Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Aftermath of War (con't)

Caution: This blog contains one picture that is very graphic; but, is being used to illustrate the inhumanity of the use of white phosphorus. The US did not admit to using white phosphorus until 2005 - well over one year after the incidences.

New research suggests that birth defect rates in the United States may be highest for women conceiving in the spring and summer. (Credit: iStockphoto/Amanda Rohde)

Theories abound as to what can be the cause of the Fallujah statistics. Possibilities include weapons-related radiation or white phosphorus use, air pollution, psychological stress on the mother, malnutrition, inadequate pre-natal care, unclean drinking water, and any other reason they could come up with.

We know from a 2009 US study published in the medical journal Acta Paediatrica that birth defect rates in the United States were highest for women conceiving in the spring and summer.

With further investigation, the researchers found that this period of increase risk correlated with increased levels of pesticides in surface water across the United States.

White phosphorus is a very controversial weapon.

Wikipedia tells us:
White phosphorus can cause injuries and death in three ways: by burning deep into tissue, by being inhaled as a smoke, and by being ingested. Extensive exposure by burning and ingestion is fatal.
Incandescent particles of WP cast off by a WP weapon's initial explosion can produce extensive, deep second and third degree burns. (See picture below)

Back and shoulder of 15 year-old Ayman al-Najar at the Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. He sustained severe injuries from white phosphorus after Israeli bombing of the village Khoza'a.

One reason why this occurs is the tendency of the element to stick to the skin. Phosphorus burns carry a greater risk of mortality than other forms of burns due to the absorption of phosphorus into the body through the burned area, resulting in liver, heart and kidney damage, and in some cases multiple organ failure. These weapons are particularly dangerous to exposed people because white phosphorus continues to burn unless deprived of oxygen or until it is completely consumed. In some cases, burns are limited to areas of exposed skin because the smaller WP particles do not burn completely through personal clothing before being consumed.

By inhalation of smoke

Burning WP produces a hot, dense, white smoke consisting mostly of phosphorus pentoxide. Most forms of the smoke are not hazardous in the likely concentrations produced by a battlefield smoke shell. Exposure to heavy smoke concentrations of any kind for an extended period (particularly if near the source of emission) does have the potential to cause illness or even death.
WP smoke irritates the eyes, mucous membranes of the nose, and respiratory tract in moderate concentrations, while higher concentrations may produce severe burns. However, no casualties have been recorded from the effects of WP smoke alone in combat operations and there are no confirmed deaths resulting from exposure to phosphorus smoke.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has set an acute inhalation Minimum Risk Level (MRL) for white phosphorus smoke of 0.02 mg/m³, the same as fuel oil fumes. By contrast, the chemical weapon mustard gas is 30 times more potent: 0.0007 mg/m³.

By oral ingestion

The accepted lethal dose when white phosphorus is ingested orally is 1 mg per kg of body weight, although the ingestion of as little as 15 mg has resulted in death. It may also cause liver, heart or kidney damage. There are reports of individuals with a history of oral ingestion who have passed phosphorus-laden stool ("smoking stool syndrome").

Fallujah's frontline doctors are reluctant to draw a direct link with the fighting. They instead cite multiple factors that could be contributors.
"These include air pollution, radiation, chemicals, drug use during pregnancy, malnutrition, or the psychological status of the mother," said Dr Qais. "We simply don't have the answers yet."

Other health officials are also starting to focus on possible reasons, chief among them potential chemical or radiation poisonings. Abnormal clusters of infant tumours have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf – areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used.

The government's lack of capacity has led Fallujah officials, who have historically been wary of foreign intervention, to ask for help from the international community. "Even in the scientific field, there has been a reluctance to reach out to the exterior countries," said Dr Salah. "But we have passed that point now. I am doing multiple surgeries every day. I have one assistant and I am obliged to do everything myself."

Ways we can help:

1) Write your local government official expressing your outrage and demanding that this type of warfare cease. It is the civilians, the women and children who suffer.

2) Contact Amnesty International for great info.

3) Spread the word - by mouth, by blog, by FaceBook, by whatever means you have - and encourage others to write their governmental officials.

4) Write to human aid agencies such as the Red Cross and the United Nations' Humanitarian Affairs demanding they do something to stop the use of these weapons.

5) Write a letter to your editor.

A video of the horrors of white phosphorus being deployed in the Gaza Strip. However, the horrors are the same where ever white phosphorus is used.

Footage of white phosphorus being used in Fallujah in November, 2004.

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