This appears to be the first large University system in the United States to take this step, as reports are increasing out of Iraq suggesting an emerging radiation crisis in areas where these highly radioactive weapons have been used.
Many health professionals and scientists, including a former director of the Army's "Depleted Uranium Project" in Iraq, are documenting a dramatic rise in birth defects, cancers, genetic mutations and other conditions consistant with severe radiation exposure from Fallujah and Basra - where major battles included the use of DU weapons by US forces. Disturbing photos show grotesque malformations including huge hydroencephaly (enlarged heads), webbed fingers and eyelids, and severe organ protrusions (photos available at cited reference) 2)
DU weapons have been the subject of ongoing concern from experts and activists who have warned about the serious health risks posed from the highly radiactive materials used in their manufacture. Military analysts acknowledge their effective battlefiled applications - particularly as armour and concrete penetrating 'bunker busters', and the government has consistantly refuted the health concerns.
The University did not not identify publically the names of the manufactures involved nor their investors, but said the divestment would focuson the known "three main producers" and their financers. The three largest producers of DU weapons in the United States, are General Dynamics, ATK Alliance Systems, and Aerojet Ordnance Tennessee. Their US financers include Bank of America, US Bank, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and many more, according to several DU watchdog groups. 3)
Two of the areas in Iraq reporting significant radiation exposure are Fallujah and Basar, sites of major battles where DU weapons were used.
Saud Al-Azzawi, an environmental engineer who has been involved in several epidemiological research studies in the Basra region, said "A few years after exposure to (DU) contamination, multifold increase of malignancies, congenital malformations, miscarriages, children leukemia, and sterility cases have been registered in suburb areas of Basra and other surrounding areas". 4)
The Army has repeatedly denied any link between Depleted Uranium and high rates of cancer or other conditions in Iraq. "There is not really any danger, at least that we know about, for the people of Iraq," said Lt. Col. Michael Sigmon, deputy surgeon for the US Army's V Corps. 5), 6)
Individual experts from the military, however, have contradicted the official denial.
Dr Alexandra C. Miller of the Armed Forces Radiological Research Institute reported that DU has significant carcinogenic potential, is mutagenic and genotoxic. Another expert, Dr. Doug Rokke, who was the director of the Army's Depleted Uranium Project in Iraq in 2003 (charged to study how to safegaurd U.S. troops from DU and properly dispose of DU material) - has become a leading advocate for a total ban on their use. 7,8).
A brief search of Army practice suggests further contradictions to its own public denial of health risks:
Army and Defense Department regulations prohibit the use of DU munitions during training. 9)
U.S. troops are instructed to avoid any sites where DU weapons have been used -- destroyed tanks, exploded bunkers, etc.--and to wear masks if they do have to approach. 10)
The U.S. removed over 6,000 tons of DU contaminated soil from Kuwait after the 1991 Gulf war. The contaminated material was brought back to the US for disposal to a radioactive waste managment company, the American Ecology Corporation, based in Bosie. Army trucks hit by 'friendly' DU fire in Iraq also had to be brought back to radioactive waste disposal facilities in the U.S. 11)
And - perhaps the striking example - the Army has built a new, state-of the art hospital in Basra specializing in advanced pediactric cancer treatment.
It is the first hospital of its kind in Iraq - a multi-million dollar, 90-bed unit - built to serve an area known for significant DU weapon use by US forces.