Surveillance of depleted uranium exposed Gulf War veterans: health effects observed in an enlarged "friendly fire" cohort

J Occup Environ Med. 2001 Dec;43(12):991-1000. doi: 10.1097/00043764-200112000-00001.


To determine clinical health effects in a small group of US Gulf War veterans (n = 50) who were victims of depleted uranium (DU) "friendly fire," we performed periodic medical surveillance examinations. We obtained urine uranium determinations, clinical laboratory values, reproductive health measures, neurocognitive assessments, and genotoxicity measures. DU-exposed Gulf War veterans with retained metal shrapnel fragments were excreting elevated levels of urine uranium 8 years after their first exposure (range, 0.018 to 39.1 micrograms/g creatinine for DU-exposed Gulf War veterans with retained fragments vs 0.002 to 0.231 microgram/g creatinine in DU exposed but without fragments). The persistence of the elevated urine uranium suggests ongoing mobilization from the DU fragments and results in chronic systemic exposure. Clinical laboratory outcomes, including renal functioning, were essentially normal. Neurocognitive measures showing subtle differences between high and low uranium exposure groups, seen previously, have since diminished. Sister chromatid exchange frequency, a measure of mutation in peripheral lymphocytes, was related to urine uranium level (6.35 sister chromatid exchanges/cell in the high uranium exposure group vs 5.52 sister chromatid exchanges/cell in the low uranium exposure group; P = 0.03). Observed health effects were related to subtle but biologically plausible perturbations in central nervous system function and a general measure of mutagen exposure. The findings related to uranium's chemical rather than radiologic toxicity. Observations in this group of veterans prompt speculation about the health effects of DU in other exposure scenarios.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Hematologic Tests
  • Humans
  • Kidney Function Tests
  • Male
  • Middle East
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / chemically induced*
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / genetics
  • Reproduction / drug effects
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Reproduction / radiation effects
  • Semen / drug effects
  • Semen / radiation effects
  • United States
  • Uranium / pharmacokinetics
  • Uranium / radiation effects
  • Uranium / urine*
  • Veterans*
  • Warfare
  • Wounds, Gunshot / complications*


  • Uranium