Hazards of handling chemicals

  • Letters
  • Friday, 12 Apr 2019

I WORKED for the Malaysian armed forces from 1964 to 1986. In 1971, I was sent to the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Centre in Victoria, Australia to do a course in ammunitions and explosives. I was there until early 1972.

The subjects covered by the course were conventional ammunitions, guided weapons, explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) and improvised explosive devices (IEDS), chemical and biological warfare, and proof of components.

I returned as an ammunition technician and served in various places throughout the country.

The core work of an ammunition technician involves the inspection and proof testing of ammunition and explosives in the depots or in the units of the armed forces to ensure that they are serviceable and in good condition.

During inspection, proof tests and large-scale demolitions, a lot of chemicals vaporise in the air. If I remember correctly, when British personnel served as ammunition technicians in our army, they were served fresh milk after each session, but the Malaysian armed forces do not practise this.

While doing their work, ammunition technicians are exposed to dangerous conditions, and sometimes accidents do occur, such as breathing in contaminated air and injury to their limbs.

In 1975, my team was tasked with the job of clearing unexploded bombs in Labuan. In the midst of doing the work, I was accidentally exposed to white phosphorus, a toxic and highly flammable substance used by the military in various types of ammunition as an incendiary agent because it spontaneously catches fire in air.

The incident left me with scars on my hands and feet that are still very visible today.

In consideration of our dangerous and difficult task, my colleagues and I were conferred awards, some with the Jasa Perkasa Persekutuan (JPP) and others with Kepujian Perutusan Keberanian (KPK) from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. I received the KPK.

In 2005, I was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and underwent surgery which also removed my lower oesophageal sphincter. Since the surgery, other symptoms have manifested, including numbness in my hands and feet; itching all over the body; uncontrolled movement; eye problems; constipation; catarrh and water retention on my feet.

I therefore urge people who work with chemicals to please treat them as dangerous substances and take safety precautions when handling them. And drink fresh milk if you are exposed to chemicals.


Batu Caves, Selangor


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