Soldiers ill from toxic paint on US fighter jets, tanks: report

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The Ministry of Defense has known for 15 years that their staff at border region posts have been exposed to the carcinogenic compound chromium 6 at military bases. Readings between 1999 and 2002, obtained by De Volkskrant, report that there was more of the toxic substance on the military bases that had American fighter jets and tanks, and around 100 seriously ill ex-employees have gone to personal injury lawyers demanding claims be paid, De Volkskrant reports.

These ex-employees suffer from cancer and auto-immune diseases. The bases where they used to work had up to eight times more chromium 6 or hexavalent chromium than was the norm at the time. Chronic inhalation of this substance increases the risk of cancer, usually in the lungs which are the most vulnerable. After the lungs, capillaries in kidneys and intestines are can also become cancerous.

The Ministry of Defense is currently investigating the readings recorded, at the request of the army, and will make a statement once this is complete. In June, however, minister Hennis of Defense said that she had "no indications" that the staff was "structurally exposed to excessive concentrations of dangerous substances."

Ex-employees blame Defense for hushing up the case. "If this was about a company, then a criminal investigation would have started a long time ago already", says personal injury lawyer Rob Bedaux. "But with the health of their own employees, the government isn't doing everything they can."

An investigative repot from 1999 shows that airplanes and tanks from the American army had paint on them containing the highly poisonous chromium 6. This machinery was placed at so-called Poms-sites in Brunssum, Vriezenveen and other places, under instruction from NATO up to 2006. Readings showed eight times the level considered the norm at the time.

"The discovered levels are ridiculously high", says toxicologist Martin van den Berg of the University of Utrecht. "Chromium 6 is a carcinogenic because it causes changes in the DNA." Van den Berg says this substance is more dangerous than asbestos.

Since 1999, Defense knew about this, De Volkskrant writes. Instructions were given by the inspectors to prevent contact with the skin, to perform scrubbing and polishing in open air, and that an extra employee should vacuum any particles released with a special vacuum cleaner.

Ex-employees say that these measures were never adopted, however. The recordings were also never shared with them. Heinz Pol of Defense denies this. "The entire personnel in Vriezenveen was informed in the canteen", he says.