Epigenetic Harm and the Irish Army Air Corps

Epigenetics is the study of heritable phenotype changes that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequence. The Greek prefix epi- (ἐπι- “over, outside of, around”) in epigenetics implies features that are “on top of” or “in addition to” the traditional genetic basis for inheritance. Epigenetics most often denotes changes that affect gene activity and expression, but can also be used to describe any heritable phenotypic change. Such effects on cellular and physiological phenotypic traits may result from external or environmental factors, or be part of normal developmental program. The standard definition of epigenetics requires these alterations to be heritable, either in the progeny of cells or of organisms.

The term also refers to the changes themselves: functionally relevant changes to the genome that do not involve a change in the nucleotide sequence. Examples of mechanisms that produce such changes are DNA methylation and histone modification, each of which alters how genes are expressed without altering the underlying DNA sequence. Gene expression can be controlled through the action of repressor proteins that attach to silencer regions of the DNA.

These epigenetic changes may last through cell divisions for the duration of the cell’s life, and may also last for multiple generations even though they do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism; instead, non-genetic factors cause the organism’s genes to behave (or “express themselves”) differently.

Read the full article on Wikipedia

Mental Health and the Irish Air Corp illness cluster

A new report by Mental Health Reform, the national coalition on mental health in Ireland, has found strong public support for increased State investment in mental health services.

A survey carried out by the coalition found that 84% of respondents thought that the health service places too little focus on mental health.

The study found that the public are willing to invest more in mental healthcare when compared to other related healthcare programmes.

Mental Health Reform says staffing in mental health services is lower now than it was in 2008 and it is calling on the Government to boost investment in the area.

Note the graph below only includes personnel for whom we have death certificates for. We are in the process of verifying many more deaths, most of which relate to the earlier decades.

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Prevention is better than cure.

If the government bother to medically & scientifically investigate the mental health illness cluster at the #IrishAirCorps where at least 13 serving & former personnel have killed themselves since 1980 they might learn something about environmental causes & triggers of mental health problems.

We suspect hydrocarbon fuels, engine exhausts, isocyanates, VOCs etc all have a part to play and the civilian population get exposed to these too but usually at lower levels.

So far the state have only sent in barristers. Think about it 65 men dead at an average age of 49 years and all the state can mobilise is barristers.

In the absence of military or government statistics on untimely deaths in the Irish Air Corps we created our own. We are happy to have these tested or even proven wrong by better statistics gathered by the state in a comprehensive, open and transparent manner. #WeAreNotStatisticians

Dáil Éireann Debates 07/02/18 – Leaders Questions on Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Scandal

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

Seven cases are being taken against the State by current and former serving members of the Air Corps. They believe that they have been forced to take this action by the State’s failure to protect them from their exposure to toxic chemicals during their service, which led to serious, chronic and fatal illnesses, including cancer. While those cases will ultimately be dealt with by the courts, that does not prevent the State from taking action. As early as the 1990s, numerous State-commissioned reports highlighted health and safety concerns about chemical exposure at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, but no action was taken at the time. In fact, these reports mysteriously disappeared or were ordered to be shredded. Even after litigation commenced in 2013, basic health and safety precautions were not implemented at Baldonnel. It appears it was only after the Health and Safety Authority conducted an inspection in 2016 that personnel were provided with basic precautions like personal protection equipment such as gloves and overalls.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of personnel who have passed through Baldonnel may be suffering from chronic and even fatal illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals during their service. There is also a possibility that family members have been affected, as evidence suggests that there is a higher rate of a variety of health conditions among spouses and children, including stillbirths and miscarriages. The Government has taken no action to find out the extent of this scandal or to ascertain how many people might be suffering as a result of it. Instead, it is fighting tooth and nail through the courts to force sick people to take gruelling journeys in search of justice. By comparison, the Australian Government has set up a board of inquiry to conduct a thorough investigation into similar matters. It commissioned a survey of health outcomes for the relevant personnel and their families and put in place a health care system for those who were affected.

As the Taoiseach knows, a protected disclosure from one of the whistleblowers was recently released publicly. It makes for harrowing reading. It lists 56 deaths of former serving Air Corps personnel at an average age of 48. All of the cases listed relate specifically to people who died before they reached the age of 66. The disclosure is based on research done by the whistleblower in the absence of any State-funded investigation into these matters, but it is by no means exhaustive. I believe another number of deaths have been identified since it was published. It is clear that successive Governments have failed in their duty of care to the men and women who served in the Air Corps. This Government has an opportunity to do the right thing. We do not want to be here in ten years’ time with a higher death toll, having failed to address this scandal. Has the Taoiseach read the disclosure? Has he responded to the whistleblower in question? Does he accept that the time has come to order a full inquiry into these matters?

Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach & Minister for Defence (Dublin West, Fine Gael)

As the Deputy said, a number of cases are currently before the courts. While I have absolutely no doubt that the serious ill-health suffered by some former members of the Air Corps is real, it has not been proven whether this array of illnesses could be caused by chemical exposure. Obviously, these cases will be heard in the courts, which will hear all the evidence and, on that basis, make a determination on the claim or allegation that all of these illnesses were caused by chemical exposure. I think that is the right way for this to proceed. The health and well-being of men and women of the Air Corps are, of course, matters of huge concern and interest for the Government.

The Minister of State has ensured that allegations relating to exposure to chemical and toxic substances while working in Baldonnell were independently reviewed. Before considering any further steps, the Minister of State has asked those who made the disclosures for their views. He is examining options for next steps in the process in light of the views he has received from those who made the allegations in the context of ongoing litigation.

The independent report considers the Defence Forces’ health and safety regime and its current policy and application. In respect of historic matters, as litigation had commenced before protected disclosures were made, the report states that the courts are now the most appropriate forum for such matters to be assessed and are the best place to assess all the evidence. Although the report finds that the Defence Forces’ regime appears to be capable of meeting the statutory requirements, it makes a number of observations, including in respect of documentation, health surveillance and exposure monitoring. It also observes that the Health and Safety Authority is the appropriate statutory body to deal with such allegations.

Separately, and in parallel to this independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps has continued to work with the Health and Safety Authority to improve its health and safety regime. It should be noted that there is a significant overlap between the recommendations of the HSA and those of the independent reviewer. The military authorities have informed the Minister of State that the HSA has formally noted the high level of co-operation received from the Air Corps and the considerable progress made to date by the Defence Forces towards the implementation of safety management systems for the control of hazardous substances.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

There is no denying that things are better in the Air Corps. However, what the Taoiseach has just read out does not in any way address the legacy of bad management and a bad health and safety record there. I do not know if the Taoiseach remembers that he is also Minister for Defence. He has a direct responsibility to look into these matters. He is also a medical doctor and will understand the list of illnesses that has been provided to his Minister of State, which includes very serious and often fatal conditions, as the other disclosure indicated. We do not know how many people have been exposed in an unprotected way because nobody has carried out a survey. The Australians did not wait for the courts to adjudicate fully, they acted immediately.

There is a list of chemicals, albeit a partial one, which was given to Deputy Lisa Chambers. How many of the people involved have been exposed? As the Taoiseach is aware, if a doctor does not know what people have been exposed to, he cannot help, diagnose, prescribe or direct medical procedures. This is about saving lives. Will the Taoiseach act now not in respect of the specific cases but on the legacy of all of those who are suffering in the general public?

Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach & Minister for Defence (Dublin West, Fine Gael)

The Deputy is absolutely correct; I am Minister for Defence. The Government has delegated responsibility for defence matters to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, whom I fully trust to deal with this issue appropriately.

I am a medical doctor and have seen the list of illnesses that these former members of the Air Corps and their families have suffered. It is a very long and extensive list of illnesses, including the most common illnesses which most people may encounter, namely, cancer, cardiovascular disease, suicide and miscarriages by their partners. As a medical doctor, it is not possible for me to say if exposure to chemicals caused all or any of these illnesses because they are commonplace in the community at large. If it was one specific illness resulting from a known chemical that caused such an illness, that would be one thing. These are not the allegations that are being made, however. There is litigation before the courts, which are best placed to assess the evidence and see whether the allegations are supported by it.

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We will follow up the above Dáil debate with a critique of the misleading statements by the Taoiseach, Dr. Leo Varadkar in due course.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Statistics for Dr. Leo Varadkar showing untimely deaths of Irish Air Corps personnel

A graph showing untimely deaths of men who served in the Irish Air Corps. We are counting those that died since 1980 (arbitrary) and who died on or before age 66 (state pension age).

On Wednesday the 7th of February 2018 in Dáil Éireann, Taoiseach, Dr. Leo Varadkar, said the place to investigate Irish Air Corps related deaths & illnesses was the Irish courts system and also bizarrely questioned why thousands of exposed personnel, exposed to hundreds of different toxic chemicals didn’t all get the same cancer?

Note the graph below only includes personnel for whom we have death certificates for. We are in the process of verifying approximately 30 more deaths, many of which relate to the earlier decades.

In the absence of military or government statistics on untimely deaths in the Irish Air Corps we created our own. We are happy to have these tested or even proven wrong by better statistics gathered by the state in a comprehensive, open and transparent manner. #WeAreNotStatisticians

Leo Varadkar urged to act on Air Corps chemical exposure ‘legacy’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he believes the courts should decide whether former Air Corps staff are suffering chronic illnesses due to chemical exposure.

Mr Varadkar made the comments yesterday in the Dáil where Sinn Féin Defence Spokesperson Aengus O’Snodaigh repeated calls for a health study of Air Corps members, similar to an analysis of Australian Air Force staff, which found technicians who worked with carcinogenic chemicals were at greater risk of illness.

Last year, the Irish Examiner revealed the State is facing a number of claims from former staff, and that whistleblowers had raised concerns about the safety of workers using chemicals at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

“While I have absolutely no doubt that the serious ill-health suffered by some former members of the Air Corps is real, it has not been proven whether this array of illnesses could be caused by chemical exposure,” Mr Varadkar said.

“There is litigation in the courts, which are the best place to assess the evidence and see whether the allegations are supported by that evidence,” he said.

Mr O’Snodaigh said a survey is needed as the implications of widespread staff exposure to the chemicals used goes beyond the seven cases currently against the State. “We do not want to be here in 10 years’ time with a higher death toll, having failed to address this scandal,”he said.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Delay – Deny – Die

The vast majority of Irish Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors are not currently engaged in legal action. For these serving and former personnel the Taoiseach is offering them no respite, not assistance and no hope.

European Commission – Pregnant Worker Directive 92/85/EC

Directive 92/85/EC – Pregnant Workers

Introduced 19th of October 1992

Pregnant woman standing outside on a sunny day

Objective

The objective of this Directive is to protect the health and safety of women in the workplace when pregnant or after they have recently given birth and women who are breastfeeding.

Contents

Under the Directive, a set of guidelines detail the assessment of the chemical, physical and biological agents and industrial processes considered dangerous for the health and safety of pregnant women or women who have just given birth and are breast feeding.

The Directive also includes provisions for physical movements and postures, mental and physical fatigue and other types of physical and mental stress.

Pregnant and breastfeeding workers may under no circumstances be obliged to perform duties for which the assessment has revealed a risk of exposure to agents, which would jeopardize their safety or health. Those agents and working conditions are defined in Annex II of the Directive.

Member States shall ensure that pregnant workers are not obliged to work in night shifts when medically indicated (subject to submission of a medical certificate).

Employers or the health and safety service will use these guidelines as a basis for a risk evaluation for all activities that pregnant or breast feeding workers may undergo and must decide what measures should be taken to avoid these risks. Workers should be notified of the results and of measures to be taken which can be adjustment of working conditions, transfer to another job or granting of leave.

The Directive grants maternity leave for the duration of 14 weeks of which 2 weeks must occur before birth.

Women must not be dismissed from work because of their pregnancy and maternity for the period from the beginning of their pregnancy to the end of the period of leave from work.

Annex I – Non exhaustive list of agents and working conditions referred to in Art.4 of the directive (assessment and information)

A. Agents

1. Physical agents where these are regarded as agents causing foetal lesions and/or likely to disrupt placental attachment, and in particular:

(a) shocks, vibration or movement;

(b) handling of loads entailing risks, particularly of a dorsolumbar nature;

(c) noise;

(d) ionizing radiation (*);

(e) non-ionizing radiation;

(f) extremes of cold or heat;

(g) movements and postures, travelling – either inside or outside the establishment – mental and physical fatigue and other physical burdens connected with the activity of the worker within the meaning of Article 2 of the Directive.

2. Biological agents

Biological agents of risk groups 2, 3 and 3 within the meaning of Article 2 (d) numbers 2, 3 and 4 of Directive 90/679/EEC (¹), in so far as it is known that these agents or the therapeutic measures necessitated by such agents endanger the health of pregnant women and the unborn child and in so far as they do not yet appear in Annex II.

3. Chemical agents

The following chemical agents in so far as it is known that they endanger the health of pregnant women and the unborn child and in so far as they do not yet appear in Annex II:

(a) substances labelled R40 (limited evidence of a carcinogenic effect), R45 (May cause cancer), R46 (May cause inheritable genetic damage), and R47 (May cause birth defects) under Dangerous Substances Directive (67/548/EEC) in so far as they do not yet appear in Annex II;

(b) chemical agents in Annex I to Directive 90/394/EEC (Protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens) ;

(c) mercury and mercury derivatives;

(d) antimitotic drugs;

(e) carbon monoxide;

(f) chemical agents of known and dangerous percutaneous absorption.

B. Processes

Industrial processes listed in Annex I to Directive 90/394/EEC.

C. Working conditions

Underground mining work.

Annex II – Non exhaustive list of agents and working conditions referred to in Art.6 of the directive (cases in which exposure is prohibited)

A. Pregnant workers within the meaning of Article 2 (a)

1. Agents

(a) Physical agents

Work in hyperbaric atmosphere, e.g. pressurized enclosures and underwater diving.

(b) Biological agents

The following biological agents:

– toxoplasma,

– rubella virus,

unless the pregnant workers are proved to be adequately protected against such agents by immunization.

(c) Chemical agents

Lead and lead derivatives in so far as these agents are capable of being absorbed by the human organism.

2. Working conditions

Underground mining work.

B. Workers who are breastfeeding within the meaning of Article 2 (c)

1. Agents

(a) Chemical agents

Lead and lead derivatives in so far as these agents are capable of being absorbed by the human organism.

2. Working conditions

Underground mining work.

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The Irish Army Air Corps only started carrying out “adequate” risk assessments in the past year so for 25 years pregnant females at Baldonnel were dangerously exposed to Carcinogens, Mutagens & Teratogens.

Any pregnant females working in proximity to running aircraft or aircraft being refueled, such as in the ramp area, or downwind of the ramp were exposed.

  • Exhaust gasses contain Carbon Monoxide as well as TetraEthyl Lead and other hydrocarbon fumes.
  • AVGAS – 100LL  refuelling fumes contained Gasoline, Tetraethyl Lead, Toluene, Xylene, Ethylbenzene, Cyclohexane, n-Hexane, Trimethylbenzene, Naphthalene and Isopropylbenzene.
  • AVTUR – Jet A1 refueling fumes contain Kerosine, Ethylbenzene, Xylene and Isopropylbenzene.
  • Fuel System Anti Icing additives used by the Irish Army Air Corps included 2-(2-methoxyethoxy)ethanol which is a known to cause reproductive and developmental toxic effects.

Furthermore pregnant females working in or entering into Avionics, ERF or Engineering Wing hangar were being exposed to further known Carcinogens, Mutagens and Teratogens including Dichloromethane, Isocyanates & Trichloroethylene to name but a few.

Due to the fact that the working dress & overalls of technicians were (and still are) brought home to be washed in domestic family washing machines it is extremely likely that pregnant spouses & partners of Air Corps personnel were also affected.

This may have lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, lifelong genetic diseases & developmental conditions such as autism in the children of personnel.

Minister of state for defence to probe whistle blower dismissal claim

Minister of state for defence Paul Kehoe has said he has written to the Defence Forces seeking a report on claims that an Air Corps whistle-blower is facing dismissal and that documents key to legal cases against the State were deliberately shredded.

The Irish Examiner recently reported that two separate whistle-blowers told Mr Kehoe that a Defence Forces official ordered the destruction of health and safety reports that showed that the Air Corps’ management of the use of hazardous chemicals was lacking.

On Monday, this newspaper revealed that one of these whistle-blowers is now facing dismissal from the Defence Forces.

In the Dáil yesterday, Mr Kehoe confirmed he was informed of the allegations.

“Certain allegations were made that the documents were destroyed,” Mr Kehoe confirmed.

“I have requested a report from the Chief of Staff on the actions taken on foot of the accusation. When the report is to hand I will consider what further steps may be required to take.

“I didn’t destroy any reports, nor am I aware of anyone destroying any reports but I have asked the Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces to investigate this matter, to find out about these reports and what happened them and to the reasons why they are not kept on record in the Defence Forces.

“Regarding the individual in the Defence Forces and a dismissal, I only became aware of this, I don’t want to say an exact date, but I’ve asked for a report on that issue.”

Mr Kehoe angrily rejected opposition party suggestions that the Government has been slow to address the matter.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website

Air Corps accuser facing dismissal in August; Whistleblower disclosed use of hazardous chemicals at aerodrome

A serving Air Corps whistle-blower is facing dismissal from the Defence Forces next month, due to an “industrial dispute”.

“Good News”  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar cares more about socks than service personnel.

The Irish Examiner can reveal that the man, who made protected disclosures about health and safety management of hazardous chemicals at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, has been summoned to appear before a Defence Forces medical board in August.

A brief report, issued prior to the board meeting, has accused the member of “chronic ineffectivity” due to anxiety and a “work-related industrial dispute”.

The Protected Disclosures Act was introduced in 2014 to protect whistle-blowers from being penalised for reporting issues in their workplace.

This newspaper can also reveal that the man previously met with junior defence minister Paul Kehoe in Government Buildings, to discuss his concerns.

The man told Mr Kehoe that an Air Corps official ordered the shredding of health and safety inspection reports dating back to the 1990s. He is the second whistleblower to make such an allegation.

The claim was also made in a written disclosure submitted by a different whistleblower, in April — a statement that further named the official alleged to have ordered the reports’ destruction.

However, Mr Kehoe has ruled out any investigation into the documents’ disappearance, despite previously admitting that he could only offer “speculative” reasons as to why they cannot be found.

Six former Air Corps staff are suing the State, claiming their chronic illnesses are as a result of their exposure to toxic chemicals used in the course of their duties.

Opposition TDs say they have seen copies of the 1990s inspection reports, and the reports are said to show that it was long-known that the conditions at Casement Aerodrome were not up to standard.

This has prompted claims that the Defence Forces’ copies of the documents were deliberately destroyed to cover up knowledge of workers’ exposure to harmful substances.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website

Why did Irish Air Corps hang Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney out to dry?

The Irish Examiner publisher a story this morning about a meeting that Micheál Martin & Lisa Chambers, of Fianna Fail, had with survivors of the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical scandal.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he will raise the request in the Dáil, and said the Government’s response to the scandal has been “deficient” to date.

Mr Martin’s stance follows a recent meeting he and his party defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers held with a number of former Air Corps staff.

The group, all in their 40’s and 50’s, listed the litany of illnesses they have suffered since leaving the Air Corps, including rectal cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, heart attacks, autoimmune diseases, depression and anxieties, solvent-induced encephalopathy, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — even among non-smokers.

“All suffer significant health issues,” Mr Martin said, describing the encounter as a “sad and often difficult” meeting.

“One has undergone five surgeries and is in constant pain. They all have personal issues. One has had two heart attacks and in one instance was kept alive by his wife and a first responder,” said Mr Martin.

“All were exposed to chemicals, and in at least one case, the person was ‘tubbed’ — sat in a bath and doused in chemicals which was a ritual at the time,” he said.

“I was taken aback at some of what they had to say, particularly about not having protective clothing.

“One told me that subsequent to his time at the Air Corps, he went into private industry and couldn’t get over the contrast in terms of the attitude and directions for handling chemical spills and use of protective suits. The contrast was striking.”

Read more about Fianna Fail calls for an inquiry into the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical scandal on the Examiner website.

Read the Irish Times article about Coveney

Read The Journal article with Varadkar defending Coveney (lots of views, lots of comments…popular subject).

But hours later the Irish Times ran with an article, based upon FoI requests that Simon Coveney as Minister for Defence had questioned the professional judgement of an Irish Air Corps pilot who cancelled a ministerial flight due to a forecast of fog at their Cork destination.

Anyone familiar with the media will know that journalists will seek an FoI, not on the off chance of discovering something, but because they have been already briefed that something exists. The journalists are rarely taking a stab in the dark, they are following a scent. It also appears that the Irish  Times may be in possession of this information for a number of weeks if not months (the incident took place in June 2015) so the question must be asked why was it not released previously.

It is significant that the Irish Air Corps have recently had a change of management at the top of the organisation with a new General Officer Commanding and a new Colonel. By all accounts this new GOC is a smart operator and is very politically aware.

So we wonder if it is possible that the Irish Times, who have mostly ignored the toxic chemical scandal, were primed with this story about Coveney? Like we said a relatively minor story about a Minister unhappy his ministerial flight was cancelled but a story that would be a hot news topic and would displace other stories of the day.

Who had the most to gain from a story that diverted attention away from the Irish Air Corps Health & Safety scandal and towards a government minister?

Big bad Fine Gael Minister bullying Air Corps pilot…BOOO. Poor Air Corps turned into an innocent victim……HURRAH…..What chemical problem???

We would hope this is not the opening salvo in the propaganda fightback by the new GOC Air Corps and his management team. We hope it was not designed to keep the Irish Air Corps chemical scandal out of the headlines nor to mark the cards of Fine Gael and all serving Ministers that the Air Corps may have dirt on them.

Now that Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe is in possession of the long awaited report from the “independent 3rd party” investigator, we sincerely hope that the Irish Army Air Corps is not trying to influence & interfere with the democratic process.