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

*****

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. 

*****

  • 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…

*****

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.

*****

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

Dead servicemen walking – The Human Impact of the RAAF Deseal / Reseal Scandal

This article was originally published by Armed Services magazine in Australia and we believe it dates from 2005. The article was written by Paul Daley and photos are by Richard Whitfield.

Forced to crawl inside F-111s through toxic sludge and fumes, these men are now doomed to a living death while Canberra looks the other way.

Allan Henry mows the lawn and washes up. On a bad day, the dishes can take an hour-and-a-half. He gets breathless, his body aches and the exertion of merely shifting them from suds to dish rack impels him to stop, exhausted, to rest. The back lawn of his Brisbane home can take two days to mow. He needs three to recover.

These prosaic tasks are all that link the husk of Allan Henry to the man he was in 1981: an optimistic young father with a promising career as an electrician in the Royal Australian Air Force. He insists on mowing and washing-up as if they were the last threads of his humanity, just as he clings to the mundane routine of daytime snoozes, endless doctors’ appointments and pottering around that form his twilight existence.

Allan Henry is 46. His wife says he looks 65. It breaks her heart. “Our plan was that we’d still be enjoying ourselves in middle age. The kids would be gone and we could travel. Tomorrow’s our 25th wedding anniversary. But there’s no party – he can’t go to parties any more,” says Kathleen Henry, a slim, tanned, intelligent woman who comes from generations of RAAF stock.

“We know they are all dead men walking. It’s a reality we all have to face and come to terms with. I know it sounds hard and callous. But it’s true. They are dead men walking.”

Allan Henry is slowly, prematurely, painfully fading away because the air force that he loved poisoned him.

It exposed him to a multitude of highly toxic chemicals that were used to clean and re-seal the faulty fuel tanks of Australia’s fleet of F-111 strike-bombers from 1973 until 2000. Since 1981, when he began experiencing mood swings, depression and crippling headaches while working on the planes, Henry’s health has steadily declined. He’s had dozens of carcinomas removed, his joints have seized, his respiratory and immune systems are shot and for 14 years he suffered weeping lesions all over his body. In 1999, the doctors told Kathleen and their three children, Allan wouldn’t survive the year.

Alan Henry passed away in 2008 aged 49.

But on he fights – as one of at least 400, but by some estimates as many as 800, seriously ill victims of a scandal that resulted from a mind-boggling, negligent and deadly failure in the RAAF’s chain of command. It is clear that RAAF commanders at Amberley Air Force base near Ipswich, west of Brisbane, where the F-111s are based, didn’t just allow two generations of technicians to work with chemicals they knew to be potentially deadly. They made them. Their health, it seems, was a small price to pay to keep the F-111s airborne.

Countless former servicemen who worked on the de-seal/re-seal (DSRS) program at Ambcrlcy have died of dreadful diseases. Some have taken their own lives. Other seriously brain-damaged men, lost inside the Kafkaesque maze that is Australia’s military compensation system, are frustrated to the point of suicide.

This tragedy is compounded by the victims’ ages: many are in their 30s, 40s and early 50s – people whose best years have been stolen just when they should be enjoying the rewards of middle age. Instead, they are living agonising, confused and uncertain final years and months.

A July 2001 military Board of Inquiry found the RAAF command at Amberley culpably failed to protect its personnel due to a chain of command malfunction. In layman’s terms, this means no superior officer put the health of his men ahead of the aircraft until late 1999, when a new sergeant complained. De-seal operations were immediately suspended.

At a time when a federal parliamentary committee is abot1t to report on failures in the military justice system, the episode stands as a shocking indictment of a “group think” culture that pervades sections of the military and allows such unjust – even, arguably, criminal – practices to continue unchecked. No senior RAAF personnel have ever been punished. The committee has given no in-depth consideration to the episode.

The 2001 military inquiry found “…the scale and duration of the problem indicates that we are dealing with a deep-seated failure for which no single individual or group of individuals can reasonably be held accountable”. Meanwhile, a health study concluded the de-sealers were 50% more likely to develop cancers than other military personnel and that many suffered from depression, erectile dysfunction, skin and respiratory diseases, cardiovascular and neurological disease, mood swings and memory problems.

Anecdotally, an inordinate number of de-sealers’ wives have miscarried or given birth to children with abnormalities. Many of their children are now experiencing reproductive problems. Many have failed to eke out any sort of living since being medically discharged. Hundreds of marriages have failed. Domestic violence is rife.

Military aircraft technicians are drawn from the top 5% to 10% of society’s IQ pool. It is compelling, then, that the University of Newcastle health study concluded the de-sealers today live among the 30% of society with the poorest lifestyle and health.

This is a dark, disturbing story with no prospect of a happy ending. Its central characters will never recover. Not even the swift delivery of compensation – as promised by the federal government – could change that.

This story’s only light comes through the window it opens onto a human spirit that compels these desperate people to keep fighting the system they so unquestioningly, so patriotically served.

It is a harrowing experience to sit with two desperately ill mates, both fathers in early middle age, while they blithely discuss suicide as if it were merely another medical treatment open to them.

Frank Cooper, 47, has the delivery, timing and presence of a stand-up comic. When you shake his knobbly hand, contorted by arthritis and punctuated by the space formerly inhabited by the amputated finger, you realise everything’s wrong. He’s edgy and anxious; like most former de-sealers, he suffers terrifying panic attacks, though they are the least of his medical problems. He is eager to launch into his story. For who knows? Tomorrow he mightn’t remember it.

But he defers to the younger, more obviously ill man, 46-year-old Rob Solomons. Solomons has gone irreversibly to seed. Of course, it’s impossible to stay fit when you’ve got chemically induced dementia and you’re debilitated by migraines and blackouts, depression, nerve damage in your feet and hands, chronically high blood pressure, bowel and digestive diseases and respiratory problems. His marriage has failed.

On top of all that, there’s the final indignity: the lingering emotional insecurity born of having been unable to get it up for years.

But Frank is a mate. So he can hang shit on Rob. He does so mercilessly and, as they sit in Rob’s living room in Donnybrook on the coast north of Brisbane, they bounce off one another like some dark version of The Two Ronnies.

“He can’t remember what fuckin’ day it is,” Frank says, gesturing to Rob. “Ask him if he wants a cup of tea… he’ll go and make one, forget he’s done it and five minutes later make another one. There’ll be three cups of tea sitting there and he’ll go and make another one. You should go for a drive with him… I mean, no fuckin’ way – you wouldn’t get in a car with the bastard.”

Both men laugh hysterically. There’s no pretence. Just the gallows humour of the condemned.

The mood quickly segues from black comedy to tragedy.

“Go on,” Frank urges, “tell him about what we were discussing just before he arrived.”

“What?” stammers Rob. “Sss-suicide, do you mean?”

“Yeah – suicide,” says Frank.

“Yeah, mate, yeah … suicide,” says Rob, twitching as he turns to address me.

“We’ve both been there so often it’s not funny. You feel so shithouse all the time, and you can’t remember anything so you let people down constantly. Then there’s the mmm-mood swings, so you’re bloody impossible to live with. And then there’s just this constant fight for the compensation and money worries that just wears you down further and further. The frustration and stress is huge. I can tell you, the only reason I’m alive today is because I live with a 12-year-old bbbbb-boy [his son, with whom he lives alone] who supports me so wonderfully. He walks over and gives me a big hug and says, ‘Dad, are you gonna be OK”?’. What do I say? I know I won’t be.”

It’s his son’s 13th birthday today. Rob would have forgotten. Except his Palm Pilot reminded him with the message: GET UP – IT’S NICK’S BIRTHDAY. TRY AND BE HAPPY. He tries hard to !Je a good dad. He feels guilty because there’s so much he can’t do.

Frank. now three years into his third marriage, has two kids. He’s only just hung onto this wife who, like the partners of most former de-sealers, hates his pain and finds him cantankerous and unpredictable, but mostly sad.

“A week after the honeymoon for my third marriage, ,we came back from Perth and straight away I had a complete breakdown because I was so stressed that I’d lose her, too… how do you think that made her feel?”

He’s had a heart attack and suffers severe psoriasis that makes him shed layers of skin, snake-like, in the bed every night. Chronic spondylitis has resulted in five vertebrae being surgically fused, accounting for his hunched appearance; he’ll be in a wheelchair before long. He drives with a restricted licence and can’t move his head much. In 1988, he was diagnosed with chronic sarcoidosis, a rare’ asbestosis-like condition (common among former de-sealers) that causes fungus to grow in the lungs and robs the victim of breath. A typical week comprises visits to the hydrotherapist, the physiotherapist, the podiatrist, the dermatologist, the GP, the osteopath and the cardiologist. Work is unthinkable.

Like Rob, he has a small total and permanent disability pension and a medical Gold Card from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. But there is no formal acknowledgement that their ailments resulted from working on the de-seal program and both gave up trying to negotiate pension back pay when they became stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire. Neither has been compensated.

“I’ve got on the phone – we’ve all got on the phone – and said, ‘I’m going to top myself unless you sort this out’. But they don’t give a shit,” says Frank.

“I know I might have 10 years left. So it’s time the bastards stopped fucking us around – it’s just chewing up what precious time we’ve got left. [Defence Minister] Robert Hill made that statement last year – he said we’d be compensated. Well, where is it? Our lives are on bloody hold and the frustration and the stress is only making us worse – it’s killing us.”

Later, as Frank Cooper drives me to the train station, he says: “Mate, I’m really worried about Rob. He’s got no one, you know, to support him. No one.”

How did it come to this?

In 1963 the Menzies government ordered 24 General Dynamics F-111 long-range strike-bombers from the United States. Originally due for delivery in 1968, technical problems delayed their delivery until October 1973.

With their heavy payload of bombs and missiles, and their exceptional range – enabling them to fly to most Asian capitals and return to Australia without re-fuelling – they were intended as a deterrent to potentially hostile states in the region. The aircraft owes its range to its enormous fuel capacity. To this day the F-111 – which will be withdrawn from service in 2010 – is effectively a flying fuel tank. But it was defective from the start; the tanks were designed without an internal bladder and soon after delivery, avgas began leaking through the metal seams in the wings and the fuselage.

The same problem had happened in the US and the Americans had perfected a technique known as “deseal/re-seal”, whereby the original sealants were stripped through an elaborate process of chemical application, high-pressure blasting and hand picking with small, sharp instruments, before new, equally toxic, sealant was applied. A cocktail of dozens of toxic chemicals was also used. Perhaps the most infamous was SR51, a desealant and proven carcinogen. While some American service personnel worked on the F-111 tanks, the US military – perhaps sensing a future health scandal – mainly used labour from Latin America.

But for the Australians assigned to DSRS at Amberley, it was backbreaking, claustrophobic, physically and socially isolating, demoralising and potentially deadly work. For dozens of men and boys as young as 17, de-seal was their first posting after finishing apprenticeships in Wagga Wagga. “What was I going to say when they sent me to de-seal: ‘No, sir’?” says Frank Cooper. “Come on, I mean I was 17 years old.”

For months at a time they would work in a makeshift cloth hangar, segregated from the rest of the base due to the foul smell of the chemicals. The technicians would work crouched or lying horizontally in the tanks, covered in ct1emicals and surrounded by fumes, for up to eight hours at a time.

The SR51 corroded their protective gloves in minutes and ate away their flimsy cotton overalls. Cumbersome respiratory gear was rarely worn because it made crawling through the tanks near impossible.

The workers were ordered not to wear jockeys under their overalls because the chemicals would melt them. “So you were sitting there in cotton overalls and this stuff – SR51 and other chemicals – were soaking into your cock and balls through the flimsy overalls – no wonder we’ve got all these sexual problems,” says Rob Solomons.

“You’d lapse into unconsciousness, get dragged out of the tank, get left on the floor to sober up and put back in again.”

Those who complained were malingerers, slackers, even though many quickly developed severe health problems and were treated on the base and at the civilian hospital in nearby Ipswich. If the de-seal program was suspended due to health concerns, the F-111s – whose flight crews were largely oblivious to the suffering of the maintenance crews – wouldn’t fly. This was unthinkable, as the board of inquiry noted.

One de-sealer with serious health problems who refused to re-enter the tanks was sentenced to seven days’ detention. Another was given the particularly onerous task of incinerating the SR51 goop once it congealed. He was constantly covered in the stuff, suffered the pro-forma headaches, dizziness, mood swings and depression, and complained, to no avail.

Even on the base, the de-sealers were ostracised because of their smell. When the SR51 combined with body fat, it produced an odour likened to a mixture of old socks, rotten eggs, sweat, dirt and ammonia. The de-sealers were consequently banned from the base cinema, the mess and the boozer. The smell was impervious to showering. Wives and girlfriends slept in spare beds. Single men staying in barracks were given their own rooms.

All the while the de-sealers’ bodies tried to purge the poison by expelling a stinking yellow grease – a combination of body fat and noxious chemicals. The sludge permanently stained bed sheets and clothing.

“It’s a beautiful piece of machinery – I love the F1-11. It still gives me goose bumps when I hear the afterburners crack up for take-off. It’s a sound you can never get enough of.”

So says Geoff Curl who, at just 42, might pass for a man in his 50s. He’s yet another former de-sealer whose trashed health is the legacy of keeping the F-111 airborne. For more than 20 years he has suffered reflux, chronic bowel problems, arthritis, painful calcium deposits in his hands and shoulders, aching joints, agoraphobia, panic attacks, depression, dangerous mood swings and obsessive compulsive disorder. He has an obvious tremor.

The illnesses have, by his own admission, made him a nightmare to live with.

“I have been violent towards my wife and my kids,” he says. “I was also violent towards my first wife. I see red and I just snap. My wife is fantastic for what she puts up with. She deserves recognition.”

As part of his quest to get compensation, Curl saw numerous doctors at the behest of the military authorities. He maintains they were “doctor shopping” to find a diagnosis that would downplay his illnesses. While he receives a disability pension and his medical costs are covered by a Veteran’s Affairs Gold Card, he has received no compensation.

“The big fear that I have is that my life will be cut short…and [that] will leave my wife and children with very little. This is a real fear for me… I have watched friends of mine, also ex de-sealers, die at early ages of rapidly growing cancers,” he says.

“My quality of life has gone… it’s a life destroyed by the deliberate actions of RAAF officers who, with a blatant disregard for the life of the service personnel involved, chose to ignore all the warnings they had received about the chemicals we were using, and said, ‘Just do it’. Not one of them has apologised. Not one.”

Tony Brady began his apprenticeship two weeks after his 16th birthday. Soon “Mouse”, as he was known because of his tiny frame, was crawling inside the tanks. His size made him perfect for the job.

“I was used to access a lot of the smaller tanks and especially those that required moving past plumbing stilt in place; it often took over an hour of manoeuvring through the inside of the F-111 to access my work area, and longer to get out… I would be [so] stiff and swollen from being confined in such a small area for several hours that it made it difficult to work my way back out. We were required to have LFTs [liver function tests] every three months,” he says.

“One day, shortly after the blood tests, I got a call from medical section and they jokingly asked if I was glowing yellow… it turns out enzymes within my liver were more than 10 times their normal reading and I was taken out of de-seal immediately.”

Brady’s health is ruined. He is ·40. His second marriage recently failed. “My psychiatrists tell me that chemical poisoning has affected my mental health… I have panic disorder, I’m bipolar and suffer anxiety. Physically, my whole respiratory system is shot, I get bronchitis four or five times a year. I have chronic rhinitis and chronic allergic conjunctivitis, and I suffer from long-term infections due to my immune system not being able to handle things.” Brady, like the rest, awaits compensation.

Last year, Defence Minister Robert Hill promised the workers they would be compensated for their exposure to the chemicals – though not, it must be emphasised, for their immense pain and suffering or loss of earnings. The families of the dead stand to get nothing.

On October 26, Hill said he would take a submission to federal cabinet before Christmas recommending a single compensation scheme for the former de-sealers.

Hill said: “Obviously, at the time, the use of those solvents and other materials in those confined spaces was not understood to be dangerous in the way that it’s turned out to be. It’s something we clearly regret and we accept our responsibility to properly support and, where appropriate, compensate those who have suffered.”

For compensation specific to their injuries, the de-sealers must go through the courts (21 of them, including Cooper and Solomons, who are frustrated with waiting for military compensation or Hill’s ex-gratia payment, are suing the federal government, each for $800,000) or apply within the convoluted guidelines of several overlapping military compensation schemes.

There is further mounting anxiety among the former de-sealers that changes to the legislative definitions of impairment for lump-sum Commonwealth claimants injured before July 2004 will make it even harder for them to get compensation.

Under the changes, that which is currently defined as 10% impairment will be re-defined – or effectively downgraded – to a 5% impairment. Those who are not 10% incapacitated will be ineligible for compensation. They’ll also lose the right to sue their employers, even if the employer was negligent.

Ian Fraser, a former de-sealer with a range of serious health problems, now runs the F-111 De-seal Re-seal Support group with the help of Kathleen Henry and Liz Agerbeek, whose seriously ill husband Rudi also worked in the tanks. While they have energetically lobbied the federal government on behalf of the injured and have done much to keep the de-sealers in the pages of the local press in Queensland where most of them still live, Fraser is now calling for a royal commission into the military compensation system.

“OK, so we’ve had the board of inquiry which identified the problem, we’ve had the health study which showed we were injured by the chemicals, the government has promised us compensation, but we’re still waiting. They should be treating this as a humanitarian issue, not a political problem,” he says.

“Blokes are dying [the support group estimates 40 or 50 have died since the board of inquiry] while they wait for compensation and get shuffled from agency to agency and doctor to doctor.

“Enough is enough. We need a royal commission into the way these people have been treated before more are mistreated in the same way. Everyone’s had enough.”

“We need grief counselling because we know all these men are going to die,” Liz Agerbeek says matter-of-factly.

“It’s a mother-child relationship that’s developed between the wives and their men. It’s not healthy. All we do is care for them. We do not have normal healthy relationships… those planes have ruined our lives.

While Curtin University in Western Australia is conducting a lifestyle impact study on the partners of the de-sealers, no quantifiable research has been conducted into the health of their offspring. But anecdotal evidence (supported by postings on the support group’s website www.gooptroop.com) abounds that countless children of the F-111 workers were born with defects.

They include Allan and Kathleen Henry’s son Sean, who was conceived while his father worked in the tanks. He was born with respiratory and learning problems. He also suffers from a rare disease, osteo chrondoma, which causes tumours to grow from the bone.

“When he was a little boy, he effectively grew another bone out of his shoulder blade. He’s had five growths like this removed from his body. As a little boy, he used to ask us what was going on and we’d tell him he was growing spare parts,” Kathleen says.

Doctors give Sean a life expectancy of 30. He’s just turned 21 – a little younger than his father, Allan, when he first crawled into the bowels of an F-111. How cruel it is that the F-111 will be almost 50 when it’s eventually retired from service.

*****

Delay – Deny – Die

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

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 100 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 87 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 62 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
  • 29% of deaths are from cardiac issues
  • 6% of deaths are specifically cardiomyopathy related
  • 15% 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.

Joe Duffy, Liveline & the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure Scandal

In 1990, RTE radio’s Gay Byrne & Joe Duffy paid a live visit to the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. Since the above photo was taken, 94 serving & former Air Corps personnel have suffered untimely* deaths, dying at an average age of 53 years.

Many more personnel along with their partners & children have suffered catastrophic physical & mental health issues due to decades of unprotected & unmitigated toxic chemical exposure including exposure to CMRs

Joe Duffy is now the host of Liveline but when Irish Air Corps survivors attempted to get on the show they were refused.

Uncritical Irish Air Corps PR pieces by RTE radio continue while RTE news ignores the toxic chemical exposure scandal that HSA inspectors described as “the worst case of chemical misuse in the history of the state”.

*****

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 99 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 86 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 61 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

  • 42% of deaths are from cancer
  • 27% of deaths are from cardiac issues
  • 15% 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.

Impact of Firefighting Aqueous Film-Forming Foams on Human Cell Proliferation and Cellular Mortality

Abstract

Objective

Evaluate the toxic effects of Aqueous Film-Forming Foams used by firefighters for Class B fire suppression in human-derived kidney cells (HEK-293).

Methods

Three widely used AFFFs were collected from fire departments and were added to HEK-293 cells in various concentrations. Seventy-two hours post-treatment, cellular proliferation and toxicity were examined using commercially available kits.

Results

All AFFFs evaluated induced cellular toxicity and significantly decreased cell proliferation, even when cells were treated with concentrations 10-fold lower than the working concentration used for fire suppression.

Conclusion

Despite the reduced usage of PFAS-containing AFFFs in the firefighter work environment, the evaluated AFFFs demonstrated significantly altered cellular proliferation, while also inducing toxicity, indicating the presence of toxic compounds. Both stronger implementation of PFAS-containing AFFFs restrictions and robust evaluation of fluorine-free and next-generation AFFFs are warranted.

In Brief

Firefighters are routinely exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) through the use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFFs) for the suppression of Class B fire, which derive from flammable and combustible liquids, such as gasoline and alcohol. The addition of surfactants and PFAS in the AFFFs allows them to form an aqueous film that can extinguish the fire, while also coating the fuel. As such, AFFFs are often used for fire extinction in airports and military bases.

Exposure to PFAS in the general population may arise from ingestion of contaminated food or water, usage of consumer products containing PFAS, such as non-stick cookware or stain resistant carpets and textiles, and inhalation of PFAS-containing particulate matter. Detection of increased serum PFAS concentrations has been linked to an elevated risk for kidney cancer in humans, and firefighters are known to have increased serum concentrations of certain PFAS after attending training exercises. In the same study it was also observed that the average urinary excretions of 2-butoxyacetic acid (2-BAA) a surfactant often added in AFFFs exceeded the reference limit of the occupationally unexposed population, ranging from 0.5 to 1.4 mmol/mol creatinine.

Furthermore, an increased risk of mortality from kidney cancer has been observed in firefighters compared to the U.S. population. The detrimental health effects of PFAS are exacerbated by their increased half-lives in humans. A recently published study examined the half-lives of short- and long- chained PFAS in the serum of 26 airport employees and observed a wide range of half-lives which was dependent on the length and chemical structure of each substance that was examined. Indicatively, the shortest half-life was described for perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS), while the linear isomer of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) had the longest half-life (average of 44 days and 2.93 years, respectively), findings which are in agreement with other sources in the literature.

One aspect of this phenomenon could be attributed to renal reabsorption, as humans actively transport PFAS in the proximal tubules. A recently published scoping review of 74 epidemiologic, pharmacokinetic, and toxicological studies examined the relationship between PFAS exposure and kidney-related health outcomes. It was observed that exposure to PFAS was associated with lower kidney function, including chronic kidney disease (CKD), and histological abnormalities in the kidneys, as well as alterations in key mechanistic pathways, that can induce oxidative stress, and metabolic changes leading to kidney disease.

The alarming number of studies showcasing the harmful health effects pertaining to PFAS exposure has led to the banning of the production of AFFFs containing highly toxic, long chain PFAS, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) since 2015. However, this regulation is gradually being implemented across states and little is known about the toxicity of the next generation AFFFs. Based on the above, in the present study we evaluate cellular proliferation and toxicity in kidney-derived cells (HEK-293) that were exposed to three widely used AFFFs.

Read full study below

*****

Organic solvents and Multiple Sclerosis susceptibility

Abstract

Photo of dichloromethane (DCM) as stored by Irish Air Corps in 2015. DCM was banned in the EU in 2012.
Objective

We hypothesize that different sources of lung irritation may contribute to elicit an immune reaction in the lungs and subsequently lead to multiple sclerosis (MS) in people with a genetic susceptibility to the disease. We aimed to investigate the influence of exposure to organic solvents on MS risk, and a potential interaction between organic solvents and MS risk human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes.

Methods

Using a Swedish population-based case-control study (2,042 incident cases of MS and 2,947 controls), participants with different genotypes, smoking habits, and exposures to organic solvents were compared regarding occurrence of MS, by calculating odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals using logistic regression. A potential interaction between exposure to organic solvents and MS risk HLA genes was evaluated by calculating the attributable proportion due to interaction.

Results

Overall, exposure to organic solvents increased the risk of MS (odds ratio 1.5, 95% confidence interval 1.2–1.8, p = 0.0004). Among both ever and never smokers, an interaction between organic solvents, carriage of HLA-DRB1*15, and absence of HLA-A*02 was observed with regard to MS risk, similar to the previously reported gene-environment interaction involving the same MS risk HLA genes and smoke exposure.

Conclusion

The mechanism linking both smoking and exposure to organic solvents to MS risk may involve lung inflammation with a proinflammatory profile. Their interaction with MS risk HLA genes argues for an action of these environmental factors on adaptive immunity, perhaps through activation of autoaggressive cells resident in the lungs subsequently attacking the CNS.

Read full study below

*****

Anecdotal evidence has been emerging for some time of potential illness clusters at Casement Aerodrome to which Multiple Sclerosis has now been added. We are calling for these potential clusters to be investigated by competent authorities.

Suspected illness clusters currently include.