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.


Dáil Éireann Written Answers 29/03/17 – Irish Army Air Corps – Workplace Chemical Exposure Review

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will establish a review to determine if the chronic illnesses suffered by former Air Corps staff were as a result of exposure to chemicals while working at Casement Aerodrome. [15412/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

As I indicated in my responses to other recent Parliamentary Questions on this issue, a number of former and serving Air Corps personnel are suing the Minister for Defence alleging personal injuries arising from exposure to workplace chemicals. It is not appropriate for me to comment on this matter at this time as these cases are the subject of ongoing civil litigation before the High Court.

The Deputy will be aware that there are a number of processes already in train in relation to reviewing health and safety procedures in the Air Corps. Following a number of inspections at the Air Corps premises at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, in 2016, the Health and Safety Authority issued a report of inspection with a number of general improvements and recommendations for follow up. The Air Corps committed to addressing these recommendations as part of an eight phase implementation plan. I am advised that seven out of the eight phases are planned to be completed by May 2017.

In September 2016 I appointed an independent third party to review allegations made in a number of protected disclosures relating to health and safety issues in the Air Corps which were received in late 2015 and early 2016. Once a final review is to hand, I will determine any further steps required and ensure that all recommendations, whether arising from the work of the Health and Safety Authority or the ongoing protected disclosure review, will be acted upon to ensure the safety of the men and women of the Air Corps.

In the circumstances and pending the completion of the ongoing processes, I have no plans at this time to commission another review on this matter.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 21/03/17 – Irish Army Air Corps – Contaminated Clothing

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if technical personnel in the Army and Air Corps are permitted to bring home issue overalls and other uniform clothing that have been potentially contaminated with toxic chemicals; and if he and or the Defence Forces have considered the possible contamination risk that poses whereby these items of work clothing may come into contact with items in the home. [13272/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I am informed by the Military Authorities that disposable coveralls are provided to personnel if an activity involves risk of contamination from toxic chemicals. I am advised that these coveralls are disposed of, immediately after use, using a chemical waste contract.

I am also informed that the Defence Forces policy on personal protective equipment (PPE) states that “personnel shall be provided with the necessary training and information on the use of the PPE.” The policy makes it clear that personnel must use the personal protective equipment correctly and whenever it is required, they must participate in any training or instruction provided on the fitting, use and inspection of personal protective equipment and they must look after it and store it in a safe location.

Profile of patients with chemical injury and sensitivity

Patients reporting sensitivity to multiple chemicals at levels usually tolerated by the healthy population were administered standardised questionnaires to evaluate their symptoms and the exposures that aggravated these symptoms. Many patients were referred for medical tests.

It is thought that patients with chemical sensitivity have organ abnormalities involving the liver, nervous system (brain, including limbic, peripheral, autonomic), immune system, and porphyrin metabolism, probably reflecting chemical injury to these systems. Laboratory results are not consistent with a psychological origin of chemical sensitivity.

Substantial overlap between chemical sensitivity, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome exists: the latter two conditions often involve chemical sensitivity and may even be the same disorder. Other disorders commonly seen in chemical sensitivity patients include headache (often migraine), chronic fatigue, musculoskeletal aching, chronic respiratory inflammation (rhinitis, sinusitis, laryngitis, asthma), attention deficit, and hyperactivity (affected younger children). Less common disorders include tremor, seizures, and mitral valve prolapse. Patients with these overlapping disorders should be evaluated for chemical sensitivity and excluded from control groups in future research.

Agents whose exposures are associated with symptoms and suspected of causing onset of chemical sensitivity with chronic illness include gasoline, kerosene, natural gas, pesticides (especially chlordane and chlorpyrifos), solvents, new carpet and other renovation materials, adhesives/glues, fiberglass, carbonless copy paper, fabric softener, formaldehyde and glutaraldehyde, carpet shampoos (lauryl sulfate) and other cleaning agents, isocyanates, combustion products (poorly vented gas heaters, overheated batteries), and medications (dinitrochlorobenzene for warts, intranasally packed neosynephrine, prolonged antibiotics, and general anesthesia with petrochemicals).

Multiple mechanisms of chemical injury that magnify response to exposures in chemically sensitive patients can include neurogenic inflammation (respiratory, gastrointestinal, genitourinary), kindling and time-dependent sensitisation (neurologic), impaired porphyrin metabolism (multiple organs), and immune activation.

Please download the full report from US National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health.

The other whistleblowers: Looking at the human cost of the #IrishAirCorps chemical scandal

AN AIR CORPS whistle-blower who claims he was exposed to harmful chemicals whilst in the force believes there could be more than 1,000 people affected by what he has described as “a scandal of the highest order”.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, the man – who we are not naming as he has made a protected disclosure – detailed the trouble he experiences with daily life which he alleges traces back to his exposure to chemicals over a nine-year period at Baldonnel Airfield in west Dublin.

A 2016 inspection by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) identified a number of shortcomings at Baldonnel with corrective actions then taken by the Defence Forces in relation to how it handles such chemicals.

According to the HSA report seen by TheJournal.ie, the Air Corps was warned it could face prosecution if it did not “comply with advice and relevant legal requirements” about how hazardous substances were managed, among other safety matters.

Read more on The Journal website


No probe of Irish Army Air Corps chemical exposure

The Government says it has no plans to establish a review to determine if the chronic illnesses suffered by former Air Corps staff were as a result of exposure to chemicals while working at Casement Aerodrome.

This is despite similar studies and investigations in Australia and the Netherlands.

The State is currently facing six legal actions from former Air Corps staff, who claim their chronic illnesses were caused by their working conditions at the military airfield in south-west Dublin.

Meanwhile, an official has been appointed to investigate claims by three whistleblowers, who made a number of allegations around the current health and safety measures within the Air Corps.

Last October, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) issued a report calling on the Air Corps to implement a number of improvements on the management of staff exposure to hazardous chemicals.

However, responding to a question from Sinn Féin defence spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh, junior defence minister Paul Kehoe said the Government did not intend to commission any specific study to investigate whether working conditions at Casement Aerodrome had an adverse effect on workers’ health.

“There are a number of processes already in train relating to reviewing health-and-safety procedures in the Air Corps,” said Mr Kehoe of the review of the whistleblowers’ claims and the Defence Forces’ response to the HSA report.

“In the circumstances and pending the completion of the ongoing processes, I have no plans to commission another review on this matter.”

Read more on the Irish Examiner website

Irish Army Air Corps: Concerns over scope of review of allegations made by whistleblowers

Concerns have been raised about the scope of the ongoing review of allegations made by Air Corps whistle-blowers. They claimed that staff were unnecessarily exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.

Last month, this newspaper revealed that the Health and Safety Authority threatened legal action against the Air Corps, unless it improved its management of technicians’ exposure to toxic substances.

The report came in October 2016, almost a year after three whistle-blowers made protected disclosures to the Government about Air Corps technicians’ exposure to harmful substances.

The Irish Examiner can now reveal that the independent third party appointed to review the protected disclosures, which were made between November 2015 and January 2016, has met with all three of the whistle-blowers.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website

Irish Air Corps hazard reports may have been “destroyed”

Health and safety reports dating back over 20 years that raised concerns over working conditions within the Air Corps may have been destroyed, the Taoiseach has been warned.

In a letter to the Taoiseach last week, Fianna Fáil defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said: “It appears that health and safety concerns were known at the base for some time and there was a failure to act which may have unnecessarily and negatively impacted on the health of those working and serving at the base.”

Last month, the Irish Examiner revealed the details of a damning report in which the Health and Safety Authority threatened legal action against the Air Corps unless it implemented a number of improvements in its management of workers’ exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website.

Dutch Department of Defence knew about toxic paint risks 25 years ago

Letters obtained from health and safety inspectors and minutes of meetings reveal that the Defence Ministry was aware of the health risks associated with carcinogenic paint since 1987, but did not take steps to protect staff until eleven years later, according to broadcaster NOS.

Nearly two hundred defence employees complained about chromium-6, a toxic substance in the paint and varnish used on tanks and fighter aircraft in a number of workshops. Earlier this month, a historical investigation was launched by the National Institute for Public Health and Environment to investigate all complaints.

Article originally published 2nd October 2014

Read more on the NL Times website

Dutch Ministry of Defence pays out €2.1 million so far in Ex Gratia Chromium-6 Exposure Compensation Scheme.

So far the Ministry of Defense paid out more than 2.1 million euros to 309 employees and former employees who became ill after working with paint containing carcinogenic substance Chromium-6, a Defense spokesperson confirmed to NU.nl.

The Defense workers in question took advantage of a goodwill scheme the Ministry instituted two years ago for Chromium-6 victims. Employees and former employees who worked with the toxic paint for more than a year and are sick can claim between 3 thousand and 15 thousand from the scheme, without the Ministry of Defense acknowledging guilt for their illness. The compensation scheme will remain in place until public health institute RIVM finished its investigation into the risks and health effects of using Chromium-6.

According to the spokesperson, Defense employees from across the Netherlands applied to the scheme. The Ministry received a total of 719 applications, 255 of which were immediately approved. Another 54 were approved or partly approved after the employee objected.

The compensation scheme shall remain in force until the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) research into the risks and health effects of Chromium-6 has been completed

Read more on the NL Times website