Mismeasuring depleted-uranium radiation
The May 15 Special Report "Remains of toxic bullets litter Iraq" on American depleted-uranium (DU) rounds littering populated areas of Iraq places the correct emphasis on the need to mark, contain, and clean up these contaminated sites, rather than argue over whether the material is a genocidal poison or just an unacceptable radioactive and toxic hazard.
One aspect of the report, however, reduces its effectiveness. Throughout the article, the reporter quotes radiation readings he took with a hand-held Geiger counter, typically "1,000 times normal background." Such measurements are not very meaningful.
Presumably, the reporter was holding the Geiger counter as close as possible to the DU round he was observing. If he had held the counter at a one meter distance from the round, the radiation would have been down by a factor of 10,000, and he would not have been able to detect it above background.
The DU rounds do not raise the radiation level much above background for people who only pass by. They become significant hazards for those who pick them up; inhale or ingest the oxide created by DU fires; or carry DU fragments in their bodies from combat wounds.
Mark Avrum Gubrud
College Park, Md.Physics Department, U. of Maryland
You should have your reporter using a Geiger counter to measure radiation from DU weapons in Iraq use the same Geiger counter on the banana display at any US grocery store. You may find levels of increased radiation from the natural potassium in the bananas.
Radiation is a topic that is constantly misrepresented by the media, which seem to have lost all ability to convey context. I guess "exposés" on DU weapons' residual radiation sell papers; no one would buy a story on radiation in everyday life.
Half Moon Bay, Calif.
It is beyond unconscionable that the US should be condemning Iraq for using biological weapons when our military is using radioactive and toxic depleted-uranium-tipped munitions that will have potentially disastrous effects on both our servicemen and women who have served in Iraq and the Iraqi population for years to come.
There were no hard numbers in the article and the statement "1,000 times normal background" was not related to real numbers of radiation levels or a comparison of radiation levels to recognized hazardous levels.
This sort of writing does not inform or educate; it simply incites.
Regarding the May 15 article "A Texas standoff that's crossed state lines": I say hurrah for the Texans who camped out in Ardmore, Okla. When the bullies push you into a corner, determined to make you do as they say, it's time for extreme tactics. For the first time in more than three years, I am proud to call myself a fourth-generation Texan. That shameful redistricting plan makes a mockery of the citizens' right to vote for the representatives of their choice.
D.V. Carter Fairfax, Va.
William Vendley's May 19 Opinion piece "Rebuild with Iraq religious assets" was such a ray of sunshine in the daily news. In today's divisive world, an article that proposes unity as a means to peaceful coexistence is such a joy. Lincoln was right: "Are we on God's side?" This is the question.
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