Chemical linked to soldiers' children

MEDICATION: New Zealand soldiers apply the chemical DBP to clothes to avoid typhus in Malaya in the 1950s.
MEDICATION: New Zealand soldiers apply the chemical DBP to clothes to avoid typhus in Malaya in the 1950s.

The children of Kiwi soldiers exposed to an insecticide in Malaysia are more likely to suffer from deformed genitals and breast cancer.

A Canterbury University researcher has found a link between exposure to dibutylphthalate and certain diseases during the Malayan Emergency.

Professor Ian Shaw's research has this month been published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

About 3500 New Zealand soldiers were deployed during the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960, fighting communists. The soldiers based in the jungles of Malaysia brushed the insecticide on to the seams of their uniforms to kill ticks and lice to avoid bush typhus.

Shaw said the soldiers would have been in "constant contact" with the chemical dibutylphthalate, known as DBP.

The soldiers' children had experienced higher rates of hypospadias [deformed penis], undescended testes and breast cancer, Shaw's research found.

"While the numbers are small in terms of absolute numbers, the statistical difference between normal people and those exposed to DBP is very significant."

Shaw sent questionnaires to about 250 veterans but the response rate was low because they were elderly or unwell and some had died.

Shaw said the boys born with reproductive deformities underwent successful surgery as children.

"But obviously breast cancer is very different," he said.

"Nobody knows how many generations will be affected and I would hope to be able to look into that."

Shaw said the chemical altered the male hormone testosterone, which was passed on to children through sperm.

"It doesn't mutate the gene itself but something to do with its control has changed."

Redcliffs resident Ray King-Turner served in Malaysia as an air force radio technician.

"I didn't use the stuff because I wasn't based in the jungle but through the veterans' association we knew that some of the guys were having problems but we didn't understand why."

He said the association hoped to approach the Government for compensation.

"We want the descendants of our soldiers to be cared for . . . so it's only right that if this chemical keeps affecting people down the chain, that they are looked after," King-Turner said.

The Press