LLRC Journal Radioactive Times. Vol.5 No 1

Radioactive Times. Vol.5 No 1

Cancer risks and the Balkans War

There have been many misleading statements from government ministers regarding the significance of reports of leukemia deaths among Balkan peacekeepers. Recently a UK government minister, Dr Lewis Moonie, suggested in a letter to Caroline Lucas MEP that 42 leukemia deaths per 100,000 peacekeepers was a reasonable sum and that therefore the handful of deaths observed should be seen as a normal situation. This was an outrageous misdirection since the number referred to calculations based on all ages including old people where leukemia rates are much higher than in younger soldiers. Assuming that the soldiers were in the age range of 20-40 (which is conservative) there should be 0.15 deaths per 10,000 exposed per year. So in one year since the bombing we should expect approximately 1.5 deaths in 100,000. In January 2001, Nippon TV discovered 7 leukemia deaths in Italian peacekeepers and more recently Eddie Goncalves, a journalist in Portugal, reported 5 deaths from leukemia in the Portuguese peacekeepers (5 deaths in 10,000 with two in the 20-30 age group). Thus in those groups we observe 12 leukaemia deaths where 0.9 are expected, a relative risk of 13. Even if we use a two-year period since the war the Relative Risk is still 6.5.

Sarajevo tumour registry

There has been an extraordinary increase in cancer and leukemia in Sarajevo since the bombing (Sarajevo is close to the town where Nick Priest took urine samples and found DU contamination in people at least 6 years after the bombing - see page 10). Note the 20-fold increase in lymphoma and leukemia shown in the table below.

Cancer type
 
Mouth and throat
Digestive tract
Respiratory tract
Skin and ligaments
Breast
Uro-genitary
Eye and brain
Lymphatic
Misc.
Total
1995
Number    Rate
1 1.1
15 16.0
12 12.8
- -
3 3.2
8 8.5
3 3.2
1 1.2
- -
43 45.8
1996
Number    Rate
- -
50 53.2
15 16.0
2 2.1
11 11.7
8 8.5
- -
6 6.4
1 1.1
93 99.0
1997
Number    Rate
- -
36 38.3
20 21.3
1 1.1
14 15.0
11 11.7
1 1.1
1 1.1
11 11.7
95 101
1998
Number    Rate
2 2.1
55 58.5
34 36.2
10 10.6
29 30.9
18 19.2
2 2.1
7 7.4
18 19.2
175 186.2
1999
Number    Rate
4 4.3
68 72.4
44 46.8
8 8.5
34 36.2
27 28.7
1 1.1
19 20.2
11 11.7
216 229.8
2000
Number    Rate
4 4.3
82 87.3
51 54.3
9.0 9.6
37.0 39.4
28 29.6
4 4.3
26 27.7
7 7.4
248 263.9

Cases and rates per 100,000
Source: Sarajevo Registry January 2001

Some of this raised incidence may be due to increases in the population of Sarajevo following the displacements of the war but the suggestion that there is a real increase in the blood and lymphatic cancers is borne out by a study of Italian peacekeepers published in May 2001.

Italian Peacekeepers

A proper epidemiological study of cancer in peacekeepers in Kosovo was carried out by the Italian Ministry of Defence and published as two reports. The final one, Seconda Relatzione Della Commissione Instituta Della Difesa Sull’ Imcidenzia di Neoplasie Maligne tra I Militari impiegati in Bosnia , Maggio 2001 examined cancer incidence in 39,491 peacekeepers operating in regions of Kosovo and Bosnia where DU had been used and contamination existed. There was a statistically significant increase in Hodgkins Lymphoma with 10 cases observed, and 3.4 expected (p = .003) occurring inside 30 months after the exposure tour of duty. This excess was calculated based on the population of Italy. However, using an allowance for the ‘healthy worker effect’ it is possible to show that the overall excess risk is 7.9 (p = .0000) for all lymphomas.
Relative increase in incidence of lymphoma over time in months after end of tour of duty in Kosovo and Bosnia (Sarajevo) by Italian Peacekeepers. (Probability histogram) probability histogram(10KB)
A paper based on a reanalysis of the Italian peacekeepers’ cancer rates making these points was presented to the Depleted Uranium Oversight Board in 2001. The Chair, David Coggon dismissed the results saying that the time lag for onset of lymphoma was too short. However similar rapid increases in cancer following exposure have been seen in nuclear workers’ studies (reported in RaT Vol 3 No 1 March 1999). This Italian peacekeepers’ study is the main evidence that there may be a link between DU and lymphoma.


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