New York Times
June 22 2003
Iraqis Suffer From Radiation Symptoms
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 9:10 a.m. ET
AL-MADA'IN, Iraq (AP) -- Dozens of people are showing up every day at a
hospital near a defunct Iraqi nuclear plant, suffering from rashes, bloody
noses and other symptoms of radiation poisoning, doctors said Saturday.
The Tuwaitha nuclear facility, 12 miles south of Baghdad, was left unguarded
after Iraqi troops fled the area on the eve of the war. It is thought to have
contained hundreds of tons of natural uranium and nearly two tons of
low-enriched uranium, which could be used to make nuclear weapons
U.S. troops didn't secure the area until April 7. By then, looters from
surrounding villages had stripped it of much of its contents, including uranium
storage barrels they later used to hold drinking water.
People suffering from symptoms of radiation sickness started showing up at the
hospital closest to the nuclear site as early as two months ago, two doctors
interviewed by The Associated Press said Saturday. Their numbers have since
``Some 30 to 40 patients suffering from bloody diarrhea visit our hospital
every day, probably due to their exposure to nuclear radiation,'' said Bassim
Abbud, a physician at the Mada'in General Hospital, about 9 miles from the
Tuwaitha nuclear facility.
The International Atomic Energy Agency sent a team to Iraq earlier this month
to see if any of the uranium was missing, fearing it had been stolen in the
chaos of the war. The experts found most of the uranium on or near the site,
diplomats said Friday.
Plastic bags containing the uranium were found on the ground where the looters
emptied out the barrels and some bags apparently spilled, the diplomats said
from Vienna,where the U.N. agency is based.
The mission -- whose scope was restricted by the U.S.-led interim
administration of Iraq -- was not allowed to give medical exams to Iraqis
reported to have been sickened by contact with the materials, the diplomats
But two doctors at the closest hospital to Tuwaitha said suspicions of
radiation poisoning were aroused as early as April 16, when 13-year-old Iltifat
Risan came to the hospital with a severely bleeding nose.
Dr. Jaafar Naseer said he diagnosed symptoms of radiation. He said Iltifat had
used a blue plastic barrel that her brother had brought from the facility for
``We gave her treatment for her symptoms,'' and sent her to a larger hospital
in Baghdad for further treatment.
A week later, another patient, Hassan Oda, a 35-year-old electrician came to
the hospital with white spots on his skin after installing a generator which he
had stolen from the Tuwaitha.
``If we had a medical survey in the whole region, we would have many similar
cases,'' Naseer said.
Abbud, who has been treating more recent cases, said the soaring temperatures
of summer could explain some of the diarrhea complaints. But it was unlikely to
be the cause this time, since the standard tests for parasites administered to
diarrhea patients proved negative.
``Some people were subjected to radiation after emptying the barrels,'' Abbud
said, resulting in skin problems, respiratory ailments and bloody noses. ``We
have no particular measures to take. We just diagnose them and send them to
He said after people were warned against using the contaminated equipment, some
of the barrels were collected at a secondary girls school, where they remained
while the girls returned to school for their final exams. U.S. military experts
involved in the cleanup offered to buy back the barrels at $3 each.
``Symptoms may appear after months or years. Radiation can have genetic effects
and could result in cancer tumors,'' he said.