Protesters cite study that reveals depleted uranium near Jonesborough’s Aerojet Ordnance

Gary B. Gray • Jul 16, 2013 at 5:21 PM

A moral and educational crusade?

Sure, that’s a fair description of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemakers Teams’ demonstration and pronouncement Monday that Jonesborough’s Aerojet Ordnance Tennessee’s use of depleted uranium has contaminated surrounding soil and water supplies.

In 2011, members of the organization spoke at East Tennessee State University and warned that tests would confirm that fact. About one dozen members, including members of Appalachia Peace Education Aerojet Action Project, gathered Monday across the street from the facility.

A table held pipes used for gathering soil and test tubes to show methods used in a Northern Arizona University study that revealed that “results clearly indicate the presence of DU (depleted uranium), evidently originating from Aerojet Ordinance Tennessee in water, soil and sediment samples.”

The study, headed by Michael Ketterer, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and dated April 18, revealed that DU was found in water in Little Limestone Creek downstream from the facility, sediments in the creek, and from soils from off-site locations near the facility, located at 1367 Old State Route 34.

“The extent of physical damage cannot yet be nailed down,” said John Mueller a CPT delegation member and former chemist. “But the fact is that contamination has been found. The problem of uranium contamination is a world problem, not just a Jonesborough problem.”

DU is a heavy metal that is both radioactive and chemically toxic, according to the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research. Depleted uranium is a by-product of the enrichment process. It has been used by the U.S. Military to make armor-piercing weapons and tank armor plating.

Aerojet Ordnance is an arm of Aerojet Rocketdyne, an American rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer headquartered in Sacramento, Calif. The company is owned by GenCorp. Aerojet Ordnance designs, develops and produces special metal components for munitions, commercial products and sporting goods.

“I can tell you there will be no observation of their presentation and we will make no comment,” Aerojet Ordinance Facilities Security Officer Lisa Mabry said by telephone prior to the event. “They seem to be unwilling to listen to what the truth really is, but they are welcome to gather and to protest peacefully.”

CPT members believe prayer vigils and public witness brings the search for truth into the public arena — a tradition inspired by the word of God, practiced by Jesus and carried on by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

“We believe we must take our Christian faith from the pews to the public space,” CPT’s website announces.

Though Mueller, and the study’s author, call it an “interim report,” 25 samples taken over the past 2 years within a 2-mile radius of the plant showed the 17 samples closest to the plant showed contamination from processed uranium; samples further away did not.

The World Nuclear Association says on its website that uranium occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust and is mildly radioactive, and the health hazards associated with any uranium are much the same as those for lead.

“Depleted uranium is not classified as a dangerous substance radiologically, though it is a potential hazard in large quantities, beyond what could conceivably be breathed. There are no reputable reports of cancer or other negative health effects from radiation exposure to ingested or inhaled natural or depleted uranium, despite much study,” the association reports.

CPT member Rosemarie Milazzo, an 81-year-old nun from New York City, said the group believes all weapons are immoral and their use is incompatible with the most basic principles of humanity and environmental health protection.

“How can we, as a civilized society, continue to harm others by disregarding our responsibility to care for and protect our land?” she asked.

CPT member and Amarillo, Texas, resident Rusty Tomlinson said uranium weapons have been used in a number of nations and they each exhibit high rates of severe health problems. He then recited a long list ranging from birth defects to headaches.

“Studies of vets exposed to uranium weapons showed that male vets had three times the normal rate of children with birth defects,” he said. “Female vets had four times the normal rate. In studies of miscarriages, the number of female vets was too small to draw any conclusions, but male vets’ wives had 1.6 times the normal rate of miscarriages.”

So, has the group attempted to sit down with Aerojet? Have they told them about their concerns? Have they asked them to participate in a dialogue or debate on the issue?

Mueller says they have.

“Evidence that these folks are not here right now should tell you something,” he said.

The CPT will hold a public educational forum at 1 p.m. July 27 at the Jonesborough Visitors Center.

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