AN Iraq War veteran from Skegby has spoken of his fear he may develop cancer as a result of the deadly chemicals he was exposed to while serving in Basra.
Cpl Jon Caunt (35) undertook five tours of Iraq between 2003 and 2007 when he and other members of the RAF Regiment were exposed to a distinctive orange powder at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant.
British troops, who were working alongside US forces and staff from private contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), did not know the orange powder was in fact Sodium Dichromate, which contains a cancer-causing compound.
It is banned in many countries and had been used to stop pipes rusting.
The soldiers were responsible for restoring the plant so Iraqi people could resume oil production in a bid to rebuild their economy after the war - but they had no protection from the chemical and would often sleep on the ground surrounded by it.
Cpl Caunt said: “You have got to understand that we were breathing it in, we were firing in it and it was blown up by the wind - this stuff was everywhere.”
It was only when he was later contacted by Sgt Andy Tosh and underwent a medical examination in April this year that he became aware of the serious threat the exposure had to his health.
He said: “Until I went for the medical, I did not realise how serious it was. When I got the results back, I did not want to look at them.”
Cpl Caunt’s medical revealed he already had the symptoms of several diseases, including respiratory, stomach and skin diseases.
“I have had skin complaints for a while, but I just dismissed it and never really thought anything of it until this came up,” he said.
“I am still fit because I am still serving but I lose my breath a lot more than I used to. There are quite a few of the RAF Regiment lads who are ill and it’s down to the exposure.”
Cpl Caunt fears he could be a ‘cancer time bomb’.
“It could be next year or it could be in 10 years - let’s hope it never happens,” he said. “But it’s a worry I have got to live with I’m afraid.”
Represented by US law firm Doyle Raizner, Cpl Caunt is now one of more than 100 British and American National Guard soldiers to have launched a lawsuit against American firm KBR - who they say knew there was a danger but did not inform them.
“All we want is annual medical screening and if and when we do start to show signs of illness that it is all paid for,” he said.
“It is not about monetary compensation, it’s about answers. Why were we there when they knew that chemicals were all over the ground?”
Officials at KBR have denied the claims, describing them as ‘unproven, incorrect and baseless allegations’.
A spokesman has said: “KBR is proud of its work in Iraq and is honoured that the US military repeatedly has chosen KBR to perform the important work of supporting US troops overseas.
“KBR remains committed to providing the US military with the high-quality service for which we have consistently been recognised.
“The company also remains committed to conducting its business with transparency and integrity.”
The MOD declined to comment when contacted by Chad.