Dáil Éireann Written Answers 24/11/20 – No plans to offer medical cards to retired Defence Forces personnel

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 897

To ask the Minister for Health his plans to carry out a full health audit of former members of all branches of the Defence Forces with a view to extending a full medical card to all retired Defence Forces members. [38583/20]

Stephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)

Under the provisions of the Health Act 1970 (as amended), eligibility for health services in Ireland is based primarily on residency and means. The Act provides that persons who are unable, without undue hardship, to arrange GP services for themselves and dependents can qualify for full eligibility (a medical card). The HSE awards medical cards in accordance with the Health Act and assesses applicants on the overall financial situation of the applicant and his or her spouse or dependent.

Every effort is made by the HSE, within the framework of the legislation, to support applicants in applying for a medical card and, in particular, to take full account of any difficult circumstances in the case of applicants who may be in excess of the income guidelines. Social and medical issues are also considered when determining whether undue hardship exists for an individual accessing general practitioner or other medical services and to that end, the HSE may exercise discretion and grant a medical card where an applicant exceeds his or her income threshold. Currently, more than 32% of the population hold eligibility for a medical card.

All persons who are ordinarily resident in the state can apply to the HSE to be determined whether eligible for a medical card.

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DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 24/11/20 – No plans by Minister Coveney to audit health of Irish Air Corps personnel despite proven Health & Safety failings

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 464

To ask the Minister for Defence his plans to carry out a full health audit of serving members of the Air Corps. [38582/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

A comprehensive range of primary and secondary medical services are provided to all members of the Permanent Defence Force. This is to ensure that personnel are medically fit to undertake the duties assigned to them, and to treat any medical conditions arising which would inhibit their capacity to undertake such duties. This includes an annual medical examination which comprises a review of the individual’s medical history and a full physical examination.

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Air Corps personnel have been badly served by the Medical Corps

  • Treated chemically injured personnel as malingerers.
  • Refused to refer injured personnel for specialised consultant care for complex illnesses.
  • Used the medical boarding system as a “HR resolution tool” to dismiss chemically injured personnel.
  • Disallowed the testimony of expert medical consultants at such medical boards used to dismiss even whistleblowers.
  • Admonished chemically injured personnel for using civilian doctors even sending  military ambulances to retrieve sick personnel from their homes.
  • Attempted to access medical records of chemically injured personnel in civilian hospitals without their consent.

It must be said that the neglegence of engineering officers within the Formation Safety Office hindered the work of doctors on the ground at Baldonnel and wider afield. 

If the FSO had carried out chemical risk assessments, conducted with “proper vigor” by competent & trained personnel, they would in many instances have required risk specific health surveilance. Risks specific health surveilance would have given medics a “heads up” regarding symptoms of “at risk” illnesses.  This should in turn have lead to annual medical assessments more tailored to these risks than the “standard” annual medical that all members of hte Defence Forces undergo. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

20 Air Corps personnel died prematurely since whistleblower contacted Varadkar in 2017, Dáil hears

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19 men and 1 woman have died since the Varadkar was approached for help. Subsequent protected disclosures to Varadkar were either ignored or forwarded to then Junior Minister Paul Kehoe.

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. 

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Éireann – Motion on Confidence in Tánaiste Leo Varadkar – 10th November 2020

Róisín Shorthall (Social Democrats)

The shortened version of the Róisín Shorthall T.D. (Social Democrats) contribution on the Motion on Confidence in Tánaiste & Minister for Enterprise , Trade & Employment, Leo Varadkar, T.D.

Deputy Shorthall raises the hypocrisy of Leo Varadkar who used the cabinet rule-book as an excuse to not assist a former Air Corps member seeking medical help to reduce the *untimely deaths of #IrishAirCorps personnel due to unprotected workplace chemical exposure at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

A similar chemical exposure tragedy in the Royal Australian Air Force saw exposed personnel suffer cancer rates up to 41% greater than a control group. But due to awareness, vigilance, screening and other coordinated medical interventions they were able to turn a greater risk of death & illness into 27% lower mortality than the average Australian of the same age. A similar chemical exposure tragedy has also occurred in the armed services of the Netherlands and their first act was to help survivors.

In Ireland Fine Gael has spent the past half decade denying any help whatsoever to exposed Air Corps personnel nor even admitting that a problem exists.

This is despite the fact that both the HSA, and the DoD appointed independent investigator, both vindicated the claims of three whistle-blowers on this issue with the HSA going as far as to threaten legal action against the Air Corps unless they complied with specific instructions from health & safety inspectors.

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Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 85 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980
  • 72 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 48 of these deaths have occurred since 2010

Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.

The three leading causes of death

  • 37% of deaths are from cancer
  • 30% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 18% of deaths are from suicide

*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 51 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

Delay – Deny – Die

85 Untimely deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 85 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 72 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 48 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • 37% of deaths are from  cancer
  • 30% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 18% of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 51 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

83 Untimely deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 83 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 70 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 46 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • 37% of deaths are from  cancer
  • 30% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 18% of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 51 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 21/07/20 – No internal investigation into Irish Air Corps safety failures

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 353

To ask the Minister for Defence the actions he, his officials, the Chief of Staff Branch, Air Corps headquarters and or the State Claims Agency has taken to investigate the reasons for the non-compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts 1989 and 2005 at the Air Corps as stated by the Health and Safety Authority investigation which concluded after nearly three years in September 2018; and the steps taken at all levels to ensure the same failings to do not occur again in the Air Corps or the other branches of the Defence Forces. [16654/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

I wish to assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a high priority for me, my Department and the military authorities.

The Deputy will be aware that following three inspections at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel during 2016, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) issued a Report of Inspection to the Air Corps on 21 October, 2016. This report listed a number of advisory items for follow up, including the areas of risk assessments, safety statements and the provision and use of personal protective equipment.

The resultant Air Corps improvement plan confirmed the Air Corps’ full commitment to implementing improved safety measures that protect workers and ensure risks are as low as reasonably practicable.

The Air Corps improvement plan was implemented over eight phases, which the military authorities have advised are now complete, with phase eight, chemical awareness training and respiratory equipment training, being a continuous process.

The HSA has formally noted the high level of cooperation received and the considerable progress made to date by the Air Corps in this regard and their investigation is now closed.

A wide range of other measures are in place to ensure the health and safety of those serving in the Air Corps including monitoring exposure levels, conducting annual occupational medical screening, audits and training.

As the health and wellbeing of the men and women working in the Air Corps is a priority, the former Minister ensured that allegations relating to exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps in Baldonnel were independently reviewed. The independent report considered the Defence Forces health and safety regime, its current policy and its application and made a number of observations including in relation to documentation, health surveillance, and exposure to monitoring. The report was published on the Department’s website following its circulation to those who made disclosures.

The Air Corps and the wider Defence organisation is committed to complying with health and safety legislation. The organisation is proactive in ensuring that the best standards are adhered to in order to ensure that the risk to human health is as low as reasonably practicable.

The Deputy will appreciate that as litigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

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It would have offered some small comfort to survivors of the Irish Air Corps chemical exposure tragedy if the recently re-appointed Minister Coveney had stated that the health & welfare of former personnel who served at Casement Aerodrome was also high priority for him, his Department and the military authorities but alas he chose not to do so at this time.

In terms of the “high level of cooperation” and the “full commitment to implementing improved safety measures” we must be very clear, the Health & Safety Authority threatened legal action if the Irish Air Corps did not comply with their instructions to improve conditions at Baldonnel.

To say there was a high level of cooperation is nonsense because the Air Corps had no choice but to comply. It is akin to a drunk driver crashing into a cafe & injuring scores of people then having a judge praise their cooperation once caught. 

Calling the orders of the HSA “advisory” is also a subtle attempt to downplay the seriousness of the problems discovered. But yes issuing PPE such as gloves, respirators, eye protection and also providing chemical safety training 28 years after they became mandatory is indeed “great progress”. 

But why was no disciplinary process started within the Defence Forces to hold to account those in management who presided over the decades long health & safety shambles?

Current Irish Air Corps compliance with workplace Health & Safety legislation is merely a veneer. There has been no change to safety culture and the Formation Safety Office is severely under resourced and with no dedicated H&S enforcement personnel.

Surprisingly, Vice Admiral Mellett told an Air Corps campaigner recently that it is difficult to change the safety culture of an organisation like the Air Corps. If only the Chief of Staff ahad powerful enforcement tool at his disposal such as military law to force such a culture change through quickly?

When there is a will there is a way, unfortunately decades on from the Army deafness scandal, the insular Defence Forces still don’t understand true Health & Safety from the bottom to the very top of the organisation and without proper understanding there is no will to change. 

In terms of the independent third party investigation it was neither independent nor third party. While there may have been initial attempts to find an independent third party specialist with toxicological or chemical experience, the last government eventually decided to appoint a recently retired barrister from the office of the Attorney General. This is an office of the state that is being sued by former Air Corps personnel so by no stretch of the imagination was this investigator independent nor third party, he was a retired civil servant still on the payroll of the state.

The so called “O’Toole report” is striking because the investigator states at the very start of the report that he was not qualified to undertake the investigation he was tasked to carry out.

My expertise is in the area of law and in carrying out this review it was my intention to examine compliance by the Air Corps with the relevant law and regulation. I was not in a position to consider the substances in use or any implications for human health arising from such use as these issues are outside my competence. The allegations concern both the current health and safety regime and compliance with that regime in a period stretching back over 20 years.

That Minister Coveney can point to this investigation as something worthwhile is stretching credibility. Essentially, the reason for appointing O’Toole was to slow down the  need for a political response to the problem and to ultimately justify doing zero to help save lives & reduce suffering of exposed Air Corps personnel. 

The “O’Toole Report” officially known as the “Report of the Independent Reviewer – Protected Disclosures – Air Corps” can be read in full via the link below.

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2250a7-report-of-the-independent-reviewer-protected-disclosures-air-corps/

The Risk Management Section of the State Claims Agency audited Irish Air Corps compliance with Health & Safety for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority were forced to intervene to stop the ongoing unprotected exposure of the workforce to carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants & toxic chemicals at Casement Aerodrome.

The HSA file was opened in January 2016 and was only closed in September 2018 but the “superb” health & safety performance of the Air Corps for the decade prior to HSA intervention allowed the State Claims Agency & NTMA to justify discretionary performance-related payments for their own personnel & senior management. 

The State Claims agency earned bonus pay for improvements in Air Corps health & safety risk profile while the very same same Air Corps continued to seriously harm serving personnel through lack of even the most basic health & safety measures.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

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

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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. 

Seanad Éireann – 17th July 2020 – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure Scandal

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell (Independent)

Watch Senator Gerard Craughwell request that the speaker of the Irish Senate invite the head of the State Claims Agency before senators in the Upper House to explain why NAMA / NTMA / SCA have ignored an order of the Irish Supreme Court to provide critical toxic chemical exposure data to a former Irish Air Corps technician.

The technician is one of a number of seriously injured Irish Air Corps personnel who are taking legal action against the state alleging non existent chemical health & safety at the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome.

The data was originally requested in 2013 and has delayed legal cases for 7 years. 32 personnel have died young since the data was requested bringing the untimely death body count to 78 personnel with an average age 50 years.

A third of the deaths are cancer, a third are cardiovascular and a fifth (15) suicide. #DelayDenyDie 

Particulate matter from aircraft engines affects airways

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), seven million people worldwide die as a consequence of air pollution every year. For around 20 years, studies have shown that air-borne particulate matter negatively affects human health. Now, in addition to already investigated particle sources like emissions from heating systems, industry and road traffic, aircraft turbine engine particle emissions have also become more important.

Photo of Alouette III No 196 showing soiling of the tail boom with soot from exhaust gasses.

In a unique, innovative experiment, researchers have investigated the effect of exhaust particles from aircraft turbine engines on human lung cells.

The cells reacted most strongly to particles emitted during ground idling.

It was also shown that the cytotoxic effect is only to some extent comparable to that of particles from gasoline and diesel engines.The primary solid particles, i.e. those emitted directly from the source, have the strongest effect on people in its immediate vicinity. 

Now a multidisciplinary team, led by lung researcher Marianne Geiser of the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Bern, together with colleagues from Empa Dübendorf and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), has shown that primary soot particles from kerosene combustion in aircraft turbine engines also cause direct damage to lung cells and can trigger an inflammatory reaction if the solid particles are inhaled in the direct vicinity of the engine.

The researchers demonstrated for the first time that the damaging effects also depend on the operating conditions of the turbine engine, the composition of the fuel, and the structure of the generated particles.

Beechcraft 200 Super King Air No 240 showing soiling of the engine panels with soot from exhaust gasses.

Extremely small particles in the nanoscale range

Particles emitted from aircraft turbine engines are generally ultrafine, i.e. smaller than 100 nm. By way of comparison, a human hair has a diameter of about 80,000 nm. When inhaled, these nanoparticles — like those from other combustion sources -efficiently deposit in the airways. In healthy people, the well-developed defense mechanisms in the lungs normally take care of rendering the deposited particles ineffective and removing them from the lungs as quickly as possible.

However, if the inhaled particles manage to overcome these defense mechanisms, due to their structure or physico-chemical properties, there is a danger for irreparable damage to the lung tissue. This process, already known to researchers from earlier experiments with particle emissions from gasoline and diesel engines, has now also been observed for particle emissions from aircraft engines.

Toxicity depends on the operating conditions of the turbines and the type of fuel

Evidence of increased cell membrane damage and oxidative stress in the cell cultures was identified. Oxidative stress accelerates ageing of cells and can be a trigger for cancer or immune system diseases.

Overall, according to the researchers, it has been demonstrated that the cell-damaging effect caused by exposure to particles generated by the combustion of gasoline, diesel and kerosene fuel are comparable for similar doses and exposure times.

Additionally, a similar pattern was found in the secretion of inflammatory cytokines after exposure to gasoline and kerosene fuel particles.

Aerosols: distance from the source is crucial

Aerosols are the finest solid or fluid substance suspended in the air. In combustion processes, the composition of ultrafine particles is highly variable. In addition, aerosols are unstable, and they are modified after their formation. Primary ultrafine solid particles have a high diffusion velocity. As a result, at high concentrations such particles either stick together or attach to other particles. Therefore, the effect of primary ultrafine particles depends on the distance from the source, implying that there is a difference depending on whether a person is close to the source (such as people at the roadside ) or at a greater distance (aircraft taxiing or taking off). Further research is needed to clarify how strong the impact would be at a greater distance from an aircraft engine

Read full article in ScienceDaily

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The layout of the Irish Air Corps base at Casement Aerodrome ensures that aircraft exhaust gasses are blown over populated sections of the airbase when winds are from the south, south east or south west. This includes hangars, offices, workshops and living in accommodation such as the apprentice hostel and married quarters. Calm weather also creates conditions where exhaust gasses linger in higher concentrations.

This results in all Irish Air Corps personnel (commissioned, enlisted, civilian & family) being exposed to emissions from idling aircraft engines, emissions that are known to cause harm.

In the mid 1990s a study of air pollution adjacent to the ramp area at Baldonnel was commissioned. This report relating to this study has gone missing. 

  • Anecdotal evidence suggests increased prevalence of occupational asthma & adult onset asthma amongst serving & former personnel who served in Baldonnel or Gormanston aerodromes. 
  • Older gas turbine engines produce dirtier exhaust gasses.
  • Idling gas turbine engines produce dirtier exhaust gasses.
Below are some of the gas turbine powered Air Corps aircraft that were powered by elderly engine designs.
AircraftRetiredEngine FamilyFirst Run
Alouette III2007Turbomeca Artouste1947
Fouga Magister1999Turbomeca Marboré1951
Gazelle2005Turbomeca Astazou1957
King Air 2002009Pratt & Whitney Canada PT61960
Dauphin II2005Turbomeca Arriel1974

DELAY – DENY – DIE