Making babies – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal

This article was originally published in June 2017 and is being republished as Lunchtime Live on Newstalk 106FM cover IVF & Fertility stories. 

Making babies the hard way.

There is something shameful and deviant about sitting in a small public toilet in a busy public hospital masturbating. Other people want to use the toilet, you are trying to be as quick and as quiet as possible but you have a job to do and you cant leave the cubicle until it is done.

Welcome to the glamorous world of infertility. I was married a number of years at this stage and my wife was starting to worry that pregnancy wasn’t happening for us. She had established contact with a maternity hospital over her worries. She was given a clean bill of health and now it was my turn and this started with a semen analysis to establish if I had a sufficient sperm count and also to establish the health & motility of these.

I presented at small hatch in in one of Dublin’s maternity hospitals where I was given a container, verified my name, address and DOB and was sent on my way to find a free toilet cubical where I could “produce” a sample.

After the job was done I returned the sample to the hatch where I was told that results would be available within the hour, not to me but to my wife’s gynaecologist. So the next day I rang his office for the results and was told that he couldn’t fit me in for an appointment for at least 3 weeks. This pissed me off greatly as I knew a semen analysis is an “eyeball” count and I wasn’t too keen to hang around for weeks awaiting the result.

I sought the consultant’s number and left a message for him to call me back to put me out of my misery. He called me back and confirmed what I had started to suspect…I had a serious fertility problem. A healthy sperm count was between 50 and 100 million sperm per m/l and mine was only 1 million. Considering that the average intercourse attempts before pregnancy in a healthy couple was 1 in 4 attempts my odds of creating a natural pregnancy were one in 400. Essentially it could take 33 years of monthly attempts for success not 4 months.

And there was worse news to come when we finally did sit and meet with the gynaecologist. Of those 1 million sperm that I did have over 90% were immotile or defective in some way so now my odds had lengthened to a 1 in 4000 chance of pregnancy. Now being fairly certain that we didn’t have over 300 years of monthly sex to create a family it became readily apparent we needed the intervention of fertility specialists. The gynaecologist told us our only option was ICSI a particularly expensive specialist form of IVF. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection is a procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg.

In that meeting with the gynaecologist I felt numb and totally drop kicked. I had reached the stage in my life where I wanted to become a father. The previous summer I had been on a rocky beach in the West of Ireland with my wife, her sister and two nieces. I remember walking along the beach with my 1 & 3 year old nieces, lifting over rocks to see the creepy crawly creatures under them, the subsequent delight of the kids and had thought “yep I could be a dad” .

As you can imagine my wife was utterly distraught at the news that we could not have children naturally. She is very good with children and had a much stronger instinct and desires for parenthood than me. The gynaecologist said that considering our ages (early thirties) and the severity of my infertility that we had no time to waste and he recommended Clane IVF clinic.

Starting IVF involves a lot of rigmarole. Further medicals, testing & analysis, and also regular tests for STDs such as hepatitis & HIV in order to protect their staff &  maintain a quality trail.

And of course during this build up our family and circle of friends are popping out sprogs like there is no tomorrow. When you find out you can’t have children naturally you start to notice every single pregnant woman you pass. Everyone is pregnant except you guys.

I do recall a dinner we went to in a friend’s house where there were 3 couples present. The host couple already had a child and over the course of the dinner the other couple declared “they had an announcement” they were expecting their first child. Obviously they were bursting with pride & happiness and we were very happy for them but immediately I could sense that my wife was distressed but “holding it together”.

After the meal was over and we said our goodbyes my wife broke down as soon as she got inside our car. It is unfortunately a reality for childless couples that other people’s good news can cause them pain. I suppose it invokes a panic that perhaps the IVF will never work and leads to a fear that we would never have “an announcement” of our own.

Eventually we received our prescription for the IVF medication which mainly injectable hormones for my wife. Although I was the one with the fertility problem all the treatment of egg production, egg harvesting and embryo implantation was naturally enough focused on my wife. She carried the can 100% for my infertility.

So off we skipped with our prescription like kids to a sweet shop, we could hardly contain our excitement. My wife required daily injections and I was the injector. Initially we were very giddy and one of our biggest problems was that one or other of us would get into a fit of giggles. It is not very easy to give an injection when one or other of you is shaking like a leaf from laughter. I became very skilled at giving the injections and on more than one occasion managed to give an injection that my wife didn’t even notice.

Part of the treatment involved regular inter-vaginal ultrasound monitoring to observe and monitor the growth of eggs. Normally a woman produces one fertile egg follicle per month alternating ovaries but during IVF the fertility drugs promote Controlled Ovarian Hyper-stimulation whereby a larger number of ripened egg follicles are produced. This is in order to harvest as many eggs as possible so that a number of embryos can be created. This increases your odds of success, IVF is very much numbers game.

I accompanied my wife to the first scan and everything was hunky dory so when some work commitments happened to coincide with the next scheduled scan my wife was happy to travel to the clinic on her own as we just saw the scan as routine and had no reason to fear anything was going amiss. So she headed down to Clane on her own and about an hour later I got a call from my wife who was sobbing uncontrollably at the other end. The nurse performing the scan had ultrasound had inserted the probe and then had gone white, she called the doctor urgently and he went white. It turned out my wife had started Hyper Ovulation Stimulation Syndrome and the cycle had to be stopped immediately.

So there and then our current chances of becoming parents evaporated. Many people will talk about the emotional roller-coaster that is IVF but we never paid much heed. We made a serious mistake and that was we never contemplated failure. We only contemplated success, failure wasn’t even on our mind, so when that failure did come we were totally unprepared. It was like the chair had been kicked out from underneath us.

As mentioned IVF essentially involves Controlled Ovarian Hyper-stimulation but Hyper Ovulation Stimulation Syndrome is a very dangerous condition where the woman reacts “too well” to the fertility drugs and produces too many ovarian follicles and is at risk of essentially an internal overdose of hormones leading to respiratory, cardiac or renal problems and can be fatal.

So getting over this HOSS involved stopping treatment and then careful monitoring to make sure the threat dissipated, we then needed my wife’s regular ovulation cycle to get back on track and as you can imagine this took a number of months. We found Clane IVF clinic to be very professional, very supportive and always felt they had our best interests to the fore and would not rush treatment cycles.

For many patients of IVF, the first cycle really is like the zeroing shots at range practice. It allows the IVF professionals get an idea to the responsiveness to IVF drugs of one woman’s body compared to another’s.

For our second cycle the IVF injection dose was adjusted and we made some significant adjustments to our expectations. This time we only contemplated failure and decided that success would be a bonus. This approach we believed would protect us somewhat from disappointment if the cycle failed again.

This cycle however went well and a date was set for February 2008 for the harvesting procedure. Again this involves an inter-vaginal ultrasound probe just this time with a retractable lance that is able to burst each follicle and extract the egg. At the time the IVF clinic was in a portacabins at Clane General Hospital and there was a small 3 bed-roomed ward next to the theatre which was connected via a hatch to the Embryology laboratory.

So my wife got gowned up and was sedated for the procedure as I waited on my own in the small ward. Eventually my wife was brought back into the ward in a wheelchair, bleeding and with tears running down her face and streaming down her neck. For me this was an extremely low point of my life. I felt extremely guilty because this was my fault, I was infertile not my wife. If I was functional she would not have needed to go through this.

So I’m sitting beside my wife who is upset and confused because of the sedation I’m trying to comfort her and then one of the IVF nurses called in to us to tell us the egg harvesting had been a success and that now it was “my turn”. I was handed a small sample container and had to go into a room I had nicknamed “the milking parlour” to have the most important wank of my life. If you pardon my porn reference this was the “money shot”, I had to produce and my aim had to be impeccable.

Once I provided the sample it was handed over immediately to the embryologist and he went and worked his scientific magic of ICSI. IVF is now a very well understood procedure but many people are a bit horrified when they realise the scientific & medical technology was adapted from the livestock industry.

So I believe that 18 eggs were harvested and treated with ICSI. This resulted in 15 successfully fertilised eggs. We opted for a service that matured the zygotes a bit longer in the lab. While this was more expensive it also improved the odds of success when implanted.

I think it was 2 weeks later that we went back for the eggs to be implanted. To improve the chances of success Clane implanted 2 zygotes in what is a relatively straightforward procedure and then it was a waiting game for 2 weeks until the first blood test.

Those 2 weeks are a time of huge anticipation. Do you cheat and try a home pregnancy test or do you wait until the official, higher accuracy, blood pregnancy test. So we waited until the official test and you have to then wait for a phone call from the lab to give you the good or bad news. Like I said we had dampened down expectations but it was till nerve racking.

When the news came it was positive, we were going to be parents. Naturally we were overjoyed and we kicked into “nesting mode” and what turned out to be an uneventful and normal pregnancy.

Sean, our first child,  was born in October 2009 and when I first set eyes on him I became very emotional. Tears came out of nowhere as I sobbed uncontrollably looking at this helpless little bundle swaddled in a hospital blanket, blinking and yawning and wondering where he was.

We still had some frozen embryos and so a year or so later we decided to try for another cycle. This time we chose to implant only a single embryo as a year or so into being parents neither of us fancied the thoughts of being parents of twins. But again, we made the mistake of not contemplating failure, again we thought everything would work like it did the previous time. So cycle 3 was a failure but as well as that all along the different phases of harvesting, fertilisation, implantation, freezing and thawing there was an attrition rate and so after cycle 3 we only had 2 fertilised zygotes left.

Again, after a failed cycle my wife needed a number of months for her menstrual cycle to get back to normal before we could go for the 4th cycle attempt. We took the decision to implant our last 2 remaining embryos taking the chance on twins rather than the expense of a further cycle. Like in the case of our first pregnancy only one embryo took and in May 2012 our second son Ciaran was born.

Both boys are now in school with one in Junior Infants and the other in First Class of our local Educate Together. Both are healthy fun loving kind kids with a love of the outdoors and both have a curious mind and 99% of the time they are a pure joy to raise. The thought always fascinates me as to how would their personalities be different if they had been implanted in the opposite order. Technically they are twins being conceived on the same day but just born over 2 years apart.

IVF was an expensive undertaking and we spent many tens of thousands of euro. I am conscious of many of my Irish Army Air Corps colleagues with fertility difficulties remain childless because either the IVF technology was not mature enough at the time to deal with their level of infertility or because they simply could not afford the cost of the procedure.

I have no doubt that my fertility trouble stemmed from my working environment in the Irish Army Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. The working conditions were horrendous,  we had no chemical training whatsoever, we were issued with no PPE whatsoever and the buildings that housed the chemicals I worked with were asbestos clad brick sheds built by the British in 1915-1918 and were unfit for purpose as they had utterly inadequate ventilation.

Chemicals we worked with in Baldonnel were exceptionally dangerous and were listed as Carcinogens, Mutagens and Teratogens and a number of chemicals in daily use were reproductive toxins and warned of harm to fertility as well as the capacity to cause heritable genetic harm.

My wife and I are definitely one of the luckier couples from Baldonnel, many couples have not been able to have children and will move into an old age that will be lonelier as a result. It is one thing if you don’t want a family but to want a family and be denied it because your employer didn’t give a damn about Health & Safety is galling.

Worse still I believe are the serving and former personnel who have managed to have children but whose children have suffered serious physical & mental disabilities due to their parents unprotected chemical exposure during their service in the Irish Army Air Corps. Many of these chemicals have the capacity not only to harm sperm, eggs and the developing child but also to harm the male &  female reproductive organs increasing the chance of disabled children long after leaving the service.

Infertility is common and on the increase but the levels of infertility or fertility difficulties experienced by male personnel in the most chemically contaminated workshops in Baldonnel appears anecdotally to be as high as 50%.

This is another health effect of the chemical Health & Safety failings that needs full investigation by competent medical & scientific bodies.

The tiniest trickle of blood – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal

The tiniest trickle of blood

My father was an aircraft technician in the Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel for 21 years. During his time there he worked on a variety of aircraft and worked with an assortment of chemicals and sprays often without, as he said himself, even glove protection.

Over that time he developed severe psoriasis on his body, but in particular his hands and legs. This resulted in intense itch and pain and a daily routine of medication and treatment of the various lesions on his legs and also a stay in St. Bricin’s Hospital. It was not until a combination of appointments with a renowned Traditional Medical Herbalist, coupled with his retirement from the Air Corps that improvements began. This psoriasis, while appearing at a much slighter level during his life, never appeared to the same extent after leaving Baldonnel.

My mother passed away in 2009, and since then Dad lived with my wife and I, and subsequently, our two daughters. He adored his family and his granddaughters. He also really enjoyed an active and healthy life, learning to swim, regularly walking, going dancing, and eating very healthily. He liked his few social pints but gave up smoking before his first granddaughter was born eight years ago. He also had regular full check-ups with his GP.

In December 2013, while Dad was feeling very well, in great form, he spotted the tiniest trickle of blood in his urine. After attending his GP and a urologist, it was confirmed that he had renal cancer, which had completely taken over one of his kidneys and indeed had also spread to his lungs. Treatment was possible but immediate: he would need to have his kidney removed and a tablet form of chemotherapy would need to be taken for the rest of his life. Thankfully medical advances had developed this treatment, otherwise he would not have survived.

Almost two years passed and Dad had little or no side-effects to his treatment other than his dark hair turning grey overnight. He maintained his life as it was, keeping up his hobbies and his active lifestyle, as well as continuing his breaks to Lanzarote. Unfortunately in November 2015, things began to change and his body rejected the tablet. He became very ill with a litany of mystery illnesses that befuddled doctors but, miraculously, he managed to survive and came home. However, he spent his New Year’s Day in A&E, complaining of intense pain in his back. On examination and scanning, it was found that he had a broken vertebrae due to cancer spreading to his back. Again, thankfully it was in the position that it was, as it was treatable and would not end up with him in a wheelchair. Inserting rods either side of his spine meant that he would walk again.

The last months of his life were a mix of regular check-ups, consultant appointments, progress and setbacks. It was a roller-coaster of emotions where his unyielding positivity was tested repeatedly but never left him. 

It would have been interesting to see if his background in Baldonnel could have informed his treatment, or if indeed anything could have been done to prevent his disease. However such thoughts are merely conjecture and would distract from the magnificent memories we hold of a man who touched so many hearts and leaves behind a legacy fitting for such a character.

Skin Cancer in Irish Air Corps personnel – Basal Cell Carcinoma

Photo of BCC on the leg of a former Air Corps employee who worked daily with Ardrox 666. This person also has cancerous growths on his arm & scalp.

Basal Cell Carcinoma’s are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). BCCs often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars and are usually caused by a combination of cumulative and intense, occasional sun exposure.

Both long-term sun exposure over your lifetime and occasional extended, intense exposure (typically leading to sunburn) combine to cause damage that can lead to BCC. Almost all BCCs occur on parts of the body excessively exposed to the sun — especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back.

On rare occasions, however, tumors develop on unexposed areas. In a few cases, contact with arsenic, exposure to radiation, open sores that resist healing, chronic inflammatory skin conditions, and complications of burns, scars, infections, vaccinations, or even tattoos are contributing factors.

It is not possible to pinpoint a precise, single cause for a specific tumor, especially one found on a sun-protected area of the body or in an extremely young individual.

Skin cancer (non-melanoma)
Causes grouped by strength of evidence
Strong  Good  Limited 
arsenic aromatic amines acrylamide
benzo(a)pyrene arsenical pesticides vinyl chloride
coal tars benz(a)anthracene
ionizing radiation creosotes
mineral oils dibenz(a,h)anthracene
shale oils dimethyl benzanthracene
UV radiation ethylene oxide
methylcholanthrene
oryzalin
PAHs
pesticides

We are aware of a number of current & former Air Corps technicians who have developed Basal Cell Carcinoma. It is interesting to note that there is good evidence to link creosotes with Basal Cell Carcinoma. Creosotes are a component chemical of Ardrox 666.

However, Basal Cell Carcinoma is a very common cancer and so the occurrence may not be unusual.

Key point as with almost all of the illnesses suffered by Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors is of course vigilance. Don’t delay going to your doctor.

Making babies – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal

Making babies the hard way.

There is something shameful and deviant about sitting in a small public toilet in a busy public hospital masturbating. Other people want to use the toilet, you are trying to be as quick and as quiet as possible but you have a job to do and you cant leave the cubicle until it is done.

Welcome to the glamorous world of infertility. I was married a number of years at this stage and my wife was starting to worry that pregnancy wasn’t happening for us. She had established contact with a maternity hospital over her worries. She was given a clean bill of health and now it was my turn and this started with a semen analysis to establish if I had a sufficient sperm count and also to establish the health & motility of these.

I presented at small hatch in in one of Dublin’s maternity hospitals where I was given a container, verified my name, address and DOB and was sent on my way to find a free toilet cubical where I could “produce” a sample.

After the job was done I returned the sample to the hatch where I was told that results would be available within the hour, not to me but to my wife’s gynaecologist. So the next day I rang his office for the results and was told that he couldn’t fit me in for an appointment for at least 3 weeks. This pissed me off greatly as I knew a semen analysis is an “eyeball” count and I wasn’t too keen to hang around for weeks awaiting the result.

I sought the consultant’s number and left a message for him to call me back to put me out of my misery. He called me back and confirmed what I had started to suspect…I had a serious fertility problem. A healthy sperm count was between 50 and 100 million sperm per m/l and mine was only 1 million. Considering that the average intercourse attempts before pregnancy in a healthy couple was 1 in 4 attempts my odds of creating a natural pregnancy were one in 400. Essentially it could take 33 years of monthly attempts for success not 4 months.

And there was worse news to come when we finally did sit and meet with the gynaecologist. Of those 1 million sperm that I did have over 90% were immotile or defective in some way so now my odds had lengthened to a 1 in 4000 chance of pregnancy. Now being fairly certain that we didn’t have over 300 years of monthly sex to create a family it became readily apparent we needed the intervention of fertility specialists. The gynaecologist told us our only option was ICSI a particularly expensive specialist form of IVF. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection is a procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg.

In that meeting with the gynaecologist I felt numb and totally drop kicked. I had reached the stage in my life where I wanted to become a father. The previous summer I had been on a rocky beach in the West of Ireland with my wife, her sister and two nieces. I remember walking along the beach with my 1 & 3 year old nieces, lifting over rocks to see the creepy crawly creatures under them, the subsequent delight of the kids and had thought “yep I could be a dad” .

As you can imagine my wife was utterly distraught at the news that we could not have children naturally. She is very good with children and had a much stronger instinct and desires for parenthood than me. The gynaecologist said that considering our ages (early thirties) and the severity of my infertility that we had no time to waste and he recommended Clane IVF clinic.

Starting IVF involves a lot of rigmarole. Further medicals, testing & analysis, and also regular tests for STDs such as hepatitis & HIV in order to protect their staff &  maintain a quality trail.

And of course during this build up our family and circle of friends are popping out sprogs like there is no tomorrow. When you find out you can’t have children naturally you start to notice every single pregnant woman you pass. Everyone is pregnant except you guys.

I do recall a dinner we went to in a friend’s house where there were 3 couples present. The host couple already had a child and over the course of the dinner the other couple declared “they had an announcement” they were expecting their first child. Obviously they were bursting with pride & happiness and we were very happy for them but immediately I could sense that my wife was distressed but “holding it together”.

After the meal was over and we said our goodbyes my wife broke down as soon as she got inside our car. It is unfortunately a reality for childless couples that other people’s good news can cause them pain. I suppose it invokes a panic that perhaps the IVF will never work and leads to a fear that we would never have “an announcement” of our own.

Eventually we received our prescription for the IVF medication which mainly injectable hormones for my wife. Although I was the one with the fertility problem all the treatment of egg production, egg harvesting and embryo implantation was naturally enough focused on my wife. She carried the can 100% for my infertility.

So off we skipped with our prescription like kids to a sweet shop, we could hardly contain our excitement. My wife required daily injections and I was the injector. Initially we were very giddy and one of our biggest problems was that one or other of us would get into a fit of giggles. It is not very easy to give an injection when one or other of you is shaking like a leaf from laughter. I became very skilled at giving the injections and on more than one occasion managed to give an injection that my wife didn’t even notice.

Part of the treatment involved regular inter-vaginal ultrasound monitoring to observe and monitor the growth of eggs. Normally a woman produces one fertile egg follicle per month alternating ovaries but during IVF the fertility drugs promote Controlled Ovarian Hyper-stimulation whereby a larger number of ripened egg follicles are produced. This is in order to harvest as many eggs as possible so that a number of embryos can be created. This increases your odds of success, IVF is very much numbers game.

I accompanied my wife to the first scan and everything was hunky dory so when some work commitments happened to coincide with the next scheduled scan my wife was happy to travel to the clinic on her own as we just saw the scan as routine and had no reason to fear anything was going amiss. So she headed down to Clane on her own and about an hour later I got a call from my wife who was sobbing uncontrollably at the other end. The nurse performing the scan had ultrasound had inserted the probe and then had gone white, she called the doctor urgently and he went white. It turned out my wife had started Hyper Ovulation Stimulation Syndrome and the cycle had to be stopped immediately.

So there and then our current chances of becoming parents evaporated. Many people will talk about the emotional roller-coaster that is IVF but we never paid much heed. We made a serious mistake and that was we never contemplated failure. We only contemplated success, failure wasn’t even on our mind, so when that failure did come we were totally unprepared. It was like the chair had been kicked out from underneath us.

As mentioned IVF essentially involves Controlled Ovarian Hyper-stimulation but Hyper Ovulation Stimulation Syndrome is a very dangerous condition where the woman reacts “too well” to the fertility drugs and produces too many ovarian follicles and is at risk of essentially an internal overdose of hormones leading to respiratory, cardiac or renal problems and can be fatal.

So getting over this HOSS involved stopping treatment and then careful monitoring to make sure the threat dissipated, we then needed my wife’s regular ovulation cycle to get back on track and as you can imagine this took a number of months. We found Clane IVF clinic to be very professional, very supportive and always felt they had our best interests to the fore and would not rush treatment cycles.

For many patients of IVF, the first cycle really is like the zeroing shots at range practice. It allows the IVF professionals get an idea to the responsiveness to IVF drugs of one woman’s body compared to another’s.

For our second cycle the IVF injection dose was adjusted and we made some significant adjustments to our expectations. This time we only contemplated failure and decided that success would be a bonus. This approach we believed would protect us somewhat from disappointment if the cycle failed again.

This cycle however went well and a date was set for February 2008 for the harvesting procedure. Again this involves an inter-vaginal ultrasound probe just this time with a retractable lance that is able to burst each follicle and extract the egg. At the time the IVF clinic was in a portacabins at Clane General Hospital and there was a small 3 bed-roomed ward next to the theatre which was connected via a hatch to the Embryology laboratory.

So my wife got gowned up and was sedated for the procedure as I waited on my own in the small ward. Eventually my wife was brought back into the ward in a wheelchair, bleeding and with tears running down her face and streaming down her neck. For me this was an extremely low point of my life. I felt extremely guilty because this was my fault, I was infertile not my wife. If I was functional she would not have needed to go through this.

So I’m sitting beside my wife who is upset and confused because of the sedation I’m trying to comfort her and then one of the IVF nurses called in to us to tell us the egg harvesting had been a success and that now it was “my turn”. I was handed a small sample container and had to go into a room I had nicknamed “the milking parlour” to have the most important wank of my life. If you pardon my porn reference this was the “money shot”, I had to produce and my aim had to be impeccable.

Once I provided the sample it was handed over immediately to the embryologist and he went and worked his scientific magic of ICSI. IVF is now a very well understood procedure but many people are a bit horrified when they realise the scientific & medical technology was adapted from the livestock industry.

So I believe that 18 eggs were harvested and treated with ICSI. This resulted in 15 successfully fertilised eggs. We opted for a service that matured the zygotes a bit longer in the lab. While this was more expensive it also improved the odds of success when implanted.

I think it was 2 weeks later that we went back for the eggs to be implanted. To improve the chances of success Clane implanted 2 zygotes in what is a relatively straightforward procedure and then it was a waiting game for 2 weeks until the first blood test.

Those 2 weeks are a time of huge anticipation. Do you cheat and try a home pregnancy test or do you wait until the official, higher accuracy, blood pregnancy test. So we waited until the official test and you have to then wait for a phone call from the lab to give you the good or bad news. Like I said we had dampened down expectations but it was till nerve racking.

When the news came it was positive, we were going to be parents. Naturally we were overjoyed and we kicked into “nesting mode” and what turned out to be an uneventful and normal pregnancy.

Sean, our first child,  was born in October 2009 and when I first set eyes on him I became very emotional. Tears came out of nowhere as I sobbed uncontrollably looking at this helpless little bundle swaddled in a hospital blanket, blinking and yawning and wondering where he was.

We still had some frozen embryos and so a year or so later we decided to try for another cycle. This time we chose to implant only a single embryo as a year or so into being parents neither of us fancied the thoughts of being parents of twins. But again, we made the mistake of not contemplating failure, again we thought everything would work like it did the previous time. So cycle 3 was a failure but as well as that all along the different phases of harvesting, fertilisation, implantation, freezing and thawing there was an attrition rate and so after cycle 3 we only had 2 fertilised zygotes left.

Again, after a failed cycle my wife needed a number of months for her menstrual cycle to get back to normal before we could go for the 4th cycle attempt. We took the decision to implant our last 2 remaining embryos taking the chance on twins rather than the expense of a further cycle. Like in the case of our first pregnancy only one embryo took and in May 2012 our second son Ciaran was born.

Both boys are now in school with one in Junior Infants and the other in First Class of our local Educate Together. Both are healthy fun loving kind kids with a love of the outdoors and both have a curious mind and 99% of the time they are a pure joy to raise. The thought always fascinates me as to how would their personalities be different if they had been implanted in the opposite order. Technically they are twins being conceived on the same day but just born over 2 years apart.

IVF was an expensive undertaking and we spent many tens of thousands of euro. I am conscious of many of my Irish Army Air Corps colleagues with fertility difficulties remain childless because either the IVF technology was not mature enough at the time to deal with their level of infertility or because they simply could not afford the cost of the procedure.

I have no doubt that my fertility trouble stemmed from my working environment in the Irish Army Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. The working conditions were horrendous,  we had no chemical training whatsoever, we were issued with no PPE whatsoever and the buildings that housed the chemicals I worked with were asbestos clad brick sheds built by the British in 1915-1918 and were unfit for purpose as they had utterly inadequate ventilation.

Chemicals we worked with in Baldonnel were exceptionally dangerous and were listed as Carcinogens, Mutagens and Teratogens and a number of chemicals in daily use were reproductive toxins and warned of harm to fertility as well as the capacity to cause heritable genetic harm.

My wife and I are definitely one of the luckier couples from Baldonnel, many couples have not been able to have children and will move into an old age that will be lonelier as a result. It is one thing if you don’t want a family but to want a family and be denied it because your employer didn’t give a damn about Health & Safety is galling.

Worse still I believe are the serving and former personnel who have managed to have children but whose children have suffered serious physical & mental disabilities due to their parents unprotected chemical exposure during their service in the Irish Army Air Corps. Many of these chemicals have the capacity not only to harm sperm, eggs and the developing child but also to harm the male &  female reproductive organs increasing the chance of disabled children long after leaving the service.

Infertility is common and on the increase but the levels of infertility or fertility difficulties experienced by male personnel in the most chemically contaminated workshops in Baldonnel appears anecdotally to be as high as 50%.

This is another health effect of the chemical Health & Safety failings that needs full investigation by competent medical & scientific bodies.

Irish Army Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure – Survivors List of Demands

The priorities of the Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors is firstly to prevent further unnecessary loss of life amongst survivors and secondly to improve the quality of life of survivors by reducing unnecessary suffering.

Both the Royal Australian Air Force & the Armed forces of the Netherlands have offered templates as to how to approach unfortunate workplace chemical exposure issues with competence, fairness, justice & urgency.

We urge that all responsible organisations in the state such as political parties, government departments and the Defence Forces to work together to commit the state to provide the following for survivors as an ex. gratia scheme with no admission of liability by the state.

Current & future legal cases should be allowed to take their natural course unhindered whilst all survivors are cared for equally by the state.

Read more about our demands below.

Illnesses suffered by just a single person from Irish Air Corps

Below is my list of illness since 2000. Some of which were diagnosed then subsequently deemed a misdiagnosis which was then referred to as part of a combination of conditions related auto immune system disease.

I have been told I have never been text book in my symptoms for these various conditions but have shown some or all symptoms at various stages in the past 17 years which can flare up at any stage.

I have also failed on all current immunosuppressive drugs except for the latest injection I am receiving but only time will tell if this will last

Yours sincerely

 Former member of No3 Support Wing


Prior to joining the Irish Army Air Corps this person was an accomplished athlete and represented the Defence Forces and his unit at many running competitions. The above illnesses started to occur approximately 1 year after joining Heli Wing.

Furthermore and as has happened in other cases this person was treated as a malingerer and actively haunted by Air Corps management until he went on his ticket. Essentially he was constructively dismissed by the Irish Army Air Corps after they had made him seriously ill.

Silver Bullet – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal

Finding a silver bullet would be a good thing.

It would be great to get a the definite answer or even to establish why I am suffering in silence, embarrassed by years of sudden uncontrollable bowel issues, breathing issues & aching to the bones even after the slightest bit of manual work. Looking at other men your age running and exercising every day without a hint of tiredness.

When you say to your family that you have no energy to do basic household maintenance work you really mean it and are not being lazy or when you suddenly seem to enter a dark mood and depressive state for no reason.

Have ticked a lot of the boxes for the range of “unexplained symptoms” listed so far and I am really hoping that they are not caused by the workplace environment & chemical products handled over the years. Because it creates a real daily worry as to what the future holds. What quality of life will I have if some of the more serious illnesses that colleagues have suffered eventually get a grip on me!

See the known list of illnesses suffered by Air Corp Chemical Abuse survivors below.

Blind Date – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal

For a very long time now both my mother and my sister have been encouraging me to start writing a blog. ‘Tell people your story,’ they said. I never felt I’d anything interesting to write. Well my mother pointed out something interesting today. She said ‘it’s been twenty years since the date your eyesight went’. I never really thought of myself as getting old, but twenty years is a long time. How much has changed.

Back in 1996, I was 18 and in my second year as an apprentice with the Irish Air Corps. I had joined up when I was 16 and with typical teenage brashness I thought I was the shit. And sure why not. All I’d ever wanted to do was serve. After a youth watching Rambo, Top Gun and Hot Shots on an endless loop, I had my whole career planned out. Alas it was not to be. Over a period of a few weeks around March/April 1996 I started messing up a lot; maps upside down, knocking over pints, not being able to read my writing, not saluting officers, that sort of thing. I was also extremely fatigued.

I still remember the first trip to the medical aid post. ‘Put your hand over your right eye and read the chart,’ said Commandant Collins. Not a problem: Z W T 1 3 7 q e y. Easy. ‘Now cover up your left eye and read the chart’. ‘OK’, I said, ‘Can you put the chart back up please’. After that the fun and games started. After several trips to the medical aid post I found myself on rotation in and out of the Eye and Ear. I had every type of blood and eye test done. Along with an MRI I was being tested initially for a brain tumor and diabetes and then a whole rake of other conditions I’d never heard of at the time. They hadn’t a clue what was wrong. All this time the sight in my right eye was getting worse and the sight in my left eye decided to start packing it in. It’s hard to describe. Blurry cloudy vision. Loss of sharpness with your central vision effected the most. If you look at someone straight on from about a meter away, you can make out their hands and legs but they’ve no head.  Beyond a meter people become more like blurry colours moving around.

Although a total pain in the ass and not exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life, these trips to the Eye and Ear were entertaining nonetheless. As nobody knew what was wrong every doctor and med student wanted to poke around my eyeballs. My friends from the Air Corps who would accompany me on these trips would get rather jealous as a young pretty female med student would bend over and look into my eyes with some strange instrument. Then again they had a different view.

On another occasion though I was on my own. So what happens is you’re put in a big waiting room and given a raffle ticket. ‘Take a seat your number will be called’. From what I remember I was the youngest person there. Everyone else seemed to me at that time to be ancient. You have to really picture this scenario. It’s a room full of people with bad sight or bad hearing or because of their age, both.  A voice bellows from the top of the room ‘No. 17’ (it could have been any number I can’t remember). ‘Hmm’ I think to myself, ‘it might have been handy if I’d asked what number my ticket was’. There’s a pause, a bit of shuffling and mumbling. Half the people can’t see their tickets and the other half are asking ‘did someone say something’. ‘No. 17’ the voice from the top of the room bellows again. I get a nudge on the arm from an old lady beside me: ‘Excuse me son what number ticket do I have’. Absolutely comical.

On one of these trips to the Eye and Ear to get poked at again by so called experts who’d no idea what was wrong I was sitting in the waiting room when I heard a nurse talking to an older man. I was positive I recognised his voice. Getting up I went to the other end of the corridor. ‘Uncle Danny,’ I said, ‘Is that you’. (Uncle Danny was my mam’s uncle). ‘It is’, he said, ‘who’s that’. ‘It’s Wes,’ I said, ‘there’s something wrong with my sight. What are you here for?’ ‘My sights going too’, he said with a worried sigh. Not being able to see each other clearly we both could tell we were looking at each other and thinking ‘what the …’ The nurse was thinking the same. She went off to get the doctor.

With the extended family brought in we discover we have a condition called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). At the time there was no test in Ireland because it is a genetic condition. A cousin of my grandmother had been clinically diagnosed with mutation 11778. After we told the doctor about LHON I still remember the doctor taking down a book and blowing off the dust. (Or at least that’s my version of the account). ‘Yes that’s what you have. Some of the cells in the optic nerve are dead and the signal isn’t going to the brain. It’s a very rare condition’. Personally I’d have preferred to have won the lotto.

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As mentioned in the above story Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy involves genetic mutations that can lead to blindness through optical nerve mitochondrial depowering. One very interesting aspect to this disease is that only a minority of persons with the mutation actually suffer blindness. The breakdown by sex is that only 10% of females and only 40% of males with the mutation go blind.

For years the “trigger” for the blindness was unknown but in the past 20 years a number of trigger chemicals have been identified. One of these chemicals is an Alkane known as nHexane and it is important to note that this chemicals was involved in the intoxication & injury of 2 Air Corps technical personnel in 2015 that lead to the eventual Health & Safety Authority investigation.

Furthermore the neurotoxicity of nHexane is enhanced significantly in the presence of Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK). This is another chemical that was also used without any precaution for decades in the Irish Army Air Corps.

It is important to also note that the person in the story above went blind within two weeks of starting work in Engine Repair Flight (ERF). As an Air Corps Apprentice he only had to spend 10 weeks work experience in this location which were, unfortunately for him and others, life changing and career ending. ERF and its associated Non Destructive Testing (NDT) workshop (photographed below in 2007), were possibly one of the most chemically toxic workplaces anywhere in Ireland.

This workshop was found to be 3½ times over allowable limits for Dichloromethane (DCM) in 1995 but personnel were not warned and it was left operational for a further 12 years. During that time there were at least 5 adult deaths, at least 1 child deaths and and at least 2 children born with severe genetic mutations that we believe were associated with chemical exposures in this workshop alone. Chemicals in use were carcinogenic, mutagenic & teratogenic.

The engineering officer who commissioned these air quality tests is still serving in the Irish Army Air Corps in a senior role as is the engineering officer who ordered the test results destroyed in later years.

The Athlete I Married – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal

My husband joined the Irish Army Air Corps as an apprentice in 1991, he was 17 years old. He was so young in fact he was legally classed as a child soldier which required his parents to sign away their legal guardianship to the Minister for Defence. Prior to joining the Air Corps he was one of Donegal’s top junior athletes.

I met him in 1992 while he was still living in in the apprentice hostel accommodation at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. At that stage he had already represented the Air Corps at athletics and was a regular member of their winning Business House League cross country team. At 18 years of he was running a 10k in 31 minutes and a 5k in 15 minutes. He was full of life and I remember meeting this force of energy. He was very funny and had more energy than I thought possible in one individual. Fast forward to 2017 and now aged 43 he can now only manage a 5k in his mobility scooter.

A year after I met him he graduated from the Air Corps Apprentice School and moved “up camp” to Avionics Squadron where within a few short months he became very emotional and started to suffer from extreme anxiety. He went, in a short space of time, from being a huge force of energy to an unpredictable troubled man and that is how he has remained.

Through 20 years of marriage and 24 of the 25 years that I have known and loved him I still feel lucky enough that he hasn’t lost all of his love of life. But although he is losing more of his physical ability each day he still manages a smile and he still loves me and the children. He still wants to be energetic for me and his family but as his list of medical problems get progressively worse his driving force gets more and more depleted.

24 years ago his medical problems started with anxiety & stress then a sudden loss of all pigmentation in his right leg & groin area where all the hair went white and all his skin pale after a tubbing incident with an unknown chemical. There is still a visible line with two different skin tones each side. Later followed stomach ulcers and Crohn’s like bowel problems which are a constant source of embarrassment.

Next started the nerve damage, pins & needles, loss of sense of touch in arms & legs and eventually sudden excruciating pain in random parts of the body as bad as a toothache but 1,000 times worse.

Then came the “in your head” diagnosis. The vast majority of Irish doctors & consultants simply have no experience of industrial diseases but they all have a deep need to “pigeonhole” and move on. As my husband got progressively worse his GP was convinced that he was simply malingering and suggested that he see a psychiatrist.

After suffering at the mercy of an unsympathetic Irish medical establishment for many years he finally discovered a specialist in Scandinavia who invited him over for tests. He has been diagnosed with Stage 3 Chronic Solvent Induced Encephalopathy. Stage 3 is the top of a 1 to 3 scale and means that damage has reached as far as his internal organs.

He has suffered Thermoregulation Vasoconstrictor failure, this means his body cannot control his body temperature, he sweats when he is cold, shivers when he is hot and every step in between.

And it goes on, he has suffered Cardioaccelerator failure of his heart. This means that his body cannot increase his heart rate when needed, so his heart constantly pumps at a slow rate meaning even climbing a stairs is like climbing Mount Everest to him. If his heart rate cannot speed up it cannot pump enough oxygen around his body causing huge fatigue. Staying with his heart he has also suffered Cardiodepressor function failure which results in complicated blood pressure problem. He also suffers Baroreflex Hypersensitivity.

These genuinely are only a fraction of the abnormal tests results, in fact we cannot understand many of the results as they are so technical but they prove why my husband is so weak & tired all the time.

This consultant Neurophysiologist confirmed that due to the litany of autonomic nerve damage there are only a few chemicals in use that can cause such damage. But one thing is certain, all of the chemicals that are capable of causing the injuries my husband suffers from were used in the Irish Army Air Corps with utter disregard to any chemical health & safety.

It is further shocking to learn that the failures of health & safety in the Air Corps that were present and known about in the 1990s, are only now being remedied in 2017. This took several protected disclosures to the Minister for Defence, the Chief of Staff and the Health & Safety Authority.

My husband held the Irish Defence Forces fitness test 2 mile run record for 15 years. It was 9 minutes 6 seconds and was only beaten about 6 years ago by another proud Donegal man. Today even his top of the range mobility scooter cannot beat that time.

Does anyone know what it feels like to watch the man you love go through all of this suffering & pain and to then watch the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Junior Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe say in Dáil Éireann that the Irish Air Corps has a very high standard of health & safety?

It is like listening to a rapist defending himself in court by saying that he did what he did out of love…

A Second Life – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal

It was 1998 when my brother Stephen began feeling unwell. He started coughing a lot and needed a few pillows to sleep on. He was coughing a lot of fluid up from his lungs and was very short of breath. We all thought it was a bad chest infection but sadly within weeks everything got much worse.

My first recollection is of my mam & dad carrying Stephen to the car late one night. It looked so odd for him to have his arms over both their shoulders. When I looked closely only his tip toes were touching the ground, they were dragging him!  I felt sick, I was 17 at the time.

Multiple late night visits to casualty became the norm in our house. He was told his heart was the size of a football and it was so weak that it couldn’t pump fluid away from his lungs. He was drowning. He was 24 or 25 years old and was very unwell. He was admitted to St Bricans Military Hospital in Dublin for review. That was the start of the waiting game. The doctors were trying to obtain a diagnosis , a cause and a treatment plan. It was never decided how this all came about. Maybe just a bit of bad luck!

Within weeks Stephen became very unwell. He was in agony with chest pain, stomach pains, hunger, thirst and every other symptom you can imagine. He often voiced that he couldn’t live like this and he didn’t want to anymore. He was admitted to the Mater and put on the heart transplant list. He was very very lucky to receive a new heart within months of his diagnoses, “Dilated Cardiomyopathy”.

For many years, Stephen led a normal life or perhaps that should be extraordinary, he travelled the world, he studied hard in college. It was hard to keep track of him. He had (and has) an amazing circle of family & friends. He worked hard to obtained a degree, a masters and had just started studying again for his doctorate shortly before he became ill again.

Throughout his life “post transplant” Stephen had to attend multiple Out Patient hospital appointments, he had to take medication every 12 hours and had a myriad of extra tests to endure. All his organs & body systems were affected. Throughout the years he suffered from stomach pains, kidney function issues & spontaneous pneumothorax. I’m sure there are plenty of other symptoms but he never complained and made it look easy.

Sadly, in December 2012, only months after he retired after 21 years service, Stephen lost that fight age 39. He always said his second life started post transplant. He was extremely grateful and led a life of healthy living. His level of fitness & nutrition stood to him. He didn’t want to waste a minute of his “second life”.

His heart finally failed during the night in the CCU in Beaumont Hospital. My colleagues worked extremely hard but it was too late. The day he was buried was the worst day of my life and I suppose the worst day of everyone who knew him. Stephen was supposed to be reading a best man speech for his friend Keith that day, not having a speech/eulogy read out about him.

It saddens me to think that his life was taken early and that it may have been prevented. We have all wondered over the years why his heart was affected and are still looking for answers.


Stephen worked in Avionics Squadron at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. The Avionics workshops shared a building with the Engine Repair Flight (ERF) workshops where air quality tests were commissioned by the Irish Army Air Corps in August 1995. These independent tests found that Dichloromethane, which had a TWA legal limit of 50ppm, was measured in parts of ERF at 175ppm.

Avionics & ERF personnel were NOT informed by Air Corps health & safety management that the air quality was found to be over the health & safety limits but instead were left in the same dangerous working environment for a further 12 years. Air Corps health & safety management ordered these Air Quality test results destroyed in 2006/2007.

Read more about the cardiac, gastric, respiratory and other health effects of Dichloromethane (also know as Methylene Chloride) below.

https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/mmg/mmg.asp?id=230&tid=42