Dutch commandos demand medical investigation into toxic gasses at gun range

Dutch soldier in a training exercise (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Gertrud Zach). (Dutch soldier in a training exercise (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Gertrud Zach))

Soldiers from the Dutch Commandos are demanding a medical investigation into the effects too high concentrations of toxic gasses at shooting range Markiezaat in Bergen op Zoom had on their health. They're also holding Defense responsible for any permanent health damage they suffered by using the shooting range, AD reports.

Over the weekend it was revealed that Defense received urgent advice to stop using the Markiezaat shooting range in July 2015, according to the newspaper. An internal report sent to the army leaders early in 2016 said that those who use the shooting range breathe in too high concentrations of toxic fumes. This is because the extraction system at the range is too weak for the intensive shooting exercise Defense was using it for. 

In February of this year, the army leaders were again advised to stop using Markiezaat. But shooting practices were only halted at the range on September 19th. 

A commando soldier told AD that shooting at Markiezaat leaves you feeling like you smoked a few packs of cigarettes. "After shooting, black stuff will come out of your nose for a day or two", the soldier said. 

Army General Leo Beulen told the newspaper that this was a communication error that should not have happened. But according to him, there was no question of an unsafe situation between February and September. Measures were taken at the range early in 2016, he said. The intensity of shooting exercises was reduced, instructors were exchanged more often, there were longer breaks between the exercises, and the air extraction was improved, he said.

After these measures were taken, Markiezaat was inspected and found to be in order, Beulen said. He added that no more commandos reported health complaints after the measures.

Beulen's reaction only created more bad blood among the soldiers, who worry about their health, AD reports after speaking to a number of commandos - anonymously for safety reasons, according to the newspaper. The soldiers said they "know for sure" that shooting exercises with high intensity were still done at Markiezaat until the ban on September 19th. And other measures were not communicated to the people who had to train there, they said. "Fucking hel... Why is the truth not told? I never heard anything about changes and adjustments", one said.

Current and former commandos are also worried about the period before July 2015, when the too high concentration of toxic gasses was first reported to Defense. There are soldiers who've shot at that range for 10 years before that. "I can tell you that we had blood tests done in 2008 and then we had at least 4x the legal allowance of lead in our blood", one said to the newspaper.

Fourteen commando soldiers now went to lawyers Michael Ruperti and Vincent Dolderman. They want a major health investigation into the effects of their exposure to toxic gasses at the shooting range. They also want to hold Defense responsible for any negative effects to their health.

"A number of guys are properly tired of the safety incidents. We saw what happened in fatal accidents in Mali and Ossendrecht. There were problems for a long time. Also on this shooting range it was known for a long time what the problems were, but the commandos indicate that they just kept practicing", Dolderman said to the newspaper. 

Ruperti finds it incomprehensible that the army leaders keep pretending that nothing is wrong. "The commandos are very angry because according to them nothing was communicated bout the worrisome situation at the shooting range. Then you have to take these people seriously and not fall back into word games."