Advertisement

UK soldiers 'exposed' to toxic chemical in Iraq must get answers, Labour says

British soldiers "exposed" to a toxic chemical during the Iraq war must get answers, Labour has said.

A Sky News investigation revealed health problems including cancer among RAF troops who guarded the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant that was contaminated with sodium dichromate, a deadly toxin.

Many of them have spoken out and say they feel "betrayed" by the UK government.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) says it is willing to meet the veterans, many of whom have called for a public inquiry into who knew what, and when.

Reacting to the story, Labour's shadow defence secretary John Healey called on the MoD to make good on its offer.

He said: "Labour is proud of our armed forces personnel, veterans, and their families. Theirs is the ultimate public service - and their professionalism is rightly respected across the world.

"I am pleased the MoD has said it's willing to meet with these veterans, and ministers must now make this happen. The MoD should work in good faith to ensure these veterans get answers to their important questions."

Labour says it would like to meet the Qarmat Ali veterans to better understand their situation.

An orange powder used to prevent corrosion in pipes, sodium dichromate is a type of hexavalent chromium and a known carcinogen.

Around 100 British troops may have been exposed to the chemical at Qarmat Ali. Of the 10 veterans who have spoken to Sky News, three say they have been treated for cancer, another for a brain tumour and others for nosebleeds and rashes.

Tory MP Jeremy Quin, the chair of the influential Defence Select Committee, also reacted to the Sky News exclusive.

He said: "The stories of these veterans make for very difficult reading.

"These service personnel deserve answers and the offer of a meeting is an important first step in the right direction."

Read more:
Armed forces minister to stand down at general election
Shapps calls for defence spending to rise

It comes after Lord Dannatt, former chief of the general staff, called for a "proper investigation" into what happened.

He told Sky News: "And if the health of some of these service people has been affected, then I guess there probably is a case for at least medical support, if not compensation."

An MoD spokesperson said: "We value the service of our personnel and all operations have health and safety policies in place to mitigate against risk.

"As soon as we were alerted to the possible exposure of Sodium Dichromate, an environmental survey was conducted to evaluate typical exposure at Qarmat Ali. Results showed that the levels at the time were significantly below UK government guidance levels.

"Anyone who requires medical treatment can receive it through the Defence Medical Services and other appropriate services.

"Veterans who believe they have suffered ill health due to service can apply for no-fault compensation under the War Pensions Scheme."