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

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. 

*****

  • 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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Dáil Éireann – 2nd March 2023 – Public Accounts Committee – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure (Transcript)

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I have one area I wish to pursue. I do not know if this falls into potential liabilities. I have raised this before with the SCA regarding Casement Aerodrome. I have a list of premature deaths of people of pre-retirement age. Since 2019, we have seen deaths of people aged 56, 51, 63, 55, 27, 55, 55, 62, 63, 55, 51 and 38. I can go back to 1981 in terms of the age profile. Given this is not a gigantic employer, it is a stand-out in terms of premature deaths and certainly raises a significant question mark in this regard for me and for others. The SCA went in and carried out a safety management systems audit in 2010. Have such audits been repeated? Is the SCA dealing with active claims now concerning Casement Aerodrome?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

When the Deputy refers to Casement Aerodrome, I presume she is referring to the cases in the workshop. I say this because we have other claims from Casement Aerodrome.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Yes

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

We have roughly about ten cases outstanding relating to the workshop there. These are all cases where proceedings have been issued. Liability is an issue in those cases. When I say it is an issue in these cases, we are currently going through all our investigations. There is some outstanding information that we require in the context of the management of those cases, which is a normal part of the investigation of those cases. I am, therefore, very limited in what I can say to the Deputy about them.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Regarding preventative actions, I presume the SCA continues to carry out audits. Has it carried out more audits than the audit carried out in 2010?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

I am sure we have. I am sorry I do not have that information for the Deputy today.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Mr. Breen might come back to us with it.

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

Yes

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Along with those cases where I listed the ages of death regarding particular individuals since 2019, and I appreciate this is across the spectrum but equally this is not a gigantic employer, there are also others living with conditions. There is again a profile here in this regard and a similarity regarding the conditions. I presume this is part of the active cases.

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

It most certainly is.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

The SCA reckons there are about ten cases at this stage.

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

I think it is ten.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I understand these are active cases, but when was the first one initiated? Would Mr. Breen at least be able to give us a timeline?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

I will have to come back to the committee on this point.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Okay. I would appreciate it if Mr. Breen would do that because this is an issue that is on my desk constantly. I know more than a couple of the people involved. This is a stand-out situation and I think some of these things are going to be quite unusual in terms of workplace issues. This was my main point.

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Again a representatives of the State Claim Agency attempts to narrow down the Air Corps toxic chemical exposure problems to the a single location that he refers to as “the workshop”.

For the avoidance of doubt below are the locations (old names) at the Irish Air Corps where personnel were exposed to toxic chemicals on a regular basis without any chemical awareness training, without chemical handling training and in most cases without any PPE.

  • Air Support Company Signals – Workshops & Battery Shop
  • Avionics Squadron – Electrical Shop / Instrument Shop / Systems Shop
  • Basic Flight Training Squadron – Hangar & IRANs in Eng Wing.
  • Control Tower – Due to proximity to aircraft exhaust gasses
  • Cookhouse – Trichloroethylene used weekly to degrease the floors
  • Engine Repair Flight – Engine Shop / NDT Shop / Machine Shop
  • Engineering Wing Hangar – Carpentry Shop / Spray Paint Shop / Hydraulic Shop / Sheet Metal Shop / Welding Shop 
  • Fire Crew – Due to proximity to aircraft exhaust gasses
  • Gormanston
  • No 3 Support (Helicopter) Wing
  • Light Strike Squadron
  • Main Technical Stores – Built on a former Toxic Dump
  • Maritime Squadron
  • Parachute Shop
  • Photo Section – Affecting Main Block & Signals Workshops
  • Refueler Section
  • Training Depot
  • Transport & Training Squadron
  • Transport
  • VIP Terminal – Due to proximity to aircraft exhaust gasses

Delay – Deny – Die

Death rate among former Irish Air Corps personnel needs to be examined, expert says

Whistleblowers blame premature deaths on exposure to toxic chemicals without PPE

The rate of deaths among former Air Corps personnel who have been exposed to dangerous chemicals needs to be examined by the Government, a leading public health expert has said.

Anthony Staines, who is professor of health systems at DCU, said the number of former personnel who have died prematurely appears to be higher than what would be expected for that population.

Protected disclosures about the exposure of aircraft technicians to dangerous chemicals at Baldonnel Airfield were first made to the Government in 2015.

One of the whistleblowers, former Air Corps technician Gavin Tobin, has been keeping track of serious illnesses and premature deaths in former colleagues which he believes may have been caused by exposure to these substances without personal protective equipment (PPE).

As of Friday he had recorded 96 premature deaths resulting from a variety of illnesses, including heart problems and rare forms of cancer. The average age of those who died is 52, he said.

Prof Staines told The Irish Times he has examined the figures provided by Mr Tobin and found them “surprising”.

He said the death rate is not particularly out of step with the general population but that “this is a group of people where the death rate should be low!”.

Read full article by Conor Gallagher the Irish Times website…

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Taoiseach under pressure as SCA slow to hand over air corps documents

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27 men and one woman have died since the first whistleblower raised concerns of untimely deaths in a Protected Disclosure to the Minister for Defence in 2015.

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 continue to try to downplay. 

Seanad Éireann – 17th July 2020 – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure Scandal

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell (Independent)

Watch Senator Gerard Craughwell request that the speaker of the Irish Senate invite the head of the State Claims Agency before senators in the Upper House to explain why NAMA / NTMA / SCA have ignored an order of the Irish Supreme Court to provide critical toxic chemical exposure data to a former Irish Air Corps technician.

The technician is one of a number of seriously injured Irish Air Corps personnel who are taking legal action against the state alleging non existent chemical health & safety at the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome.

The data was originally requested in 2013 and has delayed legal cases for 7 years. 32 personnel have died young since the data was requested bringing the untimely death body count to 78 personnel with an average age 50 years.

A third of the deaths are cancer, a third are cardiovascular and a fifth (15) suicide. #DelayDenyDie 

Former Defence Forces mechanic wins appeal over order halting damages claim

Court of Appeal overturns High Court finding over action time limits

A former aircraft mechanic with the Defence Forces has won his appeal against an order halting his damages action over injuries allegedly suffered as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals at work.

The Court of Appeal overturned a High Court finding that Ian Coughlan’s action was brought outside the applicable time limits and thus bound to fail.

The High Court relied on inadmissible evidence in coming to that finding, the three judge Court of Appeal held in its judgment on Wednesday.

The application to halt the case must now be reconsidered in line with the Court of Appeal’s findings.

 

Mr Justice Noonan said Mr Coughlan, both during and after his employment with the Defence Forces, attended a large number of doctors about his complaints. Mr Coughlan himself has long believed there was an association between his complaints and his working environment but says he was repeatedly assured by doctors he was wrong about this, the judge noted.

Mr Coughlan says it was only in November 2011, when he got a verbal opinion from a clinical toxico-pathologist, a Professor Howard, that he became aware of a causal link between his symptoms and his employment.

He claimed that was his date of knowledge for his cause of action and, because his proceedings were issued in 2013, they were within the two – year limit stipulated in the Statute of Limitations Act.

The defendants argued his date of knowledge long pre-dated the November 2011 opinion. They said he had seen a toxicologist, a Dr Wood, in London in 2008 and exhibited a January 2009 report by Dr Wood in arguing his claim was statute barred.

The judge found an objection by counsel for Mr Coughlan to the admissibility of the Wood report on hearsay grounds was “well-founded”. The Wood report had the same status as a document produced in the course of discovery, it does not prove itself and it was inadmissible as hearsay, he held.

Even if the report was properly admitted and properly proved, fair procedures required its contents should have been put to Mr Coughlan in cross-examination to give him a fair opportunity to deal with it, he also held.

Read full article on the Irish Times website below…

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It should be noted that in order to comply with a recent Supreme Court order in relation to a separate case the Irish Air Corps have until the 6th of April to provide a full list of toxic workplace chemicals they have withheld from former personnel. 

Delay – Deny – Die