Irish Air Corps members allege they were penalised for whistleblowing by loss of retirement ceremony

Failure to invite soldier back for unit presentation is ‘biggest slap in the face’, says airman

Unfortunate “Daft Dave” runs scared after tripping up multiple times…

It has been alleged to the Workplace Relations Commission that around half a dozen Air Corps service members were not afforded a retirement ceremony when they left the service as an act of penalisation for turning whistleblower. The claim was aired after the State failed in a bid to have the press excluded from a whistleblower protection claim against the Department of Defence earlier on Wednesday.

An Air Corps commandant gave evidence that the sort of “unit presentation” complained about would be organised primarily by colleagues and peers, and that there was “no responsibility on anyone” to arrange a retirement party.

Former airman Patrick Gorman claims he was penalised in breach of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 on the grounds that he was not invited back to his former unit to receive a presentation marking his retirement because he made protected disclosures a number of years earlier. His representative, Niall Donohue, told the Workplace Relations Commission on Wednesday that up to six former members of the No 4 Support Wing of the Air Corps, based at Baldonnel Aerodrome, “all got the same treatment” after making protected disclosures, and were prepared to come and testify in support of his claim.

Mr Guidera, appearing instructed by the Chief State Solicitor’s Office, had sought a hearing “in camera” in a motion resisted by the complainant’s representative Mr Donohue.

“This is strictly in the public interest. The facts, if heard, will be greatly appreciated by the public,” Mr Gorman said.

“The biggest slap in the face you could give a soldier who’d served 35 years in the Defence Forces would be to not invite him back for a unit presentation,” Mr Gorman told the tribunal.

Mr Donohue said the alleged denial of a retirement ceremony to the veteran “undermined his reputation in the community of the Defence Forces. Why was this done to him? The answer is it was done to him because he put in his protected disclosure.”

There was legal argument over the interpretation of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 as it applied to a member of the Defence Forces.

Mr Guidera contended Defence Forces personnel only have the status of a “worker” as defined in the legislation – leaving them without the protections afforded to an “employee” in the Act.

Mr Donohue argued that the words “worker” and “employee” in the whistleblower protection law were “interchangeable”.

The adjudicator said he would adjourn the hearing to consider preliminary arguments on the admissibility of the claim, adding that he would decide at that stage whether to call a senior officer as sought by the complainant.

Read full article by Stephen Bourke on the Irish Times website…

https://www.irishtimes.com/crime-law/courts/2024/02/21/air-corps-members-allege-they-were-penalised-for-whistleblowing-by-loss-of-retirement-ceremony/

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Delay – Deny – Die

Human Health Effects of Trichloroethylene: Key Findings and Scientific Issues

Abstract

Background

Background: In support of the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed a toxicological review of trichloroethylene (TCE) in September 2011, which was the result of an effort spanning > 20 years.

Objective

We summarized the key findings and scientific issues regarding the human health effects of TCE in the U.S. EPA’s toxicological review.

Methods

In this assessment we synthesized and characterized thousands of epidemiologic, experimental animal, and mechanistic studies, and addressed several key scientific issues through modelling of TCE toxicokinetics, meta-analyses of epidemiologic studies, and analyses of mechanistic data.

Discussion

Toxicokinetic modelling aided in characterizing the toxicological role of the complex metabolism and multiple metabolites of TCE. Meta-analyses of the epidemiologic data strongly supported the conclusions that TCE causes kidney cancer in humans and that TCE may also cause liver cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Mechanistic analyses support a key role for mutagenicity in TCE-induced kidney carcinogenicity.

Recent evidence from studies in both humans and experimental animals point to the involvement of TCE exposure in autoimmune disease and hypersensitivity.

Recent avian and in vitro mechanistic studies provided biological plausibility that TCE plays a role in developmental cardiac toxicity, the subject of substantial debate due to mixed results from epidemiologic and rodent studies.

Conclusion

TCE is carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure and poses a potential human health hazard for noncancer toxicity to the central nervous system, kidney, liver, immune system, male reproductive system, and the developing embryo/fetus.

Read full study below

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Persons working with or working in areas using trichloroethylene in Baldonnel have suffered the following illnesses. 

Untimely deaths are marked thus *

      • Brain Tumour*
      • Colorectal Cancer*
      • Crohn’s Disease*
      • Lung Cancer*
      • Multiple Sclerosis
      • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma*
      • Oesophageal Cancer*
      • Pancreatic Cancer*
      • Parkinson’s Disease
      • Renal Cancer*

105 Untimely* deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy!

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 105 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 92 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 67 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
We picked the 1st of January 1980 as an arbitrary date to start counting deaths from. Obvious earlier deaths are much more difficult to discover but either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

Most Significant Causes of Death

CauseAir Corps CohortIreland
Cancer
43%TBA
Cardiac30%TBA
Suicide14%TBA
Male Average Age of Death53 years80 years

Air Corps Untimely Deaths - Cancer

Type% of Air Corps% of IRL 3-YearDifference
Lung20.0%16.1%
124%
Oesophageal11.1%4.3%
258%
Pancreatic11.1%4.4%252%
Colorectal8.9%8.7%
102%
Blood8.9%6.9%129%
Brain8.9%2.7%
330%
Skin8.9%1.6%556%
Renal6.7%2.1%319%
Prostate4.4%9%49%
Salivary Gland4.4%2.1%210%

Air Corps Untimely Deaths - Cardiac

Type% of all (105) deaths% of cardiac (31) deaths
Atherosclerosis15%52%
Ischaemic5%16%
Atherosclerosis & Ischaemic
Combined
20%68%
Cardiomyopathy5%16%
Thrombosis2%6%

*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 53 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

We are not stating that every single death is directly due to chemical exposure but many personnel who did not handle chemicals directly were unknowingly exposed due to close proximity to contaminated work locations.

Cancer statistics for Ireland 3-Year are taken from NCRI Annual Statistical Report 2022 taking the 3-year annual average male cancer deaths from 2018 to 2020 inclusive.  We are not statisticians & these figures have been compiled to the best of our ability.

PRESS RELEASE – Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors 1st January 2024

This morning at 1130hrs on Monday the 1st of January 2024 a list of 105 untimely / premature deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel was delivered to the gate policeman of Áras an Uachtaráin by a group representing commissioned, non-commissioned & enlisted former Air Corps personnel.

Left to right Niall Donohue (Comdt retired), Michael Brennan (Sgt retired) & Gavin Tobin (former Airman) Photo by Sean Tobin – Further photos below

This list was presented for the attention of President Michael D. Higgins in his role as Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces as 61 of the untimely deaths occurred since he assumed office in 2011. We believe that some of these lives could have been saved or prolonged and thus held our first protest outside the Áras to highlight the inaction of the Supreme Commander on this life or death issue.

The Minister for Defence was made aware of decades of serious chemical malpractice at the Air Corps in 2015 via multiple protected disclosures. However, successive Ministers for Defence, up to and including the current minister Micheál Martin, as well as their associated governments have refused to order the urgent medical investigations & interventions proven to save lives in other jurisdictions.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in his previous role as Minister for Defence, has acted to turn a medical problem, that can be mitigated, into a purely legal problem inappropriately defended using state funds.

Further protected disclosures highlighting related chemical malpractice have been made to or handled by the Chief of Staff, the Health & Safety Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Department of Defence.

Death certificate details including the following information has also been shared with the Supreme Commander.

      • Average age of deaths is 53 years.
      • 41% of deaths are from cancer
      • 12% of cancer deaths are specifically pancreatic cancer
      • 9% of cancer deaths are specifically glioblastomas of the brain
      • 30% of deaths are cardiac related
      • 20% of cardiac deaths are specifically cardiomyopathy
      • 14% of deaths are from suicide (at least 15 suicides)

We have been forced to present the list directly at Áras an Uachtaráin today after the failure of President Higgins to meet with survivors despite multiple requests going back as far as October 2018 with the most recent request in early April 2023 shortly after the publication of the Independent Review Group Defence Forces final report.

It should be noted that Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors engaged extensively with the IRG-DF and after the report was published President Higgins met with other groups, including those who did not engage with the IRG-DF, however we have been excluded without reason.

It is our intention to participate in further protests at Áras an Uachtaráin in association with other victim’s groups to highlight both historic & ongoing wrongdoings by the Defence Forces & the Department of Defence until appropriate moral, professional & statutory intervention by our Supreme Commander.

Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors – Photo by Sean Tobin
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors – Photo by Sean Tobin
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors – Photo by Sean Tobin

“I started standing up for myself and the higher ranks came right back at me”

Former army member Alan Nolan voiced his concerns over policy and treatment in the Defence Forces, but instead of being listened to at the time, he was ‘screamed at, shouted at, sworn at’
Alan Nolan, ex-defence forces relaxing at home tying fishing flies. He spoke to reporter Neil Michael. Pic: Larry Cummins

Alan, a former Company Sergeant who left the army in 2017, says his own life was made a misery early on in his career after he tried to have his record cleared of a false report lodged on his military file.

He was reprimanded for being late for work at Collins Barracks in Cork in 1996 the morning after he had spent all night in Cork University Hospital’s emergency department with his young daughter.

Alan disputed the way the matter had been handled and eventually a very senior officer came up with the idea of having the reprimand taken off his military file.

But he later found out it hadn’t been removed and then when he took the matter to the internal Defence Forces Redress of Wrongs process, which is supposed to deal with soldiers’ complaints, he endured “more hell”.

So, by the time he put in a Protected Disclosure in 2017 about deficiencies in the way private medical data is handled in the Defence Forces in addition to other serious wrongdoings, he had given up all hope for any chance of fair treatment in the army.

Painful punishment

However, when he was in the army and working in the Central Medical Unit when the records system was brought in, nobody wanted to talk to him.

He says this attitude was always there, right from the very start of his career.

“I was screamed at, shouted at, sworn at and basically told that I had ‘fucked myself’ and my career by complaining about the way I had been treated in 1996, and on multiple other occasions,” he said.

“They never let me forget it and that culture still exists today.” He fears many other soldiers may also have similar issues in their careers. “You are pulled up out of the blue for no reason. This is especially the case if you dare to stick your head above the army parapet.

“I was always one of those people who believed in and tried to live by Defence Forces values.”

According to the website, these include integrity and the fact that each soldier should be “truthful, reliable and honourable”. Respect is another one, and the fact that each soldier “must treat comrades with dignity, respect, tolerance, and understanding”. Alan said:

I ascribed to all those values but the one I really liked was the Defence Forces’ value for so-called ‘moral courage’. This dictates that you must do what you know is right, not what is easier or popular.

“How wrong I and so many others have been over the years to think about doing what we know to be right when the reality is you will be severely punished for doing just that.

Read full article by Neil Michael on Irish Examiner website…

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/spotlight/arid-41284891.html

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“It stops now” indeed…

Delay – Deny – Die

Soldier who blew whistle on bullying left to man phone that never rings #IrishAirCorps

Soldier F made protected disclosures about bullying and victimisation in the Defence Forces that led to a Government-initiated inquiry. So why is he stuck doing a barely menial task in an office?
‘When you hear the army saying there is no more victimisation, or they are doing everything they can to stamp it out, all they need to do is pop along to the office with the phone that doesn’t ring.’

In the air corps’ Baldonnel air base, there is a little-used office filled with filing cabinets.

Every day Soldier F, who cannot be named or quoted because he is a serving soldier, comes into the office, takes his jacket off, sits down, and waits for the phone to ring.

However, not only does the phone never ring, but, according to a close friend of his, even if it did, nobody would hear his voice because the phone doesn’t work properly.

He knows this because the few times the phone has rung, he has picked it up and the person at the end of the line keeps asking if anybody is there.

It’s hard to fathom that the Defence Forces would pay an experienced soldier, once tasked with commanding men in Lebanon, to answer a phone that never rings. According to his friend, he believes it is because he has stood up for himself and others who were bullied and victimised in the Defence Forces.

He has lodged a number of protected disclosures about mistreatment, assaults, and victimisation.

It was Soldier F’s evidence that led to a Government-initiated inquiry into the Defence Forces Cadet School.

This inquiry predated the Women of Honour expose by just over a year and was one of a raft of reports pointing to a culture of overt misogyny among Defence Forces officers.

His evidence led Government-appointed barrister Frances Meenan, who headed that inquiry, to remark that Defence Forces policies in relation to employment equality, and bullying at work need “major reconsideration and redrafting”.

This was, said Meenan, because “they are not fit for purpose in the modern era of employment”.

The last engagement Soldier F had with any State-initiated investigation into irregularities in the Defence Forces was the recent Independent Review Group panel probe that was set up after RTÉ’s Women of Honour programme.

While panel members were shocked at much of what Soldier F had to say to them behind closed doors, he is, according to his friend, another one of the many who gave evidence who now feel cold-shouldered by the State.

Read full article by Neil Michael on Irish Examiner website…

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/spotlight/arid-41280913.html

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This article shows the type of mistreatment that personnel who highlight wrongdoing in the Irish Air Corps are are subjected to. Time after time they are marked out for humiliation & bullying until they leave the service.

The Air Corps can act with impunity in cases like this because, firstly, unlike civilian workplaces, they are exempt from constructive dismissal legislation and secondly, because a succession of Ministers for Defence, including Micheál Martin, Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar & Paul Kehoe have shown that they have been more than happy to look the other way & allow such bullying behaviour to continue unchecked.

“It stops now” indeed…

Delay – Deny – Die

104 Untimely* deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy!

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 104 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 91 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 66 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • 41% of deaths are from cancer
  • 5% of deaths are specifically pancreatic  cancer
  • 30% of deaths are from cardiac issues
  • 6% of deaths are specifically cardiomyopathy related
  • 14% of deaths are from suicide (at least 15 suicides)

*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 53 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

We are not stating that every single death is directly due to chemical exposure but many personnel who did not handle chemicals directly were unknowingly exposed due to close proximity to contaminated work locations.

Protection of Defence personnel against health risks of chromium-6 was inadequate

Background

From 1984-2006, employees of the Dutch Ministry of Defence were exposed to chromium-6 during maintenance work. This occurred at five so-called POMS sites (POMS: Prepositioned Organizational Materiel Storage), where principally American NATO equipment was stored and maintained by Defence personnel.

The Ministry of Defence had the responsibility to inform both employees and occupational physicians about the health risks of exposure to chromium-6-based paint and to ensure the use of the appropriate protective equipment. This did not happen adequately.

Exposure

Netherlands Armed ForcesThe extent to which Defence personnel were exposed to chromium-6 at the five POMS sites differed according to their positions. Employees in the technical maintenance positions had the highest exposure to chromium-6. The chromium-6 to which Ministry of Defence personnel were exposed in the period 1984-2006 can no longer be detected in their bodies. The fact is that chromium-6 is readily converted to chromium-3 in the body and is subsequently excreted.

Health effects of chromium-6

Defence personnel working in technical maintenance positions were exposed to chromium-6, which may have caused the following diseases: lung cancer, nasal and nasal cavity cancer, gastric cancer, chromium-6-related allergic contact dermatitis, allergic asthma and allergic rhinitis, chronic lung diseases and perforation of the nasal septum due to chromium ulcers. Because most of these diseases can also be induced by other causes, in many cases it cannot be determined with certainty that these diseases are the result of exposure to chromium-6 at the POMS sites. For other health problems, such as dental problems, no or insufficient scientific evidence has been found for a possible relationship with exposure to chromium-6.

Responsibilities, working conditions and duty of care

In its capacity as employer, the Ministry of Defence had the responsibility of notifying both employees and occupational physicians of the risks of exposure to chromium-6 containing paint. Most POMS employees indicated that they were not aware of the health hazards related to chromium-6. Furthermore, hardly any of the occupational physicians at the Ministry of Defence that participated in this study knew that there was a possibility that employees were exposed to chromium-6 in the period that the POMS sites were operational. The Ministry of Defence’s prevention and care policy did not comply with the applicable rules, particularly in the early years.

RIVM has conducted research into chromium-6 on behalf of the Minister of Defence. We have published a serie of ten reports on chromium-6 at the POMS sites of the Dutch Ministry of Defence . A combined English summary of the ten reports is available in the report ‘Chromium-6 at the Ministry of Defence’s POMS sites: health effects and responsibilities’.

Read full article journal at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment of the Netherlands

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Chromium 6 aka hexavalent chromium was extensively used in Baldonnel for example in paint strippers like Ardrox 666, paint primers like Metaflex FCR as well as corrosion inhibitors like Mastinox 6856k

Specific hexavalent chromium ingredients used in the Irish Air Corps included

      • Barium chromate
      • Calcium dichromate
      • Magnesium chromate
      • Potassium chromate
      • Sodium chromate
      • Strontium chromate
      • Zinc chromate.

Zinc chromate would have been in the air in the Spray Paint Shop & Engineering Wing hangar any time primer was being sprayed and in many instances personnel carrying out the spraying would have inadequate or no  PPE and personnel in close proximity in the hangar carrying out other tasks  would have had zero PPE and zero awareness of exposure.

Barium chromate & strontium chromate are used in all hangars and some workshops as a component of Mastinox 6856k. This was used with bare hands and likely ingested by some personnel due to inadequate wash facilities. There have been instances where personnel have had parts of their stomach removed from such exposure and have lost all their teeth. 

Sodium chromate is a component of Ardrox 666 which can be seen here dribbling out of the extractor fan in ERF.

Some Safety Data Sheets showing hexavalent chromium ingredients.

it is highly likely that military & civilian personnel in other workshops in the Defence Forces were exposed to chromium 6 / hexavalent chromium.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Secret files reveal Boeing doctor warned of toxic risks, birth defects

In 1980, a doctor wrote factory chemicals would cause “life-long chronic illness, cancer and death.” Lawsuits claim his worst fears came true.

Editor’s note: This is part of ongoing coverage examining the dangers of chemical exposure to Boeing workers in the Puget Sound region, including the Everett plant. According to records obtained exclusively by The Daily Herald, the aerospace company knew for decades — since at least 1980 — that toxins used in its factories posed risks not just to employees, but to their unborn children, too.

EVERETT — On March 18, 1980, one of Boeing’s top doctors made “a rather disastrous attempt” to alert company leadership to a problem that could be fatal.

“During the ‘routine and usual’ course of their employment,” tens of thousands of Boeing workers in the Puget Sound region were being exposed to “probably hazardous” and “certainly uncontrolled” amounts of toxic chemical mixtures, Dr. Barry Dunphy warned in a presentation to the company’s president.

Dunphy scrawled in handwritten slides, using a series of ellipses and line breaks:

“This ……

“….. was not known to be true in previous decades.

“….. is presently occurring without anyone’s real knowledge or consent.

“….. may result in future ‘outbreaks’ of serious illness — including sterility, fetal abnormalities, stillbirth, life-long chronic illness, cancer and death.”

As Boeing’s occupational health manager, Dunphy recommended protecting employees with uniform chemical labeling, medical monitoring, special training and other measures. This could be done, he advised, by building a stronger “industrial hygiene” program within Boeing’s medical department.

His pitch failed.

The doctor later noted, in a tone of defeat, that Boeing President Malcolm Stamper “did not appear at all sympathetic or indeed faintly happy” about having “this organizational problem brought to his attention.” Dunphy’s notes and slides are among scores of internal company documents, now the subject of depositions, in a series of lawsuits that claim his fears came true.

Three families allege Boeing failed to protect its employees from industrial poisons when parents worked in its factories, leading to the birth defects in their children.

The cases span 40 years, involving two fathers employed at the Boeing Everett plant and one mother employed at a Seattle-area factory that has since been shuttered.

Revelations in the cases offer a window into forewarnings that echoed for decades at the highest echelons of one of the world’s largest aerospace companies — and chemical dangers still present at the Everett plant today.

The storm that lies ahead

Dunphy’s warning is one of the earliest internal documents showing some company experts have long suspected the toxins used on its manufacturing floors pose risks not just to workers, but their unborn children, too.

Late last month, the company and Riley reached an out-of-court settlement, according to a joint motion filed in King County Superior Court on Nov. 7. The amount was not disclosed. According to the motion, settlement discussions are still ongoing in the other two lawsuits, filed in 2018.

Boeing, represented by Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie, has denied that the plaintiffs’ birth defects were caused by chemical exposure and maintains that it has taken adequate steps to protect its employees, according to court filings.

Boeing spokesperson Jessica Kowal said the company does not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy.

In depositions and court filings, the company has maintained there’s mixed scientific evidence on the connection, and that it’s dependent on the chemical, the manner of exposure and the dose.

The company and the plaintiffs exchanged hundreds of thousands of pages of documents in the discovery phase, alongside more than 30 depositions, according to the notice filed Monday in King County Superior Court.

The Herald obtained transcripts from eight depositions of former and current Boeing employees, including more than a hundred exhibits of internal memos, scientific literature and other company documents.

The plaintiff’s lead attorneys, who specialize in birth defect litigation, attribute the children’s “catastrophic” injuries to a “perfect storm” of toxins from two chemical classes.

Some are heavy metals: cadmium, lead and chromium.

Others are organic solvents, such as toluene, xylene, petroleum distillates, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), methyl propyl keytone (MPK), and trichloroethylene (TCE).

Some chemicals identified in the lawsuits are still used at the Everett plant. One of them is hexavalent chromium, also called Chromium VI, a long-established poison that Boeing’s own scientists have labeled as the No. 1 chemical of concern, according to the depositions.

It’s the same chemical to blame for the groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California, as dramatized in the film “Erin Brockovich.”

Given the range of factors that can cause reproductive issues, it is difficult to determine whether a child’s birth defect is due to the mother or father being exposed to chemicals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s even harder to pinpoint a specific industrial chemical, given that many of them haven’t been studied for reproductive effects, and industrial workers are usually exposed to a mixture.

Some chemicals in use at Boeing’s plants have been labeled as “reproductive hazards” — sometimes signified by an icon with the gender symbols that can also represent Mars and Venus. But the plaintiffs’ attorneys argue the disclaimer is obscured in the fine print, and the company never adequately explained that term to its workers.

The three plaintiffs’ families had never considered chemical exposure could be a cause of their children’s conditions — until 2016, when the law firm Waters Kraus & Paul ran a radio ad in the Seattle area, seeking workers in the electronics and aerospace industries who had children with birth defects.

“I strongly suspect that there are many other children of Boeing employees who have lived their lives with birth defects,” said lead plaintiff’s attorney Michael Connett, “without knowing that their conditions were caused by the chemicals that their parents were working with at Boeing.”

“It’s really not a question of if,” said Connett, a partner at Waters Kraus & Paul, in an August interview. “It’s a question of how many.”

The plaintiffs have undergone genetic testing and consulted geneticists to interpret the meaning of the tests, Connett said. Other expert witnesses for the plaintiffs include medical doctors, neuropsychologists and an industrial hygienist, a type of specialist that analyzes workplace hazards.

Workers are still at risk, Connett contended, because of Boeing’s failures to communicate the hazards and adequately enforce safety rules. And while working-class mechanics might be willing to roll the dice on their own health, Connett said, the stakes would seem higher if they knew “it’s not just risks to yourselves, it’s risks to your children.”

In his pitch to Stamper over 40 years ago, Dunphy estimated 30,000 employees were “potentially exposed” to “toxic chemical mixtures” and marked about 5 percent of them, or 1,500 people a year, as the “fraction seriously damaged.”

“The bottom line….,” Dunphy typed in an outline of the 1980 presentation, punctuated with irregular ellipses in the text: “Before long we’re going to get screwed because we’ve got an impotent occupational health program …. blind ‘seat of the pants fling (sic) isn’t going to get us through the storm that lies ahead … we need the ‘radar’ of an effective Industrial Hygiene program.”

The other alternatives weren’t good, Dunphy wrote. Among them:

“a) Continue to ignore the problem … ‘hope for the best.’”

“b) ‘play dumb’ ….eliminate hygiene (& Medicine) completely….destroy existing command media dealing with the subject…”

He presented his recommendation to Stamper alongside another doctor, Boeing’s medical director and the general manager of the company’s Seattle services division Art Carter, according to the notes.

“I suspect that this effort will be abandoned indefinitely,” Dunphy wrote afterwards, “…probably permanently….although GM still seems to believe that the concept is a good one…”

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Uncontrolled exposures

When Marie Riley was in the womb, her mother Deborah Ulrich worked at Boeing’s Electronics Manufacturing Facility, which once stood on the east side of Boeing Field, also known as King County International Airport.

In the 1980s, it was discovered that groundwater beneath the site was tainted with TCE and other toxic compounds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing the cleanup.

The plume of contamination extends about a half-mile from where the facility, known as the EMF, was located, under another Boeing plant cleanup site and into the Lower Duwamish Waterway, a federal Superfund site.

Long before the EMF’s demolition in the 1990s, it was a grimy workplace, Connett said.

Fumes drifted from the manufacturing area, where tank lines pumped chemical baths. A degreasing machine heated chemical solvents, giving rise to hot vapors that would clean circuit boards. Chromic acid, a type of hexavalent chromium, was used as an etching agent to carve out circuit boards, he said.

Ulrich was a “floater” who did many tasks. She used the degreaser, cooked light-sensitive film onto copper panels, touched up the patterns on circuit panels with a pen that applied black ink. She cleaned soldered boards by dipping them in industrial solvents, Connett said.

In 1979, about a year before Ulrich became pregnant, Dunphy warned company leadership that Boeing had “no formal training programs in safety and health aspects of hazardous materials, except in radiation health protection.”

In a memo to corporate leadership, he also said that “uncontrolled exposures of employees to hazardous materials is occurring” and “required medical surveillance and examinations are not being conducted.”

The following year, in his failed presentation to Stamper, the doctor warned that “occupational illness among employees is increasingly apparent” and “deviation from legal requirements is increasing.”

Dunphy writes in verbose jargon, but the urgency is apparent.

“What were formerly considered to be ‘insignificantly small concentrations’ of physical and chemical agents in the environment,” he wrote in the presentation, “are now believed to interact over relatively long periods of time with a variable number of poorly defined ‘intrinsic factors’ to adversely effect the reproductive process, and to accentuate chronic (so called ‘degenerative’) disease processes such as cancer.”

“The well documented effects of asbestos, benzene, aniline dyes, and vinyl chloride are current examples,” Dunphy wrote. “Most chromium and nickel compounds, lead, virtually all of our chlorinated organic solvents, and most of our resin systems are under strong indictment by the National Cancer Institute at the present time.”

Michael Krause, who worked for Boeing from 1978 to 1980 as an industrial hygienist, acknowledged “there were issues” with employee chemical exposure. But in a January deposition, he questioned Dunphy’s dire portrayal.

“I think I would just take issue with the implication that — that everything was crazy and uncontrolled and people are sloshing around in chemicals all over the company,” Krause testified. “That wasn’t true.”

Mixed evidence

Boeing’s occupational health and safety program began to take shape in the decade after Congress passed the landmark Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Company policy created in 1974 required “programs, standards, regulations, and practices for the mutual benefit of employees and the corporation as regards health, safety and accident prevention.”

The following year, the company developed standard cautionary labels for hazardous chemicals, in line with guidance from the newly created National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, according to a court filing by the company.

Warnings included information — “to the extent known at the time” — about whether a chemical caused cancer, genetic mutations, birth defects or other health issues, the company said in the court filing.

Those warnings appeared on federally required safety data sheets for each chemical, available to employees in binders placed throughout the EMF and other factories, the filing says. Boeing also maintains there were safety notices posted around the plant, and workers received “on-the-job” training about chemical hazards.

Those programs have improved over the years, Krause testified, as science on chemical hazards advanced and the company developed a formal “hazard communication” program.

“It’s obvious that new information came out about a lot of different kinds of chemicals over the years, and permissible limits were lowered,” Krause said. “… There was new scientific knowledge all the time, and we tried to react to that.”

In August, when Boeing Senior Toxicologist Brittany Weldon was deposed to speak on the company’s behalf, she acknowledged Boeing’s medical professionals “were of the opinion by 1980 that some chemicals in Boeing’s workplace could potentially cause stillbirths, fetal abnormalities, and infertility, through some exposure routes at certain concentrations or doses for some chemicals in some people.”

As she explained, the impact of a given chemical depends on whether it’s inhaled, ingested or absorbed through skin contact. The body’s process for taking in and metabolizing that chemical varies accordingly.

As early as the 1970s, Boeing had books in its toxicology library that said some organic solvents “were implicated” as causes of birth defects, according to Weldon’s deposition.

The literature references various chemical risks to both a fetus in the womb and to men who can pass harm onto their offspring through what’s known as “male-mediated developmental toxicity.”

“It is likely that solvents affect male fertility and semen quality,” says one of the toxicology library’s books, entitled “Reproductive Health Hazards in the Workplace,” originally published in 1985.

In her deposition, Weldon noted that organic solvents “are a very broad class of chemicals.”

“Not all organic solvents can cause reproductive or developmental toxicity, and I can’t say for certain exactly when Boeing became aware that some solvents can have those effects,” she testified.

“I would add the caveat that they haven’t been specifically linked at Boeing,” she testified. “They have been specifically linked in the scientific literature in animals and animal studies, and that there is mixed evidence.”

Boeing’s attorneys have cited a 1979 memo from a pregnant graphic artist as evidence that the company historically “accommodated requests by employees to be placed on a medical restriction and to be transferred to a different workspace area during pregnancy.”

In the memo written by the Seattle-area employee, she reported she experienced headaches, respiratory irritation and eye irritation while spending hours a day in a poorly ventilated room near a printer that was a source of TCE fumes.

When the employee questioned Dr. Dunphy about the risk, he “stated that there was no 100% sure way of protecting ourselves from the Trichloroethylene fumes,” she relayed in the memo, addressed to management. So he put her on “medical restriction” and moved her away from the source of the fumes, according to her memo.

“I was particularly interested,” the employee wrote, “in obtaining protection for those artists, myself included, who were planning a family in the near future.”

‘Chemicals of concern’

For decades, Boeing has maintained a list of “chemicals of concern” for “reproductive toxicity,” the depositions show. This inventory lists industrial chemicals linked to birth defects via human studies, animal studies or both.

The evolving list is one of many pieces of evidence, discussed in the depositions, that illustrate the company has been tracking and analyzing such risks for years.

In 1986, a company epidemiologist compiled a list of chemicals “reportedly associated with adverse reproductive effects in occupationally exposed men or women.” Among them were cadmium, lead, benzene, toluene, xylene and other solvents.

As of 1993, the list contained information about specific effects of such chemicals, and the extent to which scientific literature confirmed the link.

Cadmium and cadmium compounds, for example, made the 1993 list as hazardous to both the male and female reproductive systems, based on sufficient data from animal studies and limited data from human studies. “Growth retardation, birth defects, functional deficits, infertility and breast milk contamination” were identified as “specific effects” of cadmium.

Various iterations of the Boeing physicians’ guide also reference the reproductive risks of organic solvents and other chemicals. One historical excerpt identifies organic solvents, as a group, as neurotoxins.

“Solvents readily cross the placental barrier, and are suspected of causing adverse reproductive effects which include cleft palate, spontaneous abortion, neonatal sepsis and childhood cancer,” says an excerpt from the “Occupational Health Exam Guide.”

The document is dated 1988.

That was the year that one plaintiff’s father, Shawn Hatleberg, began working as a mechanic for Boeing’s Everett plant.

When filling out a health survey for his placement at the company, Hatleberg checked “yes” next to a question asking whether he was “capable of producing children.”

Another question asked “Are you pregnant at the present time?” (He marked “N/A.”)

There’s a note on the form, in small print: “Scientists generally believe that reproductive cells and the developing embryo and fetus are more sensitive than most normal adults to certain workplace chemicals and several forms of radiation.”

That was the year that one plaintiff’s father, Shawn Hatleberg, began working as a mechanic for Boeing’s Everett plant.

When filling out a health survey for his placement at the company, Hatleberg checked “yes” next to a question asking whether he was “capable of producing children.”

Another question asked “Are you pregnant at the present time?” (He marked “N/A.”)

There’s a note on the form, in small print: “Scientists generally believe that reproductive cells and the developing embryo and fetus are more sensitive than most normal adults to certain workplace chemicals and several forms of radiation.”

Green mist

Hatleberg helped assemble 747s as a “final body join” mechanic at the Everett plant, Connett said.

As the jets neared the end of production, dozens of people would work to finish the plane at the same time, using a variety of chemical products, Connett said. Some of these mechanics worked inside the aircraft, confined in small spaces with chemical fumes.

The depositions highlight a disconnect between what’s written in handbooks and manuals and what actually happens on the bustling shop floors, where there are hundreds of chemicals in use.

“One of the things that we have learned through the course of discovery is that the first and second line managers at the Everett plant often don’t enforce the safety rules that are in effect,” Connett said. “And as a result, you have a disconnect often between the safety policies as written and the actual workplace practices that are in effect.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “what we have found is that too often at Boeing, it’s production that they prioritize, not safety of their workers.”

Among the products Hatleberg handled was a primer called BMS 10-11, containing high levels of hexavalent chromium and toxic solvents, Connett said.

For years at Boeing, standard practice was to apply the widely used primer with aerosolizing devices called a pre-val, according to the depositions. Around 1990, this practice was “basically banned” because employees had little control over how much of the chemical spewed from the pre-vals, Krause testified.

Before the ban, mechanics would spray the chemical — some without respirators and sometimes in close proximity of one another — emitting a “green mist in the air laden with hexavalent chromium, toluene and other industrial poisons,” Connett said. The substance also routinely got on Hatleberg’s skin when he was painting it onto surfaces using a brush, according to the attorney.

Not knowing that some hardware was plated with cadmium, some Boeing mechanics placed fasteners in their mouths to free up their hands for the drilling, Connett said.

Dana Ford, father of plaintiff Natalie Ford, worked in the final assembly process when his daughter was conceived in 2013. On the interiors of 777 freighters, he often used some of the same chemicals as Hatleberg.

Two of the chemicals Ford worked with, MPK and corrosion-inhibiting compounds, remain common at Boeing’s factories, even though employees have long-complained about headaches and respiratory issues because of the fumes, according to the depositions.

Included in the depositions are a sampling of audits of Boeing’s Everett plant, from as early as 1989 to as recent as 2019, citing safety violations related to protective gear, employee training and airborne chemical levels.

In 1989, OSHA found levels of chromates and other chemicals in excess of regulatory limits at Boeing Advanced Systems’ Everett Site, according to an audit. Workers weren’t wearing required respirators, gloves and other protective gear, says an internal memo about the audit. Chemicals weren’t properly labeled.

“Employees were not provided with information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area at the time of their initial assignment or on a continual basis in relation to the completion of the assigned job task,” says the memo.

State and federal regulators assessed over $170,000 in fines.

About the same time, Krause testified, Boeing made a big push to recruit more medical, toxicology, health and safety specialists. In the 1980s, he started his own business as a consultant. He got a call from Boeing.

At the time, the company was in the process of building its chemical inventory. As part of Boeing’s “hazard communication” program, reams of chemical safety data sheets were distilled into more practical “HazCom info sheets,” which outlined a worker’s risk while performing a given job duty or process.

In the 1990s, Krause traveled to shops around Puget Sound, giving two-hour training courses tailored to each one based on workers’ job functions.

“That was the whole idea — and it was kind of brilliant, really — not just throw a bunch of safety data sheets out there, but actually look at what they’re doing, how they’re using chemicals, monitor it so you know what the exposures are,” Krause testified in his deposition, “and then for their shops and their operations, boil it down to a few HazCom info sheets that you’d go over with them.”

Over the years, Boeing has taken steps to reduce worker exposure to some toxic chemicals. It invested in better technology and facility upgrades, while phasing out certain products and practices. Information once kept in binders and handbooks in shop rooms was moved online.

The company instituted monitoring programs to ensure worker exposure levels were below regulatory maximums.

Still, the depositions raise questions about whether training workshops and warnings in the fine print have been enough to convey the true dangers of toxic chemicals to thousands of workers.

In 2021, Boeing toxicologists reviewed health hazards for more than 100 chemical information sheets, according to notes from a meeting of company industrial hygienists.

It was then — decades after scientific literature documented a link between birth defects and organic solvents — that the company added a line to that database entry.

“May be toxic to reproduction.”

Read full article by Rachel Riley on the herald.net website. 

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  • US Congress passed landmark Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
  • In Ireland the Factories Act of 1955 did not apply to the Defence Forces.
  • The Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Act, 1989 was the first Health & Safety legislation to specifically apply to the Defence Forces
  • The Air Corps knew in 1995 that some workplace locations were seriously contaminated but failed to remediate same and failed to inform personnel.
  • In 1997 the Air Corps were told by Forbairt to provide personnel with chemical handling training and to issue PPE.
  • The Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Act, 2005 replaced the 1989 act.
  • In Winter 2013/2014 the State Claims Agency became aware that the toxic chemical exposure problem at Baldonnel was a “live” and not historical issue.
  • The Health & Safety Authority threatened legal action against the Air Corps in 2016 on foot of complains by whistleblowers. 
  • The Air Corps informed the HSA that they would make the improvements to become compliant with the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts by December 2017.

Air Corps failed to comply with Supreme Court order in chemicals exposure case

Former aircraft mechanic Gavin Tobin alleges exposure to dangerous chemicals led to severe health issues

The Air Corps has failed to comply with a Supreme Court order to hand over safety documents to a former aircraft technician suing over his exposure to dangerous chemicals, a judge has ruled.

Gavin Tobin is one of about 11 former Air Corps members who allege continuous exposure to chemicals used in the maintenance of aircraft has led to severe health issues. His case, which was lodged in 2014, has been referred to as test case for the others.

Mr Tobin joined the Air Corps in 1989 as an apprentice aircraft mechanic and was based in Baldonnell until leaving service in 1999. He claims during his service he was exposed to dangerous chemicals on an ongoing basis which resulted in severe personal injury.

Mr Tobin alleges that his employers “failed to provide him with a safe place of work, a safe system of work, safe and proper equipment, appropriate training, and safe and competent co-workers.”

Last month’s ruling by Mr Justice Mark Heslin is the latest is a long-running legal battle over what documents the Air Corps is required to hand over to Mr Tobin as part of discovery in advance of a full civil trial.

The Air Corps was originally ordered by the High Court to make full discovery relating to the chemicals to which Mr Tobin was exposed during this time in the maintenance section. This was overturned by the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court later confirmed the original order requiring broad-ranging disclosure.

Mr Tobin then received a substantial amount of documents, numbering over 1,200 pages. However these did not include some potentially important files, including safety certificates for the chemicals used by the Air Corps.

The Air Corps claimed it could not hand over the documents as they had been lost or destroyed in the intervening years. It also claimed it is under no obligation to seek replacements for these documents from the chemicals’ manufacturers.

Mr Justice Heslin ruled that this was an unreasonable position and that the Air Corps has failed to make proper discovery of documents.

Read full article by Conor Gallagher the Irish Times website…

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