TAB I -- The Camp Doha Explosion and Fires (July 1991)
In June, 1991, four months after Operation Desert Storm ended, the US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) deployed from Germany to occupy Camp Doha (near Kuwait City) to serve as a deterrent and rapid response force (see Figure I-1). The 11th ACR, with about 3,600 personnel, had not taken part in Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm. By July 1991, the regiment was the only US ground combat unit remaining in the Gulf Theater. It replaced the 1st Brigade of the US Army's 3rd Armor Division, the last US unit to engage in ground combat during Desert Storm. Due to the threat of renewed hostilities, the 11th ACR kept its combat vehicles "combat loaded" with ammunition, even in garrison, to reduce their response time in case of renewed hostilities with Iraq. The regiment stored an equal amount of ammunition in MILVAN containers or conexes (large 20- or 40-foot metal transport containers), located in the North Compound motor pool complex near the combat vehicle parking ramps.
Figure I-1. Camp Doha location
On the morning of July 11, 1991, the 11th ACR deployed two of its three combat formations, called squadrons, to the field, leaving behind a single squadron (plus support elements) to serve as a guard force. This squadron was parked in Camp Doha's North Compound, a fenced-off area comprising several motor pool pads (each the size of two or three football fields), some administrative buildings, a wash rack, and living quarters for approximately 250 British soldiers, (mainly from the Royal Anglian Regiment and Headquarters British Forces Middle East). See Figure I-2.[424,425]
Figure I-2. Camp Doha diagram
At approximately 10:20 A.M, a defective heater in an M992 ammunition carrier loaded with 155mm artillery shells caught on fire. Troops unsuccessfully tried to extinguish the fire before being ordered to evacuate the North Compound. This evacuation was still under way when the burning M992 exploded at 11:00 AM, scattering artillery submunitions (bomblets) over nearby combat-loaded vehicles and ammunition stocks. This set off an hours-long series of explosions and fires that devastated the vehicles and equipment in the North Compound and scattered unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and debris over much of the remainder of the camp. The fires produced billowing black and white clouds of smoke that rose hundreds of feet into the air and drifted to the east-southeast, across portions of both the North and South Compounds, in the direction of Kuwait City.
The fires died down enough by mid-afternoon to allow a preliminary damage assessment. There were no fatalities; however, 49 US soldiers were injured, 2 seriously. Most of the injuries were fractures, sprains, contusions, or lacerations suffered when soldiers scrambled over the 15-foot high perimeter wall to escape the North Compound (Figure I-3). In addition, four British soldiers received minor injuries.
Figure I-3. 11th ACR soldiers evacuate Doha's North Compound, July 11, 1991
The destruction was overwhelming. The fire and explosions damaged or destroyed 102 vehicles, including 4 M1A1 tanks and numerous other combat vehicles. More than two dozen buildings sustained damage as well. Among the estimated almost $15 million in damaged or destroyed ammunition were 660 M829 120mm DU sabot rounds.
B. Initial Recovery Efforts
Given Iraq's proximity, its still-formidable striking power, and its belligerence, rebuilding the 11th ACR's shattered combat potential was a matter of utmost urgency. The regimental commander and his staff had to restore basic life support functions (power, running water, sewage, cooking facilities, etc.) and a secure operating area, and then clear the motor pool areas so serviceable vehicles could be recovered and the unit's combat readiness reconstituted. In planning recovery, the unit leadership viewed unexploded ordnance (UXOs) as by far the most significant, widespread, deadly hazard. The explosions had deposited huge quantities of live ammunition of every description over the motor pool and in the adjacent life support area (Figure I-4).[431,432] This ordnance was highly unstable, a fact underlined the next day when a British explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician entering the North Compound stepped on a live artillery bomblet, seriously injuring his foot.
Figure I-4. View of wash rack area, showing M1A1 tank hulks and unexploded ordnance
Although concern over unexploded ordnance predominated, the 11th ACR leadership also was concerned about possible radiological contamination from depleted uranium rounds that had detonated and burned in the fire.[434,435] Internal explosions gutted three M1A1 heavy armor tanks in the wash rack area (where the fire started); the ammunition that exploded was mostly DU. Each M1A1 presumably was loaded with 37 M829 sabot rounds with DU penetrators and 3 non-DU high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds. In addition to the estimated 111 DU rounds loaded on the burned tanks, several hundred other DU rounds were stored in MILVAN trailers or conexes in the 2nd Squadron motor pool. Some of these rounds exploded in fires of such sustained intensity that steel howitzers and other equipment melted, making it likely that some DU rounds oxidized in the fires.
Figure I-5. Burned DU penetrator and sabot
From viewing contemporary logs and other data, it is clear that the 22nd Support Command (SUPCOM), which supported theater combat units, was aware of the potential for DU contamination. Entries from the SUPCOM log provide evidence of this awareness, as this entry for noon on July 11th states:
ENTIRE 2 SQUADRON MOTOR POOL HAS BEEN AFFECTED BY THE FIRE. 35-40 VEHICLES ON FIRE, TO INCLUDE ENTIRE HOW[ITZER] BATTERY. HOW BATTERY HAS 155MM AMMO UPLOADED. DEPLETED URANIUM ROUNDS ARE GOING OFF.
A later entry at 2:30 PM (by which time the fire and explosions had largely subsided) amplifies the significance of this message:
EOD POC [Explosive Ordnance Disposal Point of Contact] STATES THAT BURNING DEPLETED URANIUM PARTICLES WHEN BREATHED CAN BE HAZARDOUS. 11TH ACR HAS BEEN NOTIFIED TO TREAT THE AREA AS THOUGH IT WERE A CHEMICAL HAZARD AREA; i.e. STAY UPWIND AND WEAR PROTECTIVE MASK IN THE VICINITY.
It is unclear who, if anyone, passed this information to the 11th ACR. The former 11th ACR commander emphatically stated that no such warning ever reached him, and, if it had, he would have responded appropriately. On March 10, 1998, the regimental engineer, who directed recovery operations, reacted similarly to both the SUPCOM log entries and a July 12, 1991, entry in the official diary of the 702nd Transportation Battalion (Provisional), which fell under the 22nd Support Command:
BN dispatches HET, LB, and FB trucks to KKMC to be in positions to support movement of replacement vehicles and ammunition to Doha. Soldiers are directed to carry protective masks due to possible Alpha particle contamination from depleted uranium rounds, which exploded in the accident area.
The regimental engineer pointed out that 11th ACR soldiers put their gas masks in storage when they arrived at Doha and the masks were not issued or worn at any point during the cleanup -- a directive, annotated in the unit's deployment orders, that he attributes to Army Central Command (ARCENT). He added that he and other members of the unit leadership were directly involved in leading recovery operations in the North Compound and would not have knowingly subjected themselves and their personnel to a clearly identified hazard.
Entry 32 of the SUPCOM log on July 11th states:
1450 hrs (2:50 PM) -- ARCENT G-3 called for Chemical Officer to do Downwind Predictions because of DU rounds. Message passed to Captain [redacted], FASCO [Forward Area Support Coordinating Office].
The unidentified chemical officer cited in the log is presumably the 11th ACR commander's staff nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) officer, who would have advised the commander of any NBC threats and recommended appropriate action. As it happened, the previous regimental NBC officer had departed on July 1, 1991, and this officer arrived at Doha on the morning of the fire. Nonetheless, two captains and three senior non-commissioned officers (sergeants) performed staff NBC functions at the time of the fire. Investigators contacted the senior NBC officer, but he did not recall receiving specific guidance or direction from higher headquarters (ARCENT or the 22nd Support Command) about the potential DU hazard. He emphasized that the 11th ACR's NBC personnel were trained, staffed, and equipped to deal with battlefield radiological hazards, rather than DU contamination, for which detection and remediation requirements are substantially different.
At 3:48 PM on the 11th, the SUPCOM log states:
Regiment reports they have no capability to do "Airborne" monitoring. Will check to see if they have AN/PDR-27s. SUPCOM LOC initiating actions to locate "Airborne" capability.
Airborne monitoring would have been invaluable in quantifying and documenting the presence or absence of alpha particles in the areas downwind of the burned tanks and DU ammunition. However, the 11th ACR's NBC personnel were not trained or equipped to monitor for airborne DU.
Although the regimental leadership was generally aware that DU could pose a radiological hazard, in the crucial days after the fire it lacked clear, authoritative guidance regarding the radiological characteristics of DU, its chemical toxicity, or methods by which these exposure hazards could be prevented or minimized.
The 22nd SUPCOM apparently was aware of the regulatory requirement to establish a radiation control perimeter in response to the hazard of oxidized DU. The SUPCOM log entry at 2:56 PM on July 11th states: "G-3 notified LTC [Redacted],[FASCO] to start an Alpha' Damage Assessment, and figure out total complacent [sic] area to be cordoned off." Because of the unexploded ordnance hazard, SUPCOM sealed off the North Compound for three days after the fire, with entry tightly controlled thereafter.[445,446,447] The SUPCOM log confirms this in a 10:00 PM entry on the 11th:
CPT [Redacted] reported no movement because of FASCAM for 72 hrs in area of vehicles per EOD guidance. This means no early recovery of damaged vehicles and no EOD activity for 72 hrs.
Access to the 2nd Squadron motor pool and wash rack (the area holding the contaminated tanks) was even more restricted than the access to the North Compound in general. No formal radiation control line was established, however, until after July 24th, when a radiation control team from the US Army's Directorate of Safety Risk Management, Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) arrived at Doha.
C. Initial DU Contamination Assessment and Control Efforts
The radiation control (RADCON) team came to Doha in accordance with the Army's Technical Bulletin 9-1300-278 and related directives, which required a RADCON response for accidents involving DU munitions and tanks with DU armor. Military authorities notified two agencies -- the US Army Armament Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM), based at Rock Island, Illinois, and the Army Communications-Electronics Command based at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, which began preparing RADCON teams for deployment to Doha. In the first week after the mishap, however, the 11th ACR had to rely primarily on its own resources to initiate cleanup and recovery operations.
Figure I-6. Aftermath of Doha motor pool fire
On July 12, the day after the fire, the 11th ACR leadership completed a preliminary damage assessment and began formulating plans and establishing priorities for the massive cleanup and recovery operation. The regimental commander had three units at his disposal for handling the specialized tasks the cleanup would require:
Since these units were the first to respond to the accident and continued to play a key role for the duration of the cleanup, a discussion of their roles and activities is helpful.
D. Role and Activities of the 146th Ordnance Detachment (EOD)
The 146th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) had two EOD technicians at Doha on the morning of the fire, and deployed most of its remaining members (approximately 10 to 12 personnel) from King Khalid Military City (KKMC) and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to Doha over the next two or three days. They focused on disarming and removing the huge quantities of unexploded ordnance scattered all about base.
Figure I-7. EOD personnel at Doha
After the fire, the North Compound was sealed off for three days because of the threat from delayed-action FASCAM (artillery-delivered) mines, which might have armed during the explosions and fire. For two days, the EOD team developed a plan of action in coordination with the engineers.
The 146th EOD soldiers were aware of the presence of DU and were familiar with the potential hazard it posed. More importantly, they were trained and equipped to detect DU contamination. Their initial survey, which was limited by the unexploded ordnance in the North Compound, found very little DU outside the immediate vicinity of the three destroyed tanks. EOD personnel normally wore flak jackets and kevlar helmets when they cleared unexploded ordnance; they also wore gloves when they moved debris. Because of the extreme summer heat, EOD personnel normally wore only T-shirts under the flak vests. No one provided them with protective suits, respirators, or dust masks to wear during clearing and cleaning operations.
Figure I-8. DU penetrators collected at Doha
The 11th ACR had loaded most of the DU rounds at Doha on to the tanks, all but three of which survived the fire intact. A fourth tank suffered minor external damage, but its load of ammunition and fuel remained intact. The regiment stored other DU rounds in conex containers in the immediate vicinity of the tanks. The conexes held each platoon's ammunition stocks -- 7.62mm, .50 cal., and heavier munitions, including DU.
Post-fire photos show many intact conexes among the burned-out wreckage. The 146th Ordnance Detachment commander stated that stored ammunition is more stable than generally believed, and survives fairly well except when directly exposed to fires, extreme heat, or explosions. Even in the conexes that blew up, typically only a few shells detonated, scattering the other rounds rather than touching off a massive "sympathetic" detonation. This explains the huge quantity of unexploded ordnance littering the motor pool area. Explosions flung large numbers of lightweight FASCAM mines into the South Compound, but the heavier rounds, such as TOW anti-tank missiles and evidently all the DU penetrators, remained in the North Compound.
Figure I-9. Surviving munitions conex
The cleanup plan for the North Compound involved the 146th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) personnel working together with the 58th Combat Engineer Company to find, mark, render safe, and remove unexploded ordnance. The former 146th Ordnance Detachment commander stated, "Engineers didn't pick up any DU unless an EOD guy told them to." EOD personnel spray-painted an orange circle around the DU penetrators they found and wore leather gloves to pick them up. The cleanup personnel wrapped exposed DU penetrators in heavy plastic and put them in wooden boxes or 55-gallon drums. Later, after the AMCCOM Radiation Control team arrived at Doha, EOD and engineer crews placed the DU inside one of the destroyed tanks being sent to the Defense Consolidation Facility in Snelling, South Carolina.[455,456]
Figure I-10. Marked DU penetrator and sabot
Despite the 146th Ordnance Detachment commander's statement, it appears that some engineer personnel, including their commander, picked up DU (generally while wearing leather gloves, but in some cases with bare hands) to allow the EOD personnel to concentrate on the unexploded ordnance.
Cleanup personnel picked up most, if not all, of the recovered DU penetrators in the North Compound within a 120-meter radius of the three destroyed tanks. The EOD veterans we interviewed believe those rounds came from the nearby conexes rather than the tanks, since the design of the M1A1s' blast panels confined most of the intact DU rounds inside.
Figure I-11. Unexploded ordnance in Doha's North Compound
The 146th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) personnel viewed the staggering quantities of unexploded ordnance as the gravest, most immediate threat. By its nature, explosive ordnance disposal is an extremely dangerous undertaking, and the sheer magnitude of the task facing the 146th at Doha cannot be overstated. These hazards were tragically underscored on July 23rd, 12 days after the initial explosion and fires. Two senior EOD non-commissioned officers and a 58th Combat Engineer Company soldier died instantly in an accidental unexploded ordnance explosion. The fatal mishap had a significant general impact on the remainder of the cleanup effort, and more particularly on the 146th.
Between the July 11th fire and the July 23rd mishap, 146th EOD personnel cleared most of the South Compound, the periphery of the North Compound, and about one-third of the 2nd Squadron motor pool. After July 23rd, the base leadership prohibited all personnel from entering the North Compound, except for a small area somewhat distant from the 2nd Squadron motor pool where personnel conducted supply operations and other activities. This area had survived the explosion and fires more or less unscathed, except for unexploded ordnance that was soon cleared.
E. 54th Chemical Troop's Role and Activities
In the immediate aftermath of the July 11th fires and explosions, the task of monitoring for radiological contamination fell to the 54th Chemical Troop, the 11th ACR's primary asset for responding to nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) hazards. On the morning after the explosion, the 54th Chemical Troop conducted initial monitoring for alpha, beta, and gamma radiation at the periphery of the North Compound using the XM93 Fox Nuclear, Biological Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle (called the Fox vehicle) and hand-held radiation detectors.[460,461]
Figure I-12. XM93 Fox vehicle
The Fox vehicle deployed with the 54th Chemical Troop is a sophisticated chemical warfare agent detector. Built in Germany and widely regarded as the most capable chemical detection vehicle then in service, it had a secondary capability to detect beta and gamma radiation, and a very limited capability to detect alpha radiation. The Fox had two onboard radiation detectors: the German-made ASG-1 and the US AN/VDR-2. The 54th Chemical Troop's reconnaissance platoon operated and maintained six Fox vehicles, with a seventh serving as a "floater" or spare. Each Fox had four crewmen.
Three Fox vehicles conducted the initial radiological monitoring effort on July 12th, the day after the fire. The 54th Troop commander and other unit personnel have stated that their monitoring equipment was fully operational and calibrated. The Foxes conducted radiation surveys around the North Compound's perimeter and inside the South Compound.[463,464] In a March, 1998 meeting with investigators, the 54th Chemical Troop commander acknowledged that while he and his troop were well-trained to detect battlefield radiation, they had little training or experience with DU and its alpha radiation. Nevertheless, his superiors directed him to use the Fox vehicles in this role, so he did (for lack of a better alternative). A week after the explosion (July 18th), troop personnel entered the motor pool area on foot, using hand-held VDR-2 monitors to check for beta and gamma radiation. These forays produced "negative" readings for radiation.
The former regimental NBC officer and several former 54th Chemical Troop members, including the platoon leader of the 54th Reconnaissance Platoon, which operated the Fox vehicles, have indicated that they doubted the utility of these initial surveys, since their equipment lacked the sensitivity to detect the low levels of radiation associated with DU contamination. In addition, the Foxes operated in the South Compound and around the periphery of the motor pool, where the likelihood of encountering detectable DU contamination was very low. The NBC officer voiced these concerns to the regimental commander, as did the first radiation control (RADCON) personnel on the scene. The regimental commander subsequently directed the Foxes to discontinue their monitoring efforts.
Because of the huge quantities of unexploded ordnance and parallel efforts by EOD and RADCON personnel, the 54th Chemical Troop and NBC regimental staff at Doha conducted limited operations inside the North Compound. While they did not play a major role in detecting or cleaning up DU alpha particle contamination, they helped pick up DU penetrators and fragments.
F. 58th Combat Engineer Company's Role and Activities
The 58th Combat Engineer Company (CEC), the 11th ACR's engineer unit, had the primary responsibility for the cleanup and recovery effort. Working closely with the 146th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) and later with a contract EOD team, the 58th CEC used its bulldozers and graders to clear heavy debris from the North Compound after EOD personnel had cleared away unexploded ordnance and exposed DU penetrators. In this capacity, the 58th CEC represented the largest contingent of personnel who operated in the North Compound during cleanup and recovery operations. Former 146th personnel have stated they gave 58th CEC personnel safety briefings before they entered the North Compound, warning them to alert EOD technicians when they found unexploded ordnance and DU. For obvious reasons, engineer personnel avoided unexploded ordnance; however, some have stated that they did not recall being briefed on DU and therefore picked up exposed DU penetrators, which they did not realize were hazardous material.
G. Impact of the Fatal July 23rd Unexploded Ordnance Mishap
After the July 23rd unexploded ordnance explosion, Army Central Command (the 11th ACR's in-theater higher headquarters) immediately halted cleanup activities in the North Compound while it reassessed the situation at Doha. From then on, the 146th was effectively sidelined, relegated to supporting the Armament Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM) and Communications Electronics Command (CECOM) personnel who had arrived on July 19th and July 24th, respectively, to decontaminate and remove contaminated M1A1 tanks.[470,471]
After the explosion Army Central Command decided to bring in the 512th EOD Control Team and a civilian EOD contract company staffed by ex-military EOD technicians to finish cleaning Doha's North Compound (the 146th Ordnance Detachment already had cleared the South Compound). This decision halted nearly all activity in the North Compound until mid-September, more than two months after the motor pool fire.[472,473]
H. AMCCOM Radiation Control Team Activities
While the 146th Ordnance Detachment, 54th Chemical Troop, and 58th Combat Engineer Company played key roles in the cleanup and recovery, the stringent demands of handling and disposing of DU-contaminated equipment required the commitment of additional resources. This came initially from two radiation control teams (AMCCOM and CECOM) deployed from appropriate agencies in the United States, and later from a civilian consulting company, Environmental Chemical Corporation, which conducted the final cleanup of unexploded ordnance and DU contamination at Doha.
The US Army Operations Support Command (called Armament Munitions and Chemical Command, or AMCCOM, during the Gulf War and Industrial Operations Command after the war) based at Rock Island, Illinois, maintains the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license authorizing DU ammunition storage at Army installations in the United States and US territories. Since the Doha explosion involved DU, the Army directed AMCCOM to assemble and deploy a team to assess the levels of DU contamination in and around the damaged and destroyed tanks.
Several hundred 120mm DU sabot rounds stored in the motor pool area had exploded, leaving behind the DU penetrators. Intact, each penetrator (27 inches long and 1.5 inches thick) weighed 10.7 pounds. The first AMCCOM representative to enter the North Compound on July 18th noted (erroneously) that the motor pool contained a total of about 900 DU rounds, of which all but 10 to 40 had been loaded in the tanks. He found five spent (but otherwise intact) DU rounds within 150 meters of the tanks. Due to the extraordinary quantity of unexploded ordnance, his preliminary assessment was limited, but his initial reaction was that the area was not nearly as badly contaminated as first believed. He apparently was unaware adjacent MILVANs and conexes had contained several hundred additional DU rounds.
The three-man AMCCOM radiation control team arrived at Camp Doha on July 19th. The team's mission was only to assess the state of the M1A1 tanks, and then decontaminate the damaged or destroyed tanks to allow their entry into the United States for further decontamination or preparation for disposal at the Barnwell, South Carolina, low-level radioactive waste disposal site. Although the team was equipped with various sophisticated radiological detection equipment, it essentially confined its activities to collecting DU penetrators found in and around the tanks, and preparing the tanks for shipment to the port of Dammam, where they would be readied for shipment to the US.
Figure I-13. AMCCOM RADCOM personnel at Doha
On arriving at Doha, the AMCCOM team visually inspected the motor pool, accompanied by members of the 54th Chemical Troop and some EOD personnel. The North Compound had been cordoned off since the July 23rd explosion, with entry strictly controlled and limited almost exclusively to 58th Combat Engineers and 146th Ordnance Detachment personnel involved in unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearing operations. Later, after lanes had been cleared through areas of UXO concentrations, small groups of drivers were brought in to move operational equipment (Bradleys, trucks, etc.) out of the motor pool area to a new site some distance away.
The AMCCOM team found that almost all the DU rounds in each tank's basic load had remained trapped inside the hull. Most penetrators found in the tanks were scorched, but intact. Others had melted, fragmented, or oxidized to varying degrees in the intense heat. A Battle Damage Assessment Team from the US Army Ballistic Research Laboratory, which examined the four destroyed or damaged M1A1s, corroborated these observations. In an August 5, 1991, memorandum the team stated:
All four of the M1A1s were damaged/destroyed as a result of fires external to the vehicle. There were no penetrations anywhere of the exterior armor [emphasis added]. Three of the four M1A1s had their fuel and ammunition destroyed. In these three cases, there was an explosion in the ammunition compartment. The ammunition doors and blowout panels functioned properly, keeping the explosion from entering the crew compartment. The fourth M1A1 was damaged on the right suspension only, and except for the gunner's computer and transmission warning lights, was completely operational.
This memo indicates that concerns about the M1A1's DU Heavy Armor panels burning and adding to the DU contamination were unfounded. For oxidization to occur, the DU armor panels, sealed between (and shielded by) regular rolled homogenous steel armor, would have required exposure to air as well as to intense, sustained heat. Since the tanks' structural integrity remained intact, the possibility of contamination from burning DU armor was negligible.
Figure I-14. Burned-out Doha M1A1
A small number of DU rounds were ejected through the burned tanks' blast panel (designed to allow the release of extreme overpressures created during an ammo-compartment explosion). The anecdotal evidence we collected, however, suggests fires and explosions ejected very few rounds in this manner.[483,484]
After the AMCCOM team head ascertained that the 54th Chemical Troop members were familiar with operating the hand-held PDR-77s (alpha detectors) the team employed, he led them on a limited survey of the motor pool and its periphery. Again, the danger from unexploded ordnance prevented a more comprehensive effort. The AMCCOM members also inspected the burned-out tanks. After a team member nearly stepped on a live artillery bomblet, EOD and 58th Combat Engineer soldiers cleared a lane to facilitate access to the tanks.
Although the AMCCOM mission was limited in scope, it seems to have elevated the DU issue to new prominence. Before the AMCCOM team's arrival, engineering personnel deposited any DU penetrators they picked up in an on-base trash pile. The AMCCOM team halted this practice, segregating and retrieving the DU penetrators for proper disposal. The team collected enough DU penetrators to fill at least two 55-gallon drums. Eventually, the team dumped these penetrators inside one of the burned-out M1A1 tanks designated for shipment to the Defense Consolidation Facility at Snelling, South Carolina.
Communication and coordination between the 11th ACR leadership, and the two AMCCOM and Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) radiation control teams was limited. The regimental engineer officer recalls that he knew nothing about the arrival of the AMCCOM personnel until they showed up at Doha. He also said the 11th ACR commander asked the first radiation control personnel on the scene if a radiological hazard existed at Doha. The answer was no. This exchange, of course, did not address the issue of DU's chemical toxicity.
I. CECOM Team Augments Radiation Control Efforts
On July 24th, the day after the fatal unexploded ordnance explosion, a team arrived at Doha from the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) based at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. The Project Director for the US Army Radiological Control Team (from Headquarters, Department of Army Operations) headed the CECOM team. Using Eberline Field Instruments for the Detection of Low Energy Radiation (FIDLER) and SPA-3 gamma detectors, the team conducted what one member called a "site characterization survey." These surveys located a sizable number of DU fragments and areas of DU contamination, but were hampered by the general "background" gamma radiation fields from the DU in the tanks and ammunition connexes. This was not a grid-by-grid survey, but rather a more general sampling, mostly in and around the motor pool. The CECOM team surveyed the areas EOD personnel had cleared (an estimated two or three acres of the motor pool, or about the size of several football fields).
The CECOM team emptied three 55-gallon drums filled with DU penetrators and a separate pile of penetrators into the three contaminated tanks that were to be shipped back to the US. The team also surveyed the dump located near the camp and found one DU penetrator (see Figure I-15), which the team removed and shipped away for disposal.
Figure I-15. DU penetrator found in doha dump
The Doha fire also affected M8A1 Chemical Agent Alarm Systems containing Americium-241. From the area they cleared EOD personnel recovered one M8A1, whose radioactive source cell was undamaged and another M8A1 from one of the M1A1 tanks removed from the area near the wash rack. A fragment from the explosion penetrated the radioactive source cell, which burned in the fire. The CECOM team detected no alpha radiation contamination and placed this M8A1 in one of the contaminated M1A1 tanks shipped to the US for disposal.
A July 31, 1991 CECOM report submitted to the commander of Task Force Victory, Forward, which oversaw the overall Doha recovery effort, reported that there was no radiation hazard to personnel outside the North Compound. The report noted that five M8A1s and an unknown number of DU penetrators in solid, melted, or burned states remained unaccounted for inside the North Compound, and recommended warning all persons entering that area of the potential hazard. After arranging to ship the contaminated tanks to the port of Dammam for shipment on August 6, 1991, back to the US the CECOM team departed Doha in early August.[490,491]
As specialized teams cleared sections of the 2nd Squadron's concrete pad of unexploded ordnance and DU, the 11th ACR leadership brought in regular support and combat soldiers to do a final cleanup using brooms and other hand tools. Although radiation control personnel had cleaned up the area with the heaviest concentrations of depleted uranium contamination -- the three burned M1A1s on the wash rack -- DU oxides or residues could have remained in the surrounding areas. The fire and explosions also scattered, partially burned, or oxidized several hundred spent DU penetrators in and around the MILVAN containers holding each platoon's reserve ammunition. The regular support and combat personnel doing the final cleanup and other soldiers in the vicinity could have inhaled or ingested any remaining DU particles their brooms stirred up.
J. Further Radiation Control and Cleanup Activity
After the removal of the contaminated M1A1 tanks and the AMCCOM and CECOM teams' departure on August 2nd, a hiatus of several weeks ensued in radiation control and cleanup activities. The only activity occurring in the North Compound during this time was several hundred meters away from the 2nd Squadron motor pool area, in the supply area which had been cleared earlier of unexploded ordnance thrown into the area by the July 11th explosions. The 11th ACR did not store any ammunition in this area, and cleanup teams found no DU in or near it.
Figure I-16. Removing burned M1A1
After having been virtually sidelined since July 23rd, the 146th Ordnance Detachment rotated out of the theater in September 1991. The Pentagon contracted a civilian firm, Environmental Chemical Corporation (ECC), to finish all clean up and recovery in the North Compound. Two Army Reserve EOD officers managed the contract, while a highly trained, experienced Army sergeant first class provided on-scene oversight, support, and safety monitoring to approximately 14 ECC EOD technicians. In this capacity, the sergeant conducted most of the actual radiological surveys carried out in this second and final phase of the Doha cleanup.
The ECC team surveyed the North Compound with its own radiation detection and measurement equipment. On entering the 2nd Squadron motor pool, they found large quantities of DU scattered around the MILVAN ammo storage containers that had detonated in the fire. Many of these DU penetrators were intact, but others had fragmented or burned down to varying degrees, with some almost completely reduced to ashes. Individual rounds exploding among the stacked ammunition ejected some rounds and penetrators into the open. Other rounds, burned or unexploded, remained within the shells of the conexes. Using an AN/PDR-56 radiation detector fitted with a small alpha probe, the EOD sergeant measured the DU cores, and after they were removed, monitored the surface beneath them. Most DU penetrators inside and outside of the conexes gave off very low radiation readings. The ECC team then double-wrapped the DU penetrators in plastic, bubble-wrapped them, and put them in 55-gallon drums. Personnel packing the drums with DU penetrators wore surgeon's caps, safety glasses, half-face protective masks, coveralls, butyl rubber aprons, rubber surgeon's gloves with cotton inserts, and rubber "booties" over their normal work boots. The team filled eight drums with about 250 DU penetrators.
Figure I-17. Doha motor pool pad after cleanup
The sergeant took readings inside the MILVAN containers, where levels of radiation were somewhat higher. He typically detected 9,000 disintegrations per minute (dpm, or the number of radioactive particles decaying per minute), corresponding to 0.004 microcurie, on the penetrators' surface. The levels on the surface of the ground directly beneath a penetrator typically were half the levels on the surface of a penetrator, or 4,500 to 4,600 dpm. At the 10,000-dpm level (0.0045 microcurie), Army guidance requires personnel to wear an M17A1 protective mask (gas mask) or equivalent respiratory protection. Given the reading of approximately 9,000 dpm, ECC elected to don white surgeon's masks in addition to their other protective gear while working on the motor pool pad. ECC personnel brushed down the MILVAN containers until the radiation levels had reached normal background levels.
The sergeant also took readings on the decontaminated surfaces formerly occupied by the four burned-out (and DU-contaminated) M1A1 tanks. Since the RADCON teams had already cleaned those areas, no radiation was found.
K. The Final Cleanup
When the ECC team started work in mid-September 1991, approximately two-thirds of the North Compound remained uncleared, and due to the unexploded ordnance threat, no one was permitted into those uncleared areas. It took the ECC team two months to clean up these areas. Once the team rendered explosive munitions safe for transport, they moved them to the EOD demolition area approximately 750 meters east of the compound for destruction. All submunitions considered unsafe to transport were destroyed in-place. After the ECC team had cleared the concrete pads of unexploded ordnance and DU penetrators, heavy equipment scraped up remaining debris and transported it to the EOD demolition area. As a precaution, the team poured diesel fuel over the scrap metal and ignited it to detonate or destroy any small-arms rounds or submunitions that might have been missed, a process repeated twice.
When the entire North Compound and the sandy strip between the North and South Compounds had been cleared, ECC hired local civilians to perform the final sweeping of the motor pool pads. ECC provided the workers with dust masks, gloves, cotton overalls, and other personal protective equipment (PPE); the levels of detected radioactivity were less than the Army's criteria for donning M17 or similar gas-mask type respirators. Eleven water tankers were brought in to hose the area down after the motor pool had been swept completely clean. The Army EOD Control Team then performed a radiological survey to ensure no residual contamination remained. When none was detected, the contractor was certified as having fulfilled all contractual obligations to clean up the North Compound and its periphery.
L. Working Conditions During the Doha Clean up and Recovery Operations
No discussion of the Doha cleanup would be complete without describing the extremely severe working conditions. Summer temperatures typically reached 115 degrees by mid-afternoon. Smoke from oil fires billowed constantly, coating the western surfaces of poles, walls, and parked vehicles with a black film, forcing soldiers to don handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses. Life-support facilities, marginal before the fire, were practically wiped out. Since water was severely short, soldiers often wore the same uniforms for days on end. Biting sand flies and other parasites and pests were common. During the initial clean up, soldiers typically labored in these conditions 12 or more hours a day, often 7 days a week.
Army Technical Bulletin (TB) 9-1300-278, "Guidelines For Safe Response To Handling, Storage, And Transportation Accidents Involving Army Tank Munitions Or Armor Which Contain Depleted Uranium" (dated September 1990) states:
Anyone passing over (the radiation control line) to the fire area is to wear appropriate protective equipment that may include: protective coveralls, gloves, rubberized boots, head covering, and respiratory protection. EOD personnel are to wear the M25 or M17A2 protective mask with the M13A2 filter element and the accompanying head covers (i.e., MOPP Level 4). Personnel assisting in the radiation survey and decontamination operations should wear full-face respirators with high-efficiency dust filters. Tape is to be used to seal the clothing where there are any openings to the body.
These recommendations were impractical at best, and dangerous at worst, under field conditions. The searing temperatures coupled with physically exhausting duties would have created mass heat casualties among personnel in full MOPP in very short order. As it was, EOD personnel working around unexploded ordnance were required to wear flak vests and helmets at all times. Most personnel wore gloves because they picked up sun-scorched metal fragments and sharp-edged debris. Even the AMCCOM Radiation Control (RADCON) team thought cotton overalls, work gloves, and dust masks offered sufficient protection for their activities. Under the conditions described, this level of PPE would have provided adequate protection, especially from inhalation and ingestion and protection for wounds, while allowing important cleanup operations to continue with maximum efficiency.
M. Comments on the Radiation Control Efforts
For this report we contacted seven of the eight AMCCOM and CECOM team members -- including the heads of both teams -- directly involved in the Camp Doha radiological efforts. The consensus among the team members was "we did what we were sent over to do," and the DU hazard was negligible outside the immediate vicinity of the tanks. Key ECC team members and the Army representatives who assisted and oversaw their efforts have expressed similar beliefs and think they left behind an uncontaminated site when their efforts were completed.
It is noteworthy that all the AMCCOM, CECOM, ECC, and EOD personnel with the highest risk of exposure to any DU contamination in the North Compound continue to report good health. It also should be noted that these individuals (except for EOD members) generally took appropriate precautions and often (but not always) wore half-face respirators, gloves, and similar protective equipment.
A review of the radiation control response raises these concerns:
Coordination and support from ARCENT, AMCCOM, CECOM, and contract personnel
As log entries and other evidence indicates, ARCENT was aware of the potential hazards alpha radiation posed. This information, however, apparently did not reach the 11th ACR's key leaders and decision-makers. The 11th ACR Engineer was unaware the AMCCOM team was en-route until the team "showed up" at Camp Doha. Little formal coordination and contact occurred between RADCON personnel and the 11th ACR leadership, who, had they been better informed, could have issued more appropriate environmental and safety guidance to the soldiers. Relations between the heads of the AMCCOM and CECOM teams appeared strained, and cooperation between the two teams was limited. The 11th ACR commanders and decision-makers believed they were largely disconnected from the radiation-control information loop, since ARCENT was, in effect, "running the show" after the motor pool fire. The reasons for these disconnects remain undetermined, but the net result is that 11th ACR soldiers were needlessly subjected to potential DU exposures.
Promptness of the response
The AMCCOM team arrived a week after the explosion; the CECOM team, almost two weeks later. During the crucial first few days after the explosion, the unit leadership and personnel lacked clear, authoritative guidance about DU's potential hazard and, therefore, how to handle DU. This led to unsound practices, such as soldiers picking up spent DU penetrators with their bare hands and dumping DU penetrators in an open, on-base, trash pile.
Limited early scope of the effort
Radiation control efforts focused almost exclusively on the M1A1s until the CECOM team arrived on July 24th. Contamination from the DU rounds in each tank's magazine had largely been confined to the vehicles' interiors. However, DU rounds stored elsewhere also were exposed to the fire. In the intense heat, some penetrators stored outside the tanks may have burned. There was no concerted effort to assess possible DU contamination from rounds stored outside the tanks until the ECC team arrived in mid-September.
Lack of documentation and reporting
Paragraph 1-3c of TB 9-1300-278, the existing guidelines for responding to accidents involving DU, states: "Interim or final written reports will be transmitted through the local Radiation Protection Officer (RPO) to the license RPO within 30 days of the accident or incident. If an interim report is submitted, a final report will be submitted as expeditiously as possible." The CECOM team chief said he submitted daily reports to AMCCOM (now the US Army Operations Support Command), but says a final report was never submitted. AMCCOM personnel submitted frequent memos and very brief descriptions of their efforts, but no detailed accounts, complete with daily measurements and written reports, were generated. In the absence of such documentation and other supporting material (daily logs and records, etc.), attempts to quantify possible radiological exposures will remain inexact.
The central question remains: How much DU actually released into the environment? A precise estimate is impossible, but some key variables have been established. The ammunition stored at Camp Doha constituted the 11th ACR's "basic load," or combat requirements. A relatively small number of DU rounds (660) were destroyed or damaged. Of these, about 111 would have been loaded in the three burned-out tanks. Many of the 660 lost rounds survived the fire without exploding or burning (Figure I-18) but had to be removed from the inventory since they had been in a fire.
Figure I-18. Unexploded DU rounds
Most of the exposed penetrators recovered at Doha were found intact or nearly intact. RADCON teams' surveys found no DU contamination outside the North Compound. The heaviest DU contamination was found inside the burned tanks. Localized contamination was also found around three tanks and several burned conexes. RADCON reports and accounts indicated that the levels of radiation here were below even the regulatory guidelines for donning respiratory protection. While several hundred soldiers could have contacted DU rods, fragments, and residual particles while cleaning the 2nd Squadron motor pool, the available evidence suggests these exposures were well below the threshold levels at which health effects might occur.
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