Gulf troops denied safe pesticides

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The Independent Online
British soldiers were doused in highly toxic organo-phosphate pesticides during the Gulf War, even though there was a factory making safer pesticides just half a mile from the Saudi Arabian hotel where Operation Desert Storm was planned.

The factory was set up by British scientists 15 years before hostilities began, but instead of using chemicals from the factory, army chiefs sent troops to local markets to buy cheap organo-phosphate pesticides (OPs) without adequate instructions for usage.

On Tuesday, Nicholas Soames, the defence minister, announced a pounds 1.3m inquiry into illnesses suffered by Gulf War soldiers and admitted that OP use in the Gulf was much more widespread than Parliament had previously been told.

On the following day, the Defence Select Committee heard that 54 veterans were already being examined for suspected OP poisoning. Another 200 have illnesses which doctors cannot explain.

The Independent has established that the British pesticides factory was set up in Riyadh in 1976 by Wellcome.Known as the Saudi Chemical Insecticide and Disinfectant Co (Scidco), it was a joint venture with local investors.

It had the capacity to have protected the British Army and its products were labelled in English, French and Arabic with clear instructions for use. British troops who became soaked in OPs said the products they used were only labelled in Arabic and they could not understand the mixing instructions.

Scidco manufactures a range of pyrethroid products approved by the Government. Although they are also subject to misuse they are less easily absorbed through the skin and are more easily detoxified.

Bob Hill, a former company executive, said: "If the British went out and bought OPs from a local market and sprayed them on the troops somebody somewhere is responsible ... We were making pesticide products which were specifically designed for use in proximity to people and were non-toxic to people."

The MoD said the team investigating pesticide use in the Gulf was not aware of Scidco.