Is anything safe at Air Corps base?

Damaged drains, cables across hangar floors, a leaking oven, oil spills and a risk of Legionnaires’ disease… these are just a few of the workplace hazards inspectors found at Casement Aerodrome

Health and safety inspections on the Irish Air Corps discovered spills of hazardous brake fluid, a water supply that carried the risk of Legionnaires disease, fall risks, damaged drains and trailing cables across hangar floors.

The Defence Forces were also issued with a contravention notice by the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) over the use of some chemicals without proper training of personnel.

A separate report from December said that several safety data sheets were outdated and recommended additional training on the handling of specific restricted chemicals. 

Read full article by Ken Foxe at the Irish Mail on Sunday via Pressreader…

https://www.pressreader.com/article/281728389626905

*****

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

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

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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

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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