A former British defense worker has won legal aid to sue the giant US military corporation Honey-well over claims that he was poisoned by depleted uranium (DU) while working at its factory in Somerset, south-west England.
The case is likely to have far-reaching implications for Gulf war veterans, aerospace workers and civilians living in former war zones.
Richard `Nibby' David, 49, suf-fers from serious respiratory problems, kidney defects and finds it extremely painful to move his limbs. Medical tests have revealed mutations to his DNA and damage to his chromosomes which he alleges has been caused by DU, a radioactive waste product from the nuclear power industry that is used for shells because it can smash through tank armor.
Millions of tonnes of DU shells have been fired by US and British forces in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. It has also been used as ballast in aircraft and counterweights on helicopter blades. While it is believed to be relatively harmless lying in the soil, a growing body of scientists believe that when its fine dust is inhaled it can cause a range of cancers, kidney damage and birth defects.
It has been alleged that DU used in the 1991 Gulf war was responsible for abnormally high levels of childhood leukemia and birth defects in Iraq. France, Spain and Italy claim soldiers who served in Bosnia and Kosovo, where NATO used DU shells, have contracted cancers. It is also believed to be a possible cause of Gulf war syndrome, which has left thousand of veterans ill.
While the defense and nuclear industries have played down the danger of DU, David's case is the first time that the arguments will be heard before a court. Should he win, the verdict will send shockwaves through the military establishment as it could pave the way for huge compensation claims against the armed forces. He also believes that dozens of his fellow workers at the Honeywell site in Yeovil have also suffered. A number of his closest colleagues have died or contracted liver cancers.
Although the Legal Aid Board does not back personal injury claims, it decided that David's case was in the "wider public interest." The decision was a major victory after an eight-year struggle for justice after ill health forced him to give up his job in 1995 as a component fitter for Normalair Garrett, the Yeovil firm now owned by Honeywell, which makes parts for most of the world's fighter planes and bombers.
After being struck down by a disorder that left him paralyzed with pain and unable to breathe properly, David began looking for clues as to the cause. The breakthrough came in September 1995 while watching a news bulletin on Gulf war syndrome on which he saw how a UK army major struggled to get out of her car.
David had never been in the armed forces or the Middle East, but was convinced there was a link between his illness and those suffered by former Gulf troops. But it was not until February 1999 that the possibility that DU was the cause came when he heard a talk by US scientist Asaf Durakovic, a former military doctor and nuclear medicine expert. Durakovic suggested that the debilitating, in some cases fatal, illnesses suffered by Gulf veterans were not necessarily caused by a cocktail of vaccines, as some claimed, but by DU poisoning.
Durakovic decided to test the urine samples of 15 UK Gulf veterans and agreed to include David's. Six months later, the results showed that he had one of the highest levels of uranium contamination of all the samples.
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