Kehoe won’t say when Air Corps respirator training began

The junior defence minister has refused to say when Air Corps technicians were first trained to use respirators for working with toxic chemicals.

Technicians’ exposure to harmful substances in the line of duty is “a cause of significant concern”, according to Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who submitted queries on the use of respirators, and protected disclosures, to minister of state Paul Kehoe.

Ms Murphy had asked Mr Kehoe the date on which it became policy and standard practice to train or up-skill new and existing members of the Defence Forces, as part of basic training, in the use of respiratory protective equipment.

Mr Kehoe said he was advised that the question appeared “to involve matters which are raised in the proceedings currently before the courts”.

“The deputy will appreciate that, as the questions appear to encroach into on-going litigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further,” Mr Kehoe said.

Ms Murphy said she was disappointed with Mr Kehoe’s response, and that a lack of transparency only causes mistrust.

“I don’t know why he isn’t more forthcoming with the information. It will be revealed in the court cases anyway,” she told the Irish Examiner.

“I am trying to get information to build a picture here, because what I can see, so far, is a cause of significant concern, to put it mildly.”

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Dáil Éireann – 4th July 2019 – Public Accounts Committee – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure (Transcript)

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

With regard to the list of actions where there are groups of people affected in the same way – mass action as opposed to class actions – how many would be grouped if it was to be described as a mass action? How many claims would there be if they were to be put into a category like that?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

It will depend. In other words, what normally happens is that we will either get one claim or maybe a dozen will come in together.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

If there was a dozen—–

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

We would say that is a mass action.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

What about the list the agency has given us

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

That is a good indication of the numbers pleading similar things.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Are there many more like that?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

We have set out in the report exactly what they are.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Are the ones in the report the only ones Mr. Breen would describe in that way?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

Some new ones have come along in the meantime.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

What would the new ones be?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

For example, there are 26 cases in regard to transvaginal implants. There is sodium valproate, which is a potential mass action. Where there is another abuser, there may be a set of claims which attach to him. We have Gardasil, which is the HPV vaccine, and we have Aulin, which is another medicinal product.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

In regard to the Air Corps, the agency has 21 active claims. Mr. Breen has not mentioned that.

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

I am sorry, I did not mean to leave them out. The Deputy is right that we have a number of cases from the Air Corps in regard to alleged exposure to chemicals.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

The State Claims Agency would have had an involvement in risk management. I received a reply to a parliamentary question from the Minister the State, which stated:

I am advised by the State Claims Agency that it has a statutory remit under the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000 to provide risk management advices to Delegated State Authorities. … [The] State Claims Agency conducted a number of Health & Safety Management System Defence Forces audits within the Air Corps between the years 2006 – 2015. The Reports are authored by the State Claims Agency and are confidential between the Agency and their Client [which is the Department of Defence].

What would the agency have looked at when it went out to do those assessments? Would it have looked at the paperwork, and would it have gone down to the level of looking at what equipment people are wearing to protect them or the environment they are working in?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

The Defence Forces has put a safety management system in place, and this applies to all branches of the Defence Forces. We have worked very closely with them in that regard. On risk, our people on the ground, when they carry out audits, go onsite and they meet with the person who would have responsibility for safety and health in the particular barracks, battalion or otherwise. They carry out audits of things like, for example, what is being done about lifting and the safety standards in respect of that.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Would it have looked at chemicals, for example, where chemicals are sited or how they are handled? Would it have looked at the kind of things that would expose people to risk?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

I want to explain the position in regard to the Air Corps because I believe it might be helpful in answering specifically what happened. We started our audits there in 2006. The particular exposure we are looking at in respect of the chemicals in the Air Corps is from 1972 to 2007. In 2007, the particular workshop which is associated with the alleged exposure was changed to a state-of-the-art facility. At no time—–

INTERRUPTION by PAC Chair Seán Fleming

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

At no time during those audits and reviews was anything specifically brought to our attention about the historical exposure, if there was one, that might have been there and how that was handled. We were very assured by the fact it was now a state-of-the-art facility.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

The agency would not have looked at—–

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

The exposure long predated even our establishment.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I have been given a document, which I might have mentioned before, on the extraordinary age profile of people who have died in the Air Corps. The Air Corps is not a big employer and there have been 72 deaths at pre-retirement age, some of them very young. Of the 72, 14 or 15 are by suicide but others are in particular categories, such as cancers and cardiac issues. It seems a very dangerous place to work – I am sorry, I do not really mean that, but it seems to be a place where an abnormal number of people die prematurely. That would have jumped out to me as something that would make me question the risk. As Mr. Breen said, it goes back to a time prior to when the agency was doing its assessment. I understand there were no registers of this particular chemical available.

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

I am not sure. Is Mr. Kirwan is in a position to comment on that?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

Not specifically. The chemicals that are discussed in the statement of claim are a wide range of chemicals, basically organic lubricants and degreasers. I do not have that information or the Deputy would need to be more specific about the particular chemical she is talking about.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I have the names of the—–

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I know that when we audited there, we were satisfied that, for the chemicals that were in the workshops – I am talking in a general sense – there where material safety data sheets available for any chemical that we sampled. That would suggest they were registered in some way.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I am trying to find out how to mitigate risk and I am using this as an example. What I am hearing is that there still is not, or there was not in recent years, use of protective clothing and availability of a particular type of protective clothing when handling these materials. Would the State Claims Agency have looked at that, given it would have known the profile? Is the agency satisfied the risk assessment is mitigating this risk?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I head up the enterprise risk unit that would have carried out the audits.

When we go out, we look at the systems that are in place. We are back to that word, “systems”, again. We sample as we go out. They are snapshots. One is only there for a particular day. We talked to the staff and the members of the Defence Forces who were available in the workshop. They are highly-trained, technical people. We came across no evidence of procedures or practices being carried out to anything other than the appropriate standards at that time.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I understand that the Air Corps does not carry out mandatory risk assessments. Does the SCA not instruct particular organisations to carry out mandatory risk assessments? Is that not essential?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

Absolutely. It is not only essential from the point of view of the agency’s expectations, but it is also a legal requirement under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. Again, that was not our experience. Ultimately the Defence Forces are responsible for the risks. When we originally worked with the Defence Forces they had risk assessments in place. In organisations as complex as the Defence Forces, the Naval Service, the Air Corps, and the Army, we are talking about thousands of different types of risk assessments. I cannot vouch for any particular risk assessment but, in general, the Defence Forces do have risk assessments in place.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Are they mandatory?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

It is mandatory under Irish legislation for appropriate risk assessments to be in place. It is also absolutely mandatory as part of the occupational health and safety management system the Defence Forces have had in place for some time.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

What the does the SCA do? Does it visit, carry out the assessment, and give the Defence Forces a certificate? Is there a certificate for each year? Were there years in which they were not given a clean bill of health?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

There are approximately 56 units in the Defence Forces. We cannot possibly audit every single one every year. We carried out approximately 100 audits between 2006 and 2015. An audit might be themed, that is, we might be looking at particular themes. For example, we may be worried about appropriate training documentation because that is something we have learned about from dealing with claims. We may have seen a number of incidents of a given type. For example, we may have seen particular injuries arising from vehicle crashes. For that reason we might look at that aspect of the system in particular. In general we look at roles and responsibilities, the structures that are in place, and the types of risk assessments and documentation that are in place.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Does the SCA work with the Health and Safety Authority on any of this?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

No. We have worked collaboratively with the Health and Safety Authority to produce guidelines in respect of, for example, schools, critical incidents and stress management. We have a different role in this area however. It is a policing authority and enforces legislation. On the specific issue of chemicals in the Air Corps, we were involved with the Healthy and Safety Authority in the sense that, after going in and carrying out one of its inspections, it made some recommendations and advised the Defence Forces to consult with us in addressing those recommendations.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Did the Health and Safety Authority not threaten legal action over shortcomings in the use of chemicals?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I am not—–

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North)Public Accounts Committee

It is my understanding that it did.

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I am not exactly sure and I would not like to speak on the Health and Safety Authority’s behalf. I do know that it audited the Air Corps and raised issues. I am not sure of the level at which they were raised. We were active in helping the Defence Forces to address those issues to the satisfaction of the Health and Safety Authority.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

It is my understanding that the authority did threaten legal action. It seems extraordinary that one arm of the State may be doing so while another is giving the Air Corps a clean bill of health with regard to risk. That does not stack up in terms of mitigating risk into the future.

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

Again, I would have to know the specific details to comment but statutory legislation underpins the health and safety of our employees across the State sector and, indeed, all employees within the State. With regard to chemical safety in particular, there is a complex suite of legislation in place. There is legislation from 2001, 2007, 2010 and, most recently, 2018. In addition, there is guidance in that area. It moves. In other words—–

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

The SCA is not expert in all of this, so does it have to bring in people who are experts in a given area?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

We are experts in this area. Members of our enterprise risk management team have backgrounds in engineering, science, public health, and nursing. Most have, at a minimum, a degree level qualification. Many have masters and some have doctorates. They are experts in various areas. We have expertise right across the main areas one would expect to encounter in dealing with employee and public safety. We are a very expert unit. We publish national and international guidelines. We are recognised as such.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

How many people work in Mr. Kirwan’s unit?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

We have 20 members of staff.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Most of these people have professional qualifications. Are there administrative staff included in that 20?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

There may be two administrative staff members included in that 20. The others have worked at very senior levels in the Defence Forces, the Health and Safety Authority, and other semi-State and private organisations nationwide, usually in some area of environmental or public health and safety.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Is there a bonus system or anything of that nature in the agency for mitigating risks?

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

Is the Deputy asking whether we operate such a scheme for State authorities?

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North)Public Accounts Committee

Yes.

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

No, we do not. There is no kind of risk-pooling approach in the public service. That does not happen. Every year, however, we ourselves recognise individual State authorities in a ceremony we hold at one point in the year. We give certificates to authorities that have done something very particular to mitigate their risk, and which produce documentation to prove it, at an annual event.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

We saw some evidence of that the last time the SCA was before the committee. We could see serious progress with regard to slips and falls. That is to be commended. I am still not entirely clear what the SCA looks at when it goes out to such organisations to look at issues such as the handling of serious chemicals. Does it look at whether adequate equipment, such as gloves or clothing, is provided to reduce the risks? Does it evaluate risk at that level?

Mr Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I fully understand that it is quite difficult to understand. There are thousands of risks in, for example, a large facility such as that of the Air Corps in Baldonnel. We have to be guided by what we see, for example, reported on the national incident management system. At no time did we see any significant level of reported incidents relating to chemicals. In other words, it was not flagged to us as a hotspot to investigate. Nonetheless, because, as I said, chemical safety is important in workshops, it is something we test. I use the word “test”. In other words, we sample. On the day, we talk to people, we look at how the chemicals are stored, and we ensure the appropriate documentation is in place.

Perhaps I should give an alternative example. We did a very large job with the Defence Forces with regard to the guarding of machinery. We did so because there had been incidents of people being seriously injured because guards were not in place. We looked at a series of workshops. In that case, some workshops were closed down and some machines had to be retrofitted. That investigation proceeded machine by machine. We looked at it in detail because we, as a claims agency, saw it as a definite source of litigation risk.

The Deputy talked about the Health and Safety Authority. It will be guided by the statutory legislation. We obviously consider what we are particularly concerned about that could lead to claims. One of the indicators is whether incidents are being reported.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

On those cases, are they ongoing, settled or in dispute?

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

They are ongoing. One is in the Court of Appeal. A date has been given for the year after next because there is a glut of appeals in that court. Others are awaiting an important decision by the Supreme Court on a discovery issue.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

When mediation is possible for a group, but not necessarily the group in question, how does it happen? If there are a dozen cases coming in on something or other, does the agency wait for one case to be proven in the court? What approach does the agency take?

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

We do not have what in the United States and certain other jurisdictions is called class action, whereby a whole series of cases is taken at the one time, or for the group. Here a lead case will be chosen by a plaintiff’s solicitor, and it will be agreed with us that it will be the lead case. We engage on that case in terms of our separate investigations. One can imagine that we are preoccupied with the question of whether the State has a liability. Where it does, we obviously want to settle at the earliest possible opportunity. One of the vehicles we might use for that is mediation, if it comes to that. Having settled one, we would be of the view that unless the other cases could be differentiated in some way, we should seek to settle them through incurring the best possible cost and as quickly as we could.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

On Cervical Check, a couple of years ago we saw Vicky Phelan going public. If she had not done so, would others have realised they could have been affected in the same way? Is that used as a means of mitigating against damage done to individuals? I am referring to settling with what is known as a gagging order.

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

As the Deputy knows, we were not party to any of that. That case was settled by the particular laboratory.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Yes

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

We were only involved peripherally in relation to the non-disclosure part of the case. I understand the point the Deputy is making, however. We talked on the last occasion I was here about how the other women found out. That is a different issue.

*****

The State Claims Agency Risk Management Section commenced annual Health & Safety Management System audits in 2006.

Unprotected toxic chemical exposures continued in the Irish Air Corps until they were threatened with legal action by Health & Safety Authority in 2016 for serious and basic Health & Safety failings that were an immediate threat to personnel after 2 x technicians were injured by solvent exposure in late 2015.

Luxuries such as gloves, eye protection & respirators were finally issued to all relevant personnel in 2017, a full two decades after another state agency Forbairt recommenced same in 1997.

Despite several legal actions, despite a decade of risk audits by the State Claims Agency, despite legal threats from the Health & Safety Authority the Irish Air Corps still thought it was OK to publish the below photographs on their official Facebook page showing ongoing chemical health & safety breaches in 2018…the Air Corps blamed this on “personal failings”.

 

 

Delay – Deny – Die

 

Court rules against State ahead of ex-Air Corps mechanic’s case alleging exposure to dangerous chemicals

The State must disclose a range of documents to a former aircraft mechanic in the Air Corps who is suing it over his alleged exposure on dates during the 1990s to dangerous chemicals, the Supreme Court has ruled.

He is among several former mechanics suing over alleged exposure to dangerous chemicals and solvents during their employment.

Today, a five-judge Supreme Court gave a unanimous judgment overturning a Court of Appeal (COA) decision that Mr Tobin’s discovery application was premature.

The State denies he suffered the alleged injuries, requires him to fully prove his claims about exposure to dangerous chemicals and solvents and has also pleaded contributory negligence on his part.

In this case, no concessions of fact were made by the State defendants with the effect Mr Tobin must establish all matters relevant to his claim, he said. Had a “more nuanced” approach being taken by the defence, the discovery sought would have been reduced.

Context

In October 2016 the High Court granted Mr Tobin an order for discovery of the chemicals he used while working at Casement Aerodrome from 1989 to 1999. He had argued that he would need a full list of the chemicals he was asked to use during his time in the Air Corps in order to make his case against the State.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott granted the discovery order in the High Court and said that “the quantities and dates of purchase and use of chemicals and mixtures and the safety data concerning their handling, application and use form a highly relevant and important part of the case”.

He further ruled that Mr Tobin “will suffer serious disadvantage in the preparation and presentation of his case if the relevant records sought under these categories are not made the subject of a discovery order”.

Today’s Supreme Court judgement was referenced in advance at a recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.On July 4 last, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy raised the Air Corps cases with SCA director, Ciarán Breen who said the Supreme Court ruling in the Tobin case would have implications for others to follow.

“One is in the court of appeal, and I think has been given a date for the year after next because there’s a glut of appeals in the Court of Appeal, and others are awaiting an important decision by the Supreme Court on a discovery issue,” Mr Breen had said of the status of the eight cases.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Abnormal number die early in Irish Air Corps

The Air Corps “seems to be a place where there’s an abnormal number of people who die prematurely”, according to a member of the Oireachtas’ Public Account Committee.

Social Democrats TD, Catherine Murphy, made the remark as the State Claims Agency confirmed to the PAC that there are eight cases being taken against the State regarding chemical exposure at the Air Corps.

Today officials from the State Claims Agency, which is handling the lawsuits against the State, appeared before the PAC. Ms Murphy raised the list during the PAC meeting, and said it showcases an “extraordinary age profile of people who have died in the Air Corps”.

“The Air Corps is not a big employer, and there’s 72 deaths, all pre-retirement, some very young. Now, a large core of the 72, about 14 or 15, are by suicide, but others are in particular categories, like cancers and cardiacs. It seems to be a place where there are an abnormal number of people who die prematurely, and that would have jumped out to me as something that would make me question that there was a risk,” she said.

Ms Murphy also raised a reply she received from Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe which revealed the SCA had carried out annual health and safety audits at Casement Aerodrome.

SCA director, Ciarán Breen, said the cases against the State date from 1972-2007, and that the SCA began its audits in 2006: “In 2007, the particular workshop which is associated with the alleged exposure was changed to a state-of-the-art facility. At no time, during those audits and reviews, was anything specifically brought to our attention about the historical exposure, if there was one that might have been there, and how that was handled.”

However, Ms Murphy also highlighted how many of these annual SCA audits were carried out in the years before the Health and Safety Authority investigation and its adverse findings. “It’s my understanding that they did threaten live legal action,” she said of the HSA investigation.

“It seems extraordinary that you have one arm of the State that may be doing that and another giving a clean bill of health in terms of risk. That just doesn’t, for me, stack up in terms of mitigating risk into the future,” she said

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

*****

The State Claims Agency have been carrying out Health & Safety Management System audits since 2006.

The Health & Safety Authority threatened legal action against the Irish Air Corps a decade later in 2016 if they did not comply with their instructions to improve chemical Health & Safety at Baldonnel. The instructions covered basic Health & Safety requirements that were mandatory since the SAFETY, HEALTH AND WELFARE AT WORK ACT, 1989. 

The questions must be asked, what was the purpose of the decade of State Claims Agency audits from 2006 to 2016 and what did they achieve in terms of improving the health & safety and risk profile of the Air Corps over those years? 

It should be noted that the problems with chemical exposure were spread across the entirety of Casement Aerodrome. Again the State Claims Agency are attempting to reduce the exposure problems at Baldonnel to ERF and this is simply NOT the case. 

Exposure issues existed in Avionics, Engine Shop, Machine Shop, NDT Workshop, Spray Paint Shop, Hydraulic Shop, Sheet Metal Shop, Carpentry Shop, Light Strike, BFTS, Heli, Refuelers, Transport, Fire Crew, Photo Section, Air Sup Coy Signals, Apprentice school, Main Block, Main Tech Stores and even the Training Depot was affected.

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Éireann – 4th July 2019 – Public Accounts Committee – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North)Public Accounts Committee

Watch Deputy Catherine Murphy question Mr. Ciaran Breen, Director of the State Claims Agency and Mr. Pat Kirwan,  Head of Enterprise Risk, also at the State Claims Agency, about the failure of a decade of Risk Management Section, Heath & Safety Management System audits at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

The State Claims Agency audits at Baldonnel commenced in 2006 and continued as the Irish Air Corps were investigated by the Health & Safety Authority in 2016 for serious breaches of the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005. Breaches that including the very basic failure to provide PPE or chemical training.

It took the threat of legal action by the Health & Safety Authority as well as 2 years & 9 months of intervention to finally close the HSA file on what their own inspectors described as the most serious case of chemical misuse in the history of the state.

It should be noted that the State Claims Agency were not only aware from 2013 that the unprotected chemical exposures at Baldonnel were an ONGOING LIVE ISSUE, but bizarrely failed to intervene to prevent further exposure once this knowledge was in their possession.

It took the actions of three whistle-blowers in 2015 to bring the ongoing toxic chemical Health & Safety failures at the Irish Air Corps to the attention of the Minister for Defence and also to the attention of the Health & Safety Authority.

Why did the State Claims Agency fail to notice the high rate of untimely mortality, the high rate of suicide, the high rate of sick leave, the lack of PPE records and the lack of any chemical training records in 10 years of supposed audits.

Why did the State Claims Agency fail to act in 2013 when they did become aware that personnel were still being needlessly exposed to dangerous chemicals without PPE and without any chemical safety training?

Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe “doesn’t give a damn” about Air Corps personnel health, claims whistleblower

Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe “doesn’t give a damn” about Air Corps personnel health, claims whistle blower

A whistle-blower claims the Junior Minister for Defence “doesn’t give a damn” about the health and well-being of Air Corps personnel, two years on from the issuing of a report into his disclosures.

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe this week confirmed that it was in June 2017 when he first received a report of an independent reviewer who investigated allegations into claims that Air Corps technicians were unduly exposed to dangerous chemicals while working at Casement Aerodrome.

The whistle-blower has expressed his frustration at the delay in responding to his complaints and claims that 22 men have died since concerns were first raised in 2015. He believes these deaths can be linked to the men’s exposures to chemicals.

“Some of these men could have been saved but Minister Kehoe chose to do nothing,” the whistle-blower said.

“Minister Kehoe is constantly at pains to point out how safety, health and well-being of Air Corps personnel are of primary concern but his lack of action shows he doesn’t give a damn. Furthermore he has never said he has any concern for the health and well-being of former Air Corps personnel which is telling,” he said.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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.

DIE – Varadkar & Kehoe happy to let Irish Air Corps personnel die unnecessarily

Is it possible that these illnesses are a coincidence? Yes.

Could it be the case that there is no direct correlation between the chronic sickness suffered by former Air Corps staff and their working environment?

Absolutely.

But the evidence to date —what is known about the chemicals used in Baldonnel, the international precedents, the HSA inspection, the internal Air Corps memo — all these support the argument that at the very least, the possibility that conditions in Baldonnel have made people sick is worth a proper investigation.

However, this is a question the Government won’t ask because it fears the answer.

General Dynamics F-111 linked to RAAF Deseal / Reseal Scandal

 

It need not be this way.

Australia went through a major scandal when scores of its Air Force maintenance staff were found to be ill as a result of their working environment.

That scandal first emerged among a group of specialist staff who had a specific job, but the issue spread to Air Force staff who had exposures to a wider range of substances.

And yet in Australia, while those Air Force personnel involved in the health study have a higher rate of chronic illnesses than the general population, their mortality rate from those illnesses is actually lower.

Why?

Because the Australian government conducted an investigation, found a connection, and subsequently those affected knew the early warning signs, their doctors knew what to look out for, and earlier intervention was made possible.

There appears to be little appetite in Ireland to even investigate whether the same could possibly be happening here, despite the obvious potential benefits to a number of citizens.

Speaking privately, one of those who is seriously ill and who is before the court has admitted he believes he will be “in the ground” before his case reaches any sort of conclusion.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

DENY – An Taoiseach Dr. Leo Varadkar denies chemical link at Baldonnel

If only those foreign governments or Samsung had the medical advice on hand here in Ireland. Perhaps they would have held tough and refused compensation to their sick workers if they’d heard this suggestion by an Irish doctor:

“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,”Dr Leo Varadkar told the Dáil in February 2018.

However, the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry would not support Dr Varadkar’s view that we should be looking out for “one specific illness resulting from a known chemical” in the Air Corps case. It says there is sufficient evidence to be sure that exposure to TCE is causation for kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cardiac defects.

They say the evidence is sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship is likely between exposure to TCE and leukaemia, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, end-stage renal disease, Parkinson’s disease, and scleroderma.

The agency says there are 21 different health effects — including various cancers, miscarriages, and birth defects — that have been found in at least one study that evaluated exposure to TCE and/or PCE.

Aside from that list of life-changing illnesses arising from exposure to TCE, it is worth bearing in mind that this was not the only chemical used in Baldonnel.

Varadkar and Kehoe’s stock answer to date is that there should be no examination of any connection between conditions in Baldonnel until the seven ongoing court cases are resolved. The first of these was lodged five years ago, and the State Claims Agency has fought these cases tooth and nail.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

DELAY – Irish Air Corps Chemical Deaths Mickey Mouse Inquiry

It is now over three years since whistle-blowers lifted the lid on issues in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

Five years have passed since the first personal injury claim against the State was lodged in the High Court.

The Irish Examiner reports that first highlighted these issues were published over two years ago.

With some exceptions, very little progress has been made in addressing the concerning matters at the heart of this scandal in the intervening period.

Writing in this newspaper last year, columnist Michael Clifford noted how there are two categories of inquiry frequently undertaken by a State agency or government organ.

“The standard inquiry is designed to find out whether something went wrong, how it happened, and who may be responsible,” he wrote.

“The other category frequently used, we shall refer to as the Mickey Mouse inquiry. This is designed to respond to a controversy.

“Turning over stones and digging for information is not the primary function of a Mickey Mouse inquiry.

“Instead, the main focus is to present the inquiry as an exhibit to show that something, anything, is being done,” he said.

Mr Clifford was referring to an inquiry into allegations by a Prison Service whistle-blower and recalled the initial attempts to “investigate” issues raised by Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

But he could easily have been referring to the lip service the Government has paid to serious allegations raised by Air Corps whistle-blowers, some ex-Defence Forces, and one still serving.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…