The small room at the Kihei community center comfortably held the 12-person audience. They came on June 13 to see the Maui premier of Ten Fingers Ten Toes, a play written and produced by Registered Nurse Linda Fey Kroll about the toxic effects of depleted uranium (DU).
DU is a radioactive byproduct of uranium enrichment. It ignites easily—for that reason, the U.S. military has used it extensively in weaponry throughout Iraq and other war zones.
In 2006, spent DU ordinance were found at Schofield Barracks, leading to a controversy that shows no signs of dying down. Before the discovery of these munitions, the military maintained that it had never fired weapons with DU within the state of Hawai‘i.
Activists and concerned parties question the public health risks involved in the unregulated firing of these weapons.
In its solid state, DU is relatively harmless, the real problem occurs when it burns. DU ignites in temperatures as low as 600 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a fine dust the wind can carry for miles. The dust can then lodge itself in a person’s lungs and is suspected of causing serious health issues including birth defects, diabetes and cancer.
Kroll is the sole actress in the play, and she’s on stage about 30 minutes. “I made it short because I wanted to get straight to the conversation,” she said later. In the show, Kroll plays four different women affected by a family member who becomes ill after returning from Iraq.
The set was modest, consisting of a few colorful curtains and a chair. But Kroll’s performance was nothing but. Her passion was apparent as she delivered each line. Many of her words were tinged with a hint of anguish over what she later said was her frustration at the lack of action on the issue.
“What sane government would do this to its children?” she asked in the play. “Who is the monster now?” As she spoke she peered out from under a gray wig to the audience, holding a doll with no arms to illustrate a common birth defect.
Kroll ended the play with tears in her eyes. Her voice wavered as she gripped the chair in front of her with white knuckles.
“Every child has a God-given right to be born with 10 fingers and 10 toes,” she said. “We have to do something about this.”
After a hearty round of applause, Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang took the stage. While he is a State Department of Health official, he stressed that he was speaking as a private citizen. There have been unconfirmed reports that his employment has been threatened as a result of him speaking out on the health effects of DU exposure.
Pang discussed the fate of state House Bill 1452, which was to require testing of the soil around all military bases in Hawai‘i. It stalled in the Senate Ways and Means committee in April, which means the bill will not be heard again until next year. And he talked about where responsibility for DU contamination ultimately lies.
“The [United States] military is the biggest unregulated dirty industry polluting our planet today,” he said.
Maui Peace Action and Maui Artists for Peace sponsored the event. For more information check out www.mauipeace.org. MTW