British troops ‘knowingly exposed’ to toxic chemical during Iraq war tell of cancer battles and daily nosebleeds

Nearly 100 RAF soldiers were ordered to guard the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in 2003. They didn’t know it was covered in sodium dichromate, a deadly chemical that causes cancer.

Iraq war veteran Andy Tosh points to his nose where he was treated for skin cancer and shows the red marks on his hand.

His health has been permanently damaged – not by the baking heat of the Iraqi desert, he says, but by a toxic chemical at the industrial site he was ordered to guard.

“It’s clear British troops were knowingly exposed,” the 58-year-old former RAF sergeant says.

Sky News can reveal that nearly 100 British troops may have been exposed to sodium dichromate while guarding the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in 2003.

Ten British veterans who guarded the plant have now spoken publicly about their ordeal – and say they feel “betrayed” by the UK government after struggling with a range of health problems, including daily nosebleeds, a brain tumour and three who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Described as a “deadly poison”, sodium dichromate is a known carcinogen. The ground at Qarmat Ali was covered in it, according to the former servicemen.

The Ministry of Defence says it is willing to meet the veterans to work with them going forward – but the former troops say they want answers and accountability.

Before the US took over the site, the water was filtered and treated with sodium dichromate to increase the life of pipelines, pumps, and other equipment.

It’s a type of hexavalent chromium, a group of compounds made famous by the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, which dramatised the contamination of water around a California town.

“I noticed a rash on my forearms,” Mr Tosh said. “I’d operated in other hot tropical countries, I’ve never had a rash like I had on my forearms.

“Other members of our teams had different symptoms but at the time we had no idea why.”

It was a mystery.

That is, until two workers in hazmat suits and respirator masks turned up in August 2003 and put up a sign with a skull and crossbones on it.

“Warning. Chemical hazard. Full protective equipment and chemical respirator required. Sodium dichromate exposure” the sign read.

“We were shocked,” Mr Tosh added. “We’d already been on that site for months, being exposed.

“It was a different type of threat that none of us could really understand.”

US commander’s death linked to sodium dichromate

The plight of US troops who were exposed to sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali is far better documented than their UK counterparts. National guardsmen who visited the site have become ill, leading to a formal inquiry and government support for veterans across the pond.

“While I was at Qarmat Ali, I began suffering from severe nosebleeds,” Russell Powell, an American former medic, told a Senate inquiry.

Within three days of arriving at the plant in April 2003 he developed rashes on his knuckles, hands and forearms, he said. Others in his platoon suffered similar ailments, he added.

Mr Powell said he had questioned a KBR worker about the powder, who said his supervisors had told him not to worry about it.

Speaking at a hearing in 2009 held as part of the inquiry, Mr Powell added: “My symptoms have not changed since my service in Iraq… I cannot take a full breath.” Lieutenant-Colonel James Gentry, of the Indiana National Guard, was stationed at Qarmat Ali in 2003.

“They had this information and didn’t share it,” he said in a deposition video, his face pale as he struggled to breathe. He was referring to contractors KBR.

“I’m dying now because of it.”

Lt Col Gentry died from cancer in 2009. The US Army deemed that his death was “in line of duty for exposure to sodium dichromate”, according to court documents.

Read full article by Michael Drummond on the Sky News website…

https://news.sky.com/story/british-troops-knowingly-exposed-to-toxic-chemical-during-iraq-war-tell-of-cancer-battles-and-daily-nosebleeds-13093915

*****

Ardrox 666, which contains hexavalent sodium chromate, running down the walls of the Irish Air Corps NDT Shop from an extractor fan in 2007

Hexavalent Chromium is & was widely used on a regular basis in the Irish Air Corps. It must be noted the Irish Air Corps ignored the chemical provisions of the Safety, Health & Welfare At Work Acts, 1989 & 2005 until the Health & Safety Authority threatened legal action in 2016 to force them to comply. This was after whistleblowing by a serving Air Corps member who was subsequently constructively dismissed.

Hexavalent Chromium and other very hazardous chemicals were used in the past by teenage apprentice technicians who had no chemical handling training, no education on the short or long term chemical exposure risks as well as no PPE.

Furthermore, when the Irish Air Corps discovered contaminated workshops in 1995 they hid this from personnel. When told by state body Forbairt in 1997 to to give all personnel chemical handling training, issue PPE and train personnel in how to use it they ignored this instruction too.

Some examples of chemical products used in Baldonnel that contain hexavalent chromium (chromates or dichromates) are listed below.

Alocrom 1200

  • Potassium Dichromate
  • Sodium Dichromate

Alodine 600

  • Potassium Dichromate
  • Sodium Dichromate

Ardrox 666

  • Sodium Chromate

Ardrox 670

  • Sodium Chromate
  • LR4871
  • Zinc Chromate

Mastinox 6856H

  • Zinc Chromate

Mastinox 6856K

  • Barium Chromate
  • Strontium Chromate

Mastinox C627B

  • Barium Chromate

Mastinox D40 

  • Barium Chromate

Mastinox JC5A 

  • Barium Chromate

Metaflex 1001 Wash Primer

  • Zinc Potassium Chromate

Metaflex FCR Primer Yellow

  • Zinc Chromate

PR-1422A

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Magnesium Dichromate

PR-1422B

  • Calcium Dichromate

PR-1436GA

  • Strontium Chromate

PR-1436GB 

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Magnesium Dichromate

PR-1436G E2

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Sodium Dichromate

PR-1440B

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Magnesium Dichromate

PR-1750B

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Magnesium Dichromat

PS-870B

  • Magnesium Dichromate

Delay – Deny – Die

State paid out more than €10m to settle claims against Defence Forces

The State has paid out more than €10m in legal settlements of claims against the Defence Forces in the last four years but faces paying many times that amount in the coming years.

The Department of Defence has admitted that there are a total of 482 current and “open” cases against the Defence Forces. These include personal injury claims and judicial reviews.

It paid out some €10,698,855 in respect of cases taken by current or former members of the Defence Forces from 2020 to 2023.

A spokesperson said this figure represents “the total value of settlements recorded arising from litigation”.

“Any case taken against the Defence Forces, for whatever reason, must be taken against the Minister for Defence because the Defence Forces cannot act as defendants or respondents in cases of litigation.

“The Department of Defence is therefore responsible for the management of all such litigation cases, including those taken by current or former members of the Defence Forces. This litigation includes personal injuries claims.”

Defence Forces Justice Alliance spokesperson Alan Nolan said that in many cases, personnel are forced down the route of litigation.

“This is because the internal reporting and complaints channels are so unfit for purpose, personnel often use litigation as a last resort to seek justice.

The saddest thing is that even when a case might be won or lost, nothing really changes because the State might have to pay, but they don’t have to be held accountable by anybody.”

The Department has also confirmed that anybody suing the Defence Forces will still be able to give evidence in the forthcoming tribunal.

The tribunal is being established to see if the army’s complaints system is fit for purpose. The decision to hold the inquiry followed the publication of a review into allegations of brutal and “sadistic” abuse — including the rape of both male and female soldiers.

A Women of Honour spokesperson said:

“The level of payouts is a small indicator of the wrongs being perpetrated in the Defence Forces. This is a further reason why a full statutory tribunal of inquiry is required to examine what really is going on inside the Defence Forces. Sadly the Forces have become a centre of abuse of all forms and before it can be fully reformed.”

There had been concern among organisations like the Defence Forces Justice Alliance and the Women of Honour that anybody involved in proceedings would be barred from giving evidence.

The Department spokesperson said:

“Such personnel are not precluded from giving testimony/evidence to the tribunal.”

Ultimately, it will be a matter for the chair of the tribunal to determine the extent of the evidence to be heard, the spokesperson added.

Read full article by Neil Michael on the Irish Examiner website…

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-41350498.html

*****

Delay – Deny – Die

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/

*****

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

*****

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

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

*****

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

Watch & read Leo Varadkar the Taoiseach & then Minister for Defence, deny healthcare life saving healthcare initiatives for survivors of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure Scandal way back in 2018

Watch Leo Varadkar, then Taoiseach & Minister for Defence, deny calls for healthcare for survivors of the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy when requested by Aengus O’Snodaigh of Sinn Fein.

Varadkar gaslights survivors by claiming that Air Corps personnel were dying of everyday illnesses that most people will experience. However he ignores the young age of 48 that Air Corps personnel have been dying at.

Varadkar believes that the courts are the best place to assess the evidence of needless toxic chemical exposure of Irish Air Corps personnel by hearing all the evidence while the Minister, the Department of Defence and the Air Corps fight tooth and nail to make sure that all the evidence is not available to the plaintiffs.

By turning a medical issue into a legal issue Varadkar callously condemns those with on inclination to take legal action to unmitigated suffering and possibly an preventable early death.

Transcript 7th February 2018

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh – Sinn Fein

Seven cases are being taken against the State by current and former serving members of the Air Corps. They believe that they have been forced to take this action by the State’s failure to protect them from their exposure to toxic chemicals during their service, which led to serious, chronic and fatal illnesses, including cancer. While those cases will ultimately be dealt with by the courts, that does not prevent the State from taking action. As early as the 1990s, numerous State-commissioned reports highlighted health and safety concerns about chemical exposure at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, but no action was taken at the time. In fact, these reports mysteriously disappeared or were ordered to be shredded. Even after litigation commenced in 2013, basic health and safety precautions were not implemented at Baldonnel. It appears it was only after the Health and Safety Authority conducted an inspection in 2016 that personnel were provided with basic precautions like personal protection equipment such as gloves and overalls.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of personnel who have passed through Baldonnel may be suffering from chronic and even fatal illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals during their service. There is also a possibility that family members have been affected, as evidence suggests that there is a higher rate of a variety of health conditions among spouses and children, including stillbirths and miscarriages. The Government has taken no action to find out the extent of this scandal or to ascertain how many people might be suffering as a result of it. Instead, it is fighting tooth and nail through the courts to force sick people to take gruelling journeys in search of justice. By comparison, the Australian Government has set up a board of inquiry to conduct a thorough investigation into similar matters. It commissioned a survey of health outcomes for the relevant personnel and their families and put in place a health care system for those who were affected.

As the Taoiseach knows, a protected disclosure from one of the whistleblowers was recently released publicly. It makes for harrowing reading. It lists 56 deaths of former serving Air Corps personnel at an average age of 48. All of the cases listed relate specifically to people who died before they reached the age of 66. The disclosure is based on research done by the whistleblower in the absence of any State-funded investigation into these matters, but it is by no means exhaustive. I believe another number of deaths have been identified since it was published. It is clear that successive Governments have failed in their duty of care to the men and women who served in the Air Corps. This Government has an opportunity to do the right thing. We do not want to be here in ten years’ time with a higher death toll, having failed to address this scandal. Has the Taoiseach read the disclosure? Has he responded to the whistleblower in question? Does he accept that the time has come to order a full inquiry into these matters?

Leo Varadkar – Taoiseach & Minister for Defence  – Fine Gael

As the Deputy said, a number of cases are currently before the courts. While I have absolutely no doubt that the serious ill-health suffered by some former members of the Air Corps is real, it has not been proven whether this array of illnesses could be caused by chemical exposure. Obviously, these cases will be heard in the courts, which will hear all the evidence and, on that basis, make a determination on the claim or allegation that all of these illnesses were caused by chemical exposure. I think that is the right way for this to proceed. The health and well-being of men and women of the Air Corps are, of course, matters of huge concern and interest for the Government.

The Minister of State has ensured that allegations relating to exposure to chemical and toxic substances while working in Baldonnell were independently reviewed. Before considering any further steps, the Minister of State has asked those who made the disclosures for their views. He is examining options for next steps in the process in light of the views he has received from those who made the allegations in the context of ongoing litigation.

The independent report considers the Defence Forces’ health and safety regime and its current policy and application. In respect of historic matters, as litigation had commenced before protected disclosures were made, the report states that the courts are now the most appropriate forum for such matters to be assessed and are the best place to assess all the evidence. Although the report finds that the Defence Forces’ regime appears to be capable of meeting the statutory requirements, it makes a number of observations, including in respect of documentation, health surveillance and exposure monitoring. It also observes that the Health and Safety Authority is the appropriate statutory body to deal with such allegations.

Separately, and in parallel to this independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps has continued to work with the Health and Safety Authority to improve its health and safety regime. It should be noted that there is a significant overlap between the recommendations of the HSA and those of the independent reviewer. The military authorities have informed the Minister of State that the HSA has formally noted the high level of co-operation received from the Air Corps and the considerable progress made to date by the Defence Forces towards the implementation of safety management systems for the control of hazardous substances.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh – Sinn Fein

There is no denying that things are better in the Air Corps. However, what the Taoiseach has just read out does not in any way address the legacy of bad management and a bad health and safety record there. I do not know if the Taoiseach remembers that he is also Minister for Defence. He has a direct responsibility to look into these matters. He is also a medical doctor and will understand the list of illnesses that has been provided to his Minister of State, which includes very serious and often fatal conditions, as the other disclosure indicated. We do not know how many people have been exposed in an unprotected way because nobody has carried out a survey. The Australians did not wait for the courts to adjudicate fully, they acted immediately.

There is a list of chemicals, albeit a partial one, which was given to Deputy Lisa Chambers. How many of the people involved have been exposed? As the Taoiseach is aware, if a doctor does not know what people have been exposed to, he cannot help, diagnose, prescribe or direct medical procedures. This is about saving lives. Will the Taoiseach act now not in respect of the specific cases but on the legacy of all of those who are suffering in the general public?

Leo Varadkar – Taoiseach & Minister for Defence  – Fine Gael

The Deputy is absolutely correct; I am Minister for Defence. The Government has delegated responsibility for defence matters to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, whom I fully trust to deal with this issue appropriately.

I am a medical doctor and have seen the list of illnesses that these former members of the Air Corps and their families have suffered. It is a very long and extensive list of illnesses, including the most common illnesses which most people may encounter, namely, cancer, cardiovascular disease, suicide and miscarriages by their partners. As a medical doctor, it is not possible for me to say if exposure to chemicals caused all or any of these illnesses because they are commonplace in the community at large. **If it was one specific illness resulting from a known chemical that caused such an illness, that would be one thing. These are not the allegations that are being made, however. There is litigation before the courts, which are best placed to assess the evidence and see whether the allegations are supported by it.

Delay – Deny – Die

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
  • 12% of cancer deaths are specifically pancreatic cancer
  • 9% of cancer deaths are spcifically 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 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.

** Thousands of officer, enlisted & civillian personnel, some only children, were exposed to hundreds of dangerous chemicals on a daily basis at Baldonnel & Gormanston over many decades. This occured without informed consent, without any chemmical Health & Safety training, in most instances without even basic PPE and in many instances without the knowledge of those being exposed. 

It is simply impossible for such a mass exposure to cause  one specific illness. The Taoiseach was simply using his position as a doctor to gaslight survivors.

 

Watch & read Micheál Martin, the current Tánaiste & Minister for Defence, call for a public inquiry into the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure Scandal way back in 2017

Watch Micheál Martin TD the current Tánaiste & Minister for Defence call for then Taoiseach Enda Kenny to launch a public inquiry into the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure scandal way back in February 2017 when he was opposition leader.

Micheál Martin subsequently met with Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors in June 2017 and promised his ongoing support to help investigate and remedy the problem. Towards the end of that meeting one survivor asked if Martin would continue to support Air Corps survivors when he got into power and Martin replied “I will because it is the right thing to do”.

Since being elected to government he as done a complete about turn in that he has left injured Air Corps personnel to rot without any targeted medical interventions whatsoever by the Irish State.

Similar called for interventions in Australia for Royal Australian Air Force personnel has saved lives and reduced unnecessary suffering. But in Ireland Micheál Martin  continues the state mantra of DELAY DENY DIE.

Transcript

Deputy Micheál Martin – Fianna Fail

I want to raise a very serious issue with the Taoiseach which, on reflection, could represent a serious scandal. It involves an unacceptable response by the State regarding exposure to dangerous chemicals at the aircraft maintenance shops in Baldonnel by members of the Air Corps over many years.

Three whistleblowers warned the Taoiseach and the then Minister for Defence, Deputy Simon Coveney, in November 2015 about the conditions at the Air Corps maintenance shops in Baldonnel and the degree to which staff were exposed to very dangerous solvents and chemicals. The links of the particular chemicals involved to cancer-causing diseases, genetic mutations, neurological conditions and chronic diseases have been well-established. A precedent has been set by Australia where, in the early 2000s, the issue was identified and acted on by the Australian Government.

Complaints were made to the Department of Defence, the Air Corps and the Army in 2012 regarding this matter. In November 2015, the then Minister for Defence, Deputy Simon Coveney, was informed that workers were not receiving occupational health monitoring, as is required by law under the Health and Safety Act 2005. In what was an extraordinary situation, they were not provided with protective equipment and clothing as they worked with very dangerous chemicals. PDFORRA wrote to the Air Corps in 2015, warning that any health inspection of Baldonnel would produce damning findings. It took until 2016 for the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, to threaten the Air Corps with prosecution unless it implemented a number of recommendations, including the provision of appropriate equipment for handling chemicals and the surveillance of staff health to monitor any adverse effects they experienced as a result of their duties. Is it not extraordinary that in 2016 the HSA wrote to the Air Corps to demand that very basic provisions of our law be implemented?

The whistleblowers received no formal acknowledgement from the Minister, Deputy Coveney, during that 12-month period. The response of the State has been standard and deeply depressing. It has resorted to the courts. There are currently six cases before the courts, and the Government is fighting them very strongly and acknowledging no negligence. In 2000, the Australian Government appointed a board of inquiry. Arising out of that, it commissioned a study of the health outcomes of aircraft maintenance personnel working in the F111 bomber programme , which came up with some fairly damning findings.

Why was the State so slow to respond to the whistleblowers and to investigate the health conditions at Baldonnel? Why were the whistleblowers not acknowledged by the Minister? Will the Government commission an independent health outcome study of aircraft maintenance personnel, similar to that carried out by the Australian Government, of personal working in aircraft maintenance shops in Baldonnel? Will it commission a similar independent board of inquiry of the entire affair and scandal?

Enda Kenny  – The Taoiseach – Fine Gael

A number of protected disclosures have been made regarding the Air Corps. An independent third party was appointed to review the allegations and those making the disclosures were informed of this. Since then, there has been a line of communication with the individuals involved. When the disclosures were received, legal advice was sought and an independent reviewer was appointed. Subsequently, the person appointed could not act and an alternative independent third party was appointed. In November, interim recommendations and observations were submitted to the Minister, which were passed to the military authorities for immediate action and response.

As Deputy Martin knows, I have delegated, by statutory instrument, responsibility for defence to the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe. On 7 January 2017, a response was received from the military authorities outlining the actions that are underway, which was forwarded to the independent reviewer who was appointed for his consideration. That reviewer will now consider this material, undertake the further steps he deems appropriate in order to finalise the review in the context of the situation being as serious as Deputy Martin has pointed out. Once a final review is to hand, let me assure Deputy Martin that the Minister of State will see to it that all recommendations to ensure the safety of the members of the Defence Forces are acted upon properly.

As the independent process is ongoing and these issues are the subject of litigation, I probably should not say any more. From my experience of dealing with the Defence Forces across the entire range of their operations, they have always operated to the very highest standards. The issues raised by Deputy Martin are very different and need to be dealt with. I hope that the response received from the military authorities, which is now in the hands of the independently appointed person, will be examined properly and the recommendations made by the independent reviewer implemented, as they should be.

Everybody wants those who give so much of their lives to the Defence Forces to have proper equipment, the very best facilities and be safeguarded, in particular in matters relating to health and safety, and that these are of the very highest standards. What the Deputy has referred to is different.

The HSA has carried out three inspections of the Air Corps in Baldonnel, focusing in particular on the control of occupational hygiene hazards in the workplace, including health surveillance issues. The HSA issued its report of inspection to the Air Corps on 21 October 2016. It listed a number of matters requiring attention, including risk assessment, health surveillance, monitoring of employees actual exposure to particular hazardous substances and the provision and use of personal protective equipment.

Deputy Micheál Martin

I am very dissatisfied with that response. The Taoiseach has not explained what happened between 2015, when the protected disclosure was made, and why the Minister, Deputy Coveney, did not acknowledge and respond to the whistleblowers. There is a sense that this has been buried.

The HSA report is dated October 2016. It states that staff needed to be given equipment to protect themselves from chemical exposure and that adequate and appropriately specified personal protective equipment, in particular protective gloves, eye protection and respirators for protection against chemical exposure, must be readily available to employees as required by relevant risk assessment findings. The implication is that this was not the case of up to that point, which is quite extraordinary. I agree with the Taoiseach about the degree to which we hold our Defence Forces in high esteem. The continual lack of enforcement and protection of health surveillance and so on is quite extraordinary.

I put it to the Taoiseach that the response of the Government is to bury this matter. Litigation is ongoing.

Will the Taoiseach ensure that the HSA report is published? Will he publish all internal reports in the Department pertaining to the matter? In addition, will the Taoiseach ensure that there was full public disclosure? We are not talking about just now, but what went on for the past 20 to 25 years.

An Ceann Comhairle – Seán Ó Fearghaíl

The Deputy’s time is up.

Deputy Micheál Martin

The Australian Government’s approach was markedly different to that of the Irish Government, which is to deny repeatedly and resist and more or less say to the whistleblowers that it does not accept anything they are saying—–

An Ceann Comhairle – Seán Ó Fearghaíl

The Deputy’s time is up.

Deputy Micheál Martin

—–and that it has no time for the manner in which they have gone about this. I have spoken to them and that is how they feel right now.

Enda Kenny – The Taoiseach

Litigation is ongoing, so I will not comment on it. However, the issues that have been raised need to be and will be dealt with. On the first person to be appointed, it is quite difficult to get somebody with the range of competences to deal with all the implications of hazardous substances and that sort of area. The second person that was appointed has now received the material.

The HSA issued its inspection report to the Air Corps on 21 October last year, in which it listed a number of matters. I am advised that the military authorities responded in writing to the HSA report on 23 December last year and indicated that the Air Corps is fully committed to implementing the improved safety measures that protect workers from potential exposures to chemicals and that it will ensure that risks are as low as is reasonably practicable. The Air Corps has implemented an improvement plan which has been conducted over eight phases. The first phase commenced in September 2016, with phase completion dates to December 2017. I am advised that seven of the eight phases are due to be implemented by May 2017.

A number of disclosures were made to the Minister for Defence under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. They were received in December 2015 and December 2016. I will update the House—–

Deputy Micheál Martin

What happened to them?

 

Enda Kenny – The Taoiseach

A person was appointed earlier on who was not able to take up the duty.

Deputy Micheál Martin

There was no response to the whistleblowers.

 

Enda Kenny – The Taoiseach

A number of other issues are the subject of litigation at the moment. However, I will update the House because we will sort this out.

Delay – Deny – Die

 

 

Martin accused of turning back on Air Corps toxic chemical exposure victims

Defence Minister Micheál Martin has been accused of turning his back on survivors of toxic chemical exposure while serving in the Air Corps.

They say they have asked for direct engagement with him before agreement on the format of a statutory inquiry related to Defence Forces abuse allegations is reached.

Mr Martin has been holding meetings with representatives of serving and former Defence Forces personnel.

Those not invited to such meetings are instead emailed what the Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors (ACCAS) describe as round-robin and impersonal “Dear Stakeholder” updates by civil servants.

One of the latest face-to-face meetings with Mr Martin was last Thursday and it was with the Women of Honour group.

They featured in RTE’s Katie Hannon’s expose in 2021, which led to the launch of the Independent Review Group investigation into allegations of sexual abuses in the Defence Forces.

The review group’s report in March included allegations of both male and female soldiers being raped, sexually assaulted, and bullied.

However, while the Women of Honour did not give evidence to the review group, ACCAS did.

The extent of abuse they allege they suffered was so extensive the report recommended their allegations should feature in a statutory investigation.

A photo of the Irish Air Corps NDT Shop taken in 2007

Like members of Women of Honour, a number of ACCAS members are also suing over abuse they allege they endured.

The ACCAS say the Defence Minister’s failure to engage with them contrasts with a meeting he had with them in June 2017 when he vowed to support their cause “because it is the right thing to do”

Read full article by Neil Michael on Irish Examiner website…https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-41181115.html

*****

34 men and 1 woman have died prematurely since Martin stood up in the Dáil and called for a public inquiry into the Air Corps toxic chemical exposure scandal on the 1st of February 2017.

Some of these serving & former personnel could have been saved by awareness campaigns and risk specific medical interventions, since he gained power Martin has chose to let suffere & die unnecessarily. 

Martin has failed to respond to requests for meetings with survivors since he came to power despite precedent where previous Minister’s for Defence such as Simon Coveney & Paul Kehoe met with the same personnel. 

Absolutely nothing has been done to provide targeted healthcare for exposed personnel since this date despite damning findings by the HSA which the Department of Defence and the defence forces continue to try to downplay.

Delay – Deny – Die