24 August 2001
Iraqi nerve gas found in sheep dip

By Donald MacPhail

A DEADLY nerve gas ingredient used by Saddam Hussein was found in sheep dip, reveal government documents obtained by FARMERS WEEKLY.

Campaigners say the revelation strengthens the case of hundreds of farmers who claim to have been poisoned by the chemicals.

The documents show that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate expressed concern about high levels of tetraethylpyrophosphate (TEPP) in 1991.

The directorate, which authorises animal medicines, raised concerns about the impure active ingredients in a letter to sheep-dip manufacturers.

It was written during a review to examine the safety of human and animal medicines. Some active ingredients in dip contained up to 10% impurities.

The letter says: “Unless much purer active ingredients are used, toxological profiles of the impurities and related substances will be required.”

It adds: “Levels of neurotoxic impurities such as TEPP should be tightened.”

TEPP was the first organophosphate insecticide to be developed. It was withdrawn from sale as a dip in the UK because it was toxic and unstable.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is known to have used TEPP as an ingredient to manufacture nerve gas for use in chemical warfare.

Campaigners claim the letter proves that government agencies had doubts about sheep dip impurities but continued to license the products to farmers.

Elisabeth Charles, a partner in solicitors Gabb & Co, said manufacturers and the directorate knew toxicity levels in sheep dip had been inadequately controlled.

“If farmers have been injured by impurities then the government seems as culpable as the manufacturers,” she said.

“Clearly the [directorate] had doubts about highly toxic impurities but were happy to license products for farmers. We all need an explanation for this.”

Andrew Watterson, of the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at Stirling University, said farmers who used impure dip were at risk.

This could shed light on the question of why some people seemed so much more badly affected by organophosphates than others, he added.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs admitted that the products had been used before the review.

But there was no evidence that they had damaged human health, he added.

The spokesman said: “We were gathering evidence to make sure they were safe before they could be given marketing authorisation.”

As well as being found in impurities, TEPP can also be created when organophosphate dips degrade, said Prof Watterson.

He called for more transparency from DEFRA on quality control monitoring and details of levels of contamination when dip breaks down.

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