In a Facebook discussion, I found out that the harmful effects of zinc chloride is actually well-documented. The harmful effects were taken into consideration when SAF determined the safety regulations regarding the discharge of smoke grenades – i.e. that no more than two should be used and they should be at least a minimum distance away from each other. I suppose SAF knows that once smoke containing zinc chloride exceeds a certain density, there is a risk to health and safety.
And this raises an important question in the case for Pte Dominique’s death. Why was the coroner not able to “ascertain whether the acute allergic reaction was due to concentration and/or the mere exposure of zinc chloride fumes”? The coroner stated that Pte Dominique’s death was due to an acute allergic reaction. But could the symptoms of the “acute allergic reaction” just be symptoms of inhaling a high concentration of zinc chloride?
Also, the family “had learnt anecdotally from SAF personnel, immediately after the tragic incident, that Dominique had taken part in a similar exercise before where the TSR had not been breached”. If that is true, then Pte Dominique had been previously inhaled zinc chloride without much apparent permanent damage to his health.
That would then suggest that Pte Dominique wasn’t allergic to zinc chloride or even if he was, it took a higher concentration to trigger the allergic reaction. The logical conclusion then would be that Pte Dominique’s death was a result of the concentration of smoke containing zinc chloride exceeding safe levels.
In my view, there are still indeed some questions that SAF has to answer. I think that’s why the family still can’t move on. I think it would be useful for the SAF to clarify the following:
- Had Pte Dominique indeed taken part in previous exercises where he inhaled smoke containing zinc chloride from smoke grenades? How did the coroner come to conclude that Pte Dominique died from an acute allergic reaction? Can we really rule out the possibility that Pte Dominique died as a result of the concentration of zinc chloride exceeding safety limits?
- Exactly what sort of punishment did the two officers receive? The chief safety officer overseeing the exercise where Pte Dominique died got promoted less than a year after the incident. What sort of “punishment” is that? I’m not saying that we need to punish the two officers any more, so long as SAF is able to justify that the two officers have been punished sufficiently.
I’m not sure if answering those questions will satisfy the family of Pte Dominique Lee. But I think that that would be much better than what the SAF is currently doing – which is not saying much.
[Featured image: the Uniform by Flickr user Gramicidin. CC BY 2.0]