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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 1316

(Question No. 1527)

Mr Simmons asked the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, upon notice, on 31 May 1984:

(1) Can the Minister indicate how many Army personnel were involved in mustard gas experimentation at Proserpine, Qld during World War II.

(2) Has there been any evidence to suggest subsequent medical problems arising from such experimentation; if so, what are the details.

Mr Holding —The Minister for Veterans' Affairs, in consultation with the Minister for Defence in relation to part (1), has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1) Reports of chemical warfare tests and experiments carried out in the period 1943-1945, under the direction of the Commanding Officer of the Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section, show that a total of 387 volunteers were exposed to gas or liquid contaminants; 341 of the volunteers were members of the Army and the remainder, 46, were RAAF personnel.

The personnel data were compiled from individual trial reports. In some reports , surnames only were recorded. As a result, in some instances, it has not been possible to establish whether several persons of the same name were involved once each or whether a lesser number participated on more than one occasion. For this reason, the accuracy of the total cannot be guaranteed.

A number of these volunteers used ointments or wore impregnated clothing intended to protect against the effects of gas and liquid contaminants.

Other volunteers were not exposed to hazardous chemicals, but were used as controls or in tests of respirator endurance.

(2) The Department of Veteran's Affairs has been able to identify 137 claims for Repatriation disability pension which have been lodged on the basis of involvement in gas experiments on service.

Of this number, 24 claims were accepted by determining authorities as related to mustard gas exposure. Of these, 10 claims were accepted in which veterans' incapacities correlated with known effects of mustard gas exposure:

Burns to scrotum 2 Bronchial asthma with chronic obstructive airways disease 2 Chronic bronchitis 3 Bronchitis, carcinoma of larynx, death 1 Carcinoma of lung 2

In 14 cases the determining authorities appear to have accepted claims on the basis that, while the relationship between the incapacity and exposure to contaminants was not apparent, the beneficial standard of proof provisions of the Repatriation Act required that the claims be accepted.