Crockett, a 1960s nuclear device intended as a last-ditch weapon against masses of Soviet soldiers in the event of war.

Jim Albertini with the Malu Aina Center for Nonviolent Education & Action said yesterday that the Army was "stonewalling community involvement in seeking the truth about DU radiation contamination at Pohakuloa."

Albertini said the Army has made unreliable safety claims based on questionable assumptions and scientific methodology and no peer-reviewed studies.

"The bottom line is this," Albertini said. "The Army does not want to risk having to shut down Pohakuloa if it is determined that the presence of DU and other military toxins pose a threat to the health and safety of the troops who train there and residents and visitors of Hawaii island."

The Pohakuloa study is the second determination by the Army that DU poses no health threat.

The Army discovered DU spotting rounds at a Schofield Barracks firing range in 2005. Even though the Army said in 2008 that there was no danger, officials said yesterday that the DU at Schofield is being removed because Stryker armored vehicles and soldiers will be training at the Schofield site.

The DU at Pohakuloa will remain in place at the impact site because "one, we’re not finding a lot, and two, there are too many hazards" to its removal, including jagged lava and unexploded ordnance, said Greg Komp, an Army radiation safety officer from the Pentagon.

A shipping list showed that at least 714 of the spotting rounds, containing about 298 pounds of depleted uranium, were sent to Hawaii by 1962, but it is "highly probable" that more rounds were fired here, the Army said.

Cory Harden, who lives near Hilo, said training requirements called for 2,000 or more of the spotting rounds to be fired at Pohakuloa, but the Army said the number used at Schofield and on the Big Island is unclear.

Fifteen light M28 Davy Crocketts and seven heavy M29 versions were allocated to the Army in Hawaii.

The M101 spotting rounds were about 8 inches long and contained about 6.7 ounces of DU alloy. The firing device was attached to a recoilless rifle that could launch a 76-pound nuclear warhead. Only dummy warheads were used in training in Hawaii.

The warhead could be fired more than a mile but likely would have irradiated the soldiers using it.

The spotting rounds are believed to have been fired mainly at Schofield and Pohakuloa, but the Army said they also may have been used at Makua Military Reservation.

DU was found within the boundary of the Pohakuloa impact area in October 2006.

Albertini, who lives on the Big Island, is concerned that DU particles can be ingested from the soil or inhaled as airborne dust and cause adverse health effects.

According to the World Health Organization, "very large amounts of dust" would have to be inhaled for there to be an additional risk of lung cancer.

Harden complained that a news conference at Pohakuloa yesterday was not open to the public. The Army has been invited to attend a public forum to answer questions about DU, and "they just keep putting us off," she said.

Russell Takata, program manager for the state Health Department’s Noise, Radiation and Indoor Air Quality Branch, downplayed the danger of DU at the Big Island military training range.

"It’s a very minimal risk," he said.

The health study will be available at the website, the Army said.


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