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

*****

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

Absolutely nothing has been done to provide targeted healthcare for exposed personnel since this date despite damning findings by the HSA which the Department of Defence continue to try to downplay. 

Call to strike out army’s defence of chemicals exposure case

Irish Air Corps Gulfstream IV #251 that could not fit inside hangar.

*****

Who would have thought that an arm of the state could simply ignore the highest court in the land with absolute impunity?

The Irish Air Corps are now at the stage of offering “dog ate my homework” excuses while personnel continue to suffer and die needlessly

Army blames Covid-19 for continued failure to give affidavit to former Air Corps mechanic

Investigation after bag suspected to contain cocaine found at Baldonnel airbase

An investigation has been launched after a bag suspected to contain cocaine was found at the Baldonnel airbase.

Officers Mess – Baldonnel

According to a Defence Forces source, the bag was found outside the Officers’ Mess car park last night.

A spokesperson for the Air Corps said: “I can confirm that an unknown substance was recovered in an area of unused ground in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

“A Military Police investigation has commenced.

“Óglaigh na hÉireann does not comment on ongoing Military Police Investigations.”

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.

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.

*****

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.

European Commission – Young people at work directive (94/33/EC)

Directive 94/33/EC – Protection of Young people at work

Introduced 22nd June 1994

Objective

The aim of this Directive is to lay down minimum requirements for the protection of young people at work.

Definitions

The directive gives legal definitions for the terms “child”, “adolescent”, “young person”, “light work”, “working time” and “rest period”.

Contents

Member States shall take the necessary measures to prohibit work by children. They shall ensure, under the conditions laid down by this Directive, that the minimum working or employment age is not lower than the minimum age at which compulsory full-time schooling – as imposed by national law – ends or 15 years in any event.

This Directive shall apply to any person under 18 years of age having an employment contract or an employment relationship defined by the law in force in a Member State and/or governed by the law in force in a Member State. Exceptions can be adopted by Member States for occasional work or short-term work, involving domestic service in a private household or work regarded as not being harmful, damaging or dangerous to young people in a family undertaking.

The Directive defines “young people” as people under the age of 18 and “children” as young people under the age of 15 or who are still in full-time compulsory education in accordance with national legislation. Adolescents are young people between the ages of 15 and 18 who are no longer in full-time compulsory education in accordance with national legislation.

Member States may make legislative exceptions for the prohibition of work by children not to apply to children employed for the purposes of cultural, artistic, sporting or advertising activities, subject to prior authorisation by the competent authority in each specific case; to children of at least 14 years of age working under a combined work/training scheme or an in-plant work-experience scheme, provided that such work is done in accordance with the conditions laid down by the competent authority; and to children of at least 14 years of age performing light work. Light work can also be performed by children of 13 years of age for a limited number of hours per week in the case of categories of work determined by national legislation.

‘Light work’, as defined in the Directive, shall mean all work which, on account of the inherent nature of the tasks which it involves and the particular conditions under which they are performed is not likely to be harmful to the safety, health or development of children, and is not such as to be harmful to their attendance at school, their participation in vocational guidance or training programmes approved by the competent authority or their capacity to benefit from the instruction received.

Employers shall adopt the measures necessary to protect the safety and health of young people, taking particular account of the specific risks which are a consequence of their lack of experience, of absence of awareness of existing or potential risks or of the fact that young people have not yet fully matured. Employers shall implement such measures on the basis of a comprehensive assessment of the hazards to young people in connection with their work according to Art 6/2 of the Directive. The assessment must be made before young people begin work and when there is any major change in working conditions.

The employer shall inform young people and their representatives of possible risks and of all measures adopted concerning their safety and health.

Member States shall prohibit the employment of young people for:

  • work which is objectively beyond their physical or psychological capacity;
  • work involving harmful exposure to agents which are toxic, carcinogenic, cause heritable genetic damage, or harm to the unborn child or which in any other way chronically affect human health;
  • work involving harmful exposure to radiation;
  • work involving the risk of accidents which it may be assumed cannot be recognised or avoided by young persons owing to their insufficient attention to safety or lack of experience or training;
  • or work in which there is a risk to health from extreme cold or heat, or from noise or vibration.

In addition, the Directive contains provisions relating to working hours, night work, rest periods, annual leave and rest breaks.

Each Member State is responsible for defining the necessary measures applicable in the event of infringement of the provisions of this Directive; these measures must be effective and proportionate to the offence.

*****

It appears the Air Corps failed this directive as soon as young people (apprentices) set foot inside the gates of Casement Aerodrome. At the of time this European Commission directive was issued crumbling asbestos on central heating pipework was present in all 4 landings of the old hostel apprentice accommodation. In fact in previous years apprentices were ordered to carry out asbestos removal without any training, PPE or health surveillance. 

Please also note that on the 11th of September 2017 the HSA wrote to the Irish Army Air Corps requesting….

It should be confirmed that the findings of Asbestos Surveys for relevant buildings at the facility, or the corresponding Registers of Asbestos-Containing Materials {ACMs), have been brought to the attention of  building managers and/or incorporated into the building management system. You are referred to relevant HSA published guidance – Practical Guidelines on ACM Management and Abatement, Section 7.

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.

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.

No plan to probe missing Irish Army Air Corps Health & Safety reports

The Government says the Defence Forces have no intention of investigating how health and safety reports at the centre of an alleged ‘cover up’ within the Air Corps have gone missing.

The State is facing at least six lawsuits from former Air Corps technicians who suffer chronic illnesses that they say were caused by their working environment at Casement Aerodrome.

All six have seen a toxico-pathologist who has given his medical opinion that their illnesses — including cancer, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and memory loss — were caused by their exposure to harmful chemicals.

Last week the Irish Examiner revealed that health and safety reports arising from inspections of Casement Aerodrome in the 1990s — a period during which the six worked for the Air Corps —cannot be found by military authorities.

Sinn Féin defence spokesperson, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, has told the Dáil that he has seen the reports in question, and that they are critical of health and safety management at Casement Aerodrome at the time.

Mr Ó Snodaigh has questioned whether the disappearance of the documents is part of a cover-up to disguise the fact that the Defence Forces did not follow up on the inspections recommendations.

However, despite confirming that the inspections in question took place, and that the reports arising from these probes cannot be located, Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe has said there are no plans to look into how or why the documents went missing.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website.