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Scandal of Gulf pesticide blunders exposed

British soldiers sprayed pesticides throughout the Gulf War without being issued with proper protective clothing, documents in the hands of this newspaper reveal.

Senior officers were repeatedly warned about the danger to the soldiers' safety, but the clothing was never provided. And soldiers were forbidden to wear their special nuclear, biological and chemical warfare (NBC) protective suits instead in case the equipment was damaged.

The documents, some marked "restricted", reveal a catalogue of bad practice and neglect which will severely embarrass ministers, who last week admitted for the first time that pesticide poisoning may have caused Gulf War Syndrome. David Clark, the shadow defence secretary, is to send them to Michael Portillo, the Defence Secretary, and demand an explanation.

About 750 of the 50,000 British troops who served in the war have become ill, complaining of listlessness, depression, nausea, and pain - which some have blamed on organophosphate (OP) pesticides. But the Government has refused to recognise Gulf War Syndrome.

The Government also told the House of Commons Defence Committee that only one OP pesticide, malation, was used in the war - on Iraqi prisoners only. But on Friday Mr Soames admitted that three other OPs were used. The pesticides, often bought locally, were sprayed on tents, rubbish dumps and possibly clothing to kill insects.

The documents were written by Sgt Anthony Worthington, the Environmental Health Adviser to 4 Armoured Brigade. In one he writes: "Throughout the campaign all insecticidal applications for disinfestation either by wettable sprays or fog/mist were applied unprotected."

He adds: "This safety issue was raised on numerous occasions by myself" - at meetings attended by senior officers - "but this shortfall of equipment was not resolved". In another he says: "At no time was personal protective equipment issued to personnel applying insecticides. Furthermore the NBC cell ordered that on no account were NBC suits ... to be utilised for insecticidal spraying since this would undoubtedly lead to degradation of this equipment."

Sgt Worthington also describes OP insecticide containers leaking and soldiers complaining of "headache nausea, tightness of the chest walls, general fatigue". He developed similar symptoms after returning to Britain after the war.

Alerted to the documents yesterday, Labour's Dr Clark said: "I am appalled that the Government would put our fighting men in such danger. Mr Soames must have known that organophosphates were being used in this way, or if not, he should have known." The Defence Ministry declined to comment.

Then and Now, page 20