HC Deb 30 June 1997 vol 297 c60W
Mr. Rapson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the disposal of army surplus tents and other equipment sprayed with organophosphates during the Gulf war, indicating whether any equipment was passed on the Scouts movement. [5665]

Dr. Reid

As my noble Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has said in another place, what is now known about the use of organophosphate (OP) pesticides during the Gulf War was described in the organophosphate pesticides investigation team report which was published last December. Some of the tents used by British troops were sprayed whilst in theatre with organophosphate-based residual insecticide, which was applied to the outside surfaces. The investigation found no evidence that any clothing, bedding or personal kit was treated with organophosphate-based products, although there exists the possibility that some clothing was contaminated whilst being worn by those using such products for other purposes.

Many of the tents used by British troops during the Gulf war were subsequently burned or buried in theatre because it was generally thought not to be cost-effective to ship such material back to the UK or Germany. It is not now possible to identify those tents which were brought back from the Gulf; some of them are likely to have been retained by units or at depots, while some others will probably have since been sold as surplus stock.

The amount of OP pesticide remaining on a treated surface reduces over time, which is why regular re-application is normally necessary to maintain its effectiveness. Beyond this initial period of effectiveness, those traces of OP pesticide that remain break down naturally through exposure to air and water and normally disappear completely over a period of years. The break down process may be delayed if the compounds are used on material that has been treated with a wax finish, as was the case for tents which were used in the Gulf. However, any traces of OP pesticide that remain on a surface after the initial period of effectiveness would be in small and ever decreasing quantities, which would be unlikely to cause a risk to human health.

Nevertheless, the specific tents which were reported as being a source of illness have been identified by the Scout Association and, at their request, my Department has made arrangements for appropriate tests to be carried out by the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. The results of these tests will be made public as soon as possible.

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