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. 

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

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

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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

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

RAAF jet fuel damaged ground crews’ body cells; long-term consequences unknown, says groundbreaking research

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel who worked with widely used jet fuel suffered damage to their body’s cells with unknown long-term consequences, according to groundbreaking research released after a Freedom of Information laws request.

Defence’s senior physician in occupational and environmental medicine, Dr Ian Gardner, described the findings as a “part of the puzzle” and a hypothesis-making study”, and pointed it out that it was one of a series of pieces of research currently underway.

“What it shows is there is evidence of small but persistent cellular damage,” Dr Gardner told the ABC. He said it was not yet clear what the long-term effects of that damage might be.

“For the future though there are a lot of other aircraft maintenance workers who have done similar jobs on other aircraft types, and now Defence and DVA and Air Force are considering what additional work should be done in relation to those other people who are not actually on the F-111 programs but have done essentially similar work,” Dr Gardner said.

The Jet Fuel Syndrome Study also shows that the fuel is more toxic to the body’s cells than the two solvents initially blamed for the sickness suffered by the deseal/reseal workers, and that the toxicity is even higher when those solvents and the fuel were mixed.

The results of the research project, headed by Professor Francis Bowling of Brisbane’s Mater Hospital, were handed to Defence last September, and have been the subject of significant scrutiny and review due to the potential significance of the findings.

They will give heart to former and serving Defence personnel who believe they have been left out in the cold by Defence after developing serious health complaints while working with fuel and other substances.

Read full article on ABC Australia from 2015

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Junior Minister with responsibility for Defence said in the Dáil that he was assured by the Irish Air Corps that the RAAF F1-11 deseal/reseal exposure tragedy is completely different to any exposures at the Irish Air Corps.

Was the minister suggesting that Irish Air Corps gas turbine engines don’t run on jet fuel?

DELAY – DENY – DIE

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

Dutch Neurologist Warns of ‘Parkinson’s Pandemic’ Linked to Toxic Chemicals

As the world frantically battles coronavirus, a leading Dutch neurologist warns of the next global pandemic — and this one, he says, is almost entirely of our own making.

Bastiaan Bloem, MD, a neurologist and professor at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center, says that over the next 20 years, the number of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) will likely double — from the present 6.5 million to more than 13 million.

The main cause of this exponential jump: widespread exposure to herbicides, solvents, and other toxic chemicals used in agriculture and manufacturing.

“A pandemic, as everybody is now painfully aware, is a disease happening worldwide, to which no one is immune. PD fulfills all those criteria,” Bloem told Parkinson’s News Today in a phone interview from the Netherlands.

“Parkinson’s is now the fastest-growing neurological condition on the planet.”

Bloem, 53, points to the tight link between exposure to herbicides such as paraquat — a weed killer — and the risk of developing Parkinson’s.

“These chemicals were introduced worldwide after World War II, and many are still used today on our fields,” he said. “For this reason, farmers are at a markedly increased risk of developing Parkinson’s. If you feed a mouse paraquat — which is banned in China but not the U.S. — it will kill the dopamine-producing cells in the brain. These chemicals are tremendously toxic to the brain and have even been detected in milk, in supermarkets.”

Paraquat isn’t the only such chemical posing this risk. Trichloroethylene, a solvent used to clean metals and remove stains, has exactly the same effect on human brains. Yet it’s still widely used and is detectable in high concentrations in groundwater, he said.

“Parkinson’s is exploding in numbers, it’s a horribly debilitating disease, and it’s a costly disease that should matter to people and governments. We’re doing this to ourselves,” Bloem said. “But we can do something about it. We need to get rid of these toxic pesticides and move toward organic food. And we should take measures to protect people who work in these toxic environments.”

Read full article Parkinson’s News Today

Dutch Neurologist Warns of ‘Parkinson’s Pandemic’ Linked to Toxic Chemicals

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Trichloroethylene was used in Baldonnel for decades with ERF in particular receiving it in 220 litre drums. From ERF it was handed out without any precautions or training to anyone who asked for it. It was handed out in milk cartons, plastic coke bottles etc.

Trichloroethylene was used by all hangars & workshops in an ad-hoc basis usually with Trichloroethylene begged from ERF although some units did order it themselves. Personnel in the Air Corps museum also used Trike to help degrease parts & aircraft being restored for the museum. 

Trichloroethylene was also used by both apprentices, tech & line personnel to carry out cleaning tasks in the Air Corps Training Depot while on training courses or during “war week”.

In at least 2 separate instances some floors in ACTD were completely destroyed by the use of Trichloroethylene being left overnight to clean them. In one incident Trichloroethylene dissolved through a traditional lino floor as far as the backing twine and in another incident few years later a tiled floor was destroyed after the tiles shriveled up & shrunk after Trichloroethylene  was left overnight to clean a floor.

Trichloroethylene was also used by teenage apprentices to clean black marks off floors in the Apprentice Hostel and the Apprentice School.

At no point was anyone ever given training in the use of Trichloroethylene nor issued with appropriate PPE whilst working with the chemical.

A number of Irish Air Corps personnel have been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease

DELAY – DENY – DIE

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.”

Solvent exposure and Parkinson’s disease

Shaun Wood worked was a painter and finisher  at Royal Air Force (RAF) bases across the world. During the early 1990s he was involved in the very intensive work preparing Tornado aircraft for the first Gulf War, in particular gluing anti-missile patches to the aircraft. This work was often done in confined spaces over long working hours.  He generally wore a respirator but these were not really adequate for the circumstances.

German Tornado Undergoing Maintenance

Shaun has been diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), which is a debilitating Parkinsonian syndrome that affects the nervous system. He is just 53 years of age.

Throughout his work Shaun was exposed to various solvents, but primarily trichloroethylene and dichloromethane. There is not a great deal of information about exposure to these solvents in aircraft maintenance. I have seen results from a survey carried out at an RAF base in Scotland where dichloromethane levels were measured during paint striping in the cockpit area of a Nimrod aircraft. There was only 1.5 m2 of paint removed, but the peak air concentrations were about 700 mg/m3. Results from three monitoring surveys where the British Health and Safety Executive sampled for dichloromethane during paint stripping on aircraft are shown in the following figure. The mean levels measured in each of these surveys were: 330, 790 and 1,960 mg/m3, and the highest individual level measured was 3,590 mg/m3.

Read full article on OH-world.org A blog about exposure science and occupational hygiene

http://johncherrie.blogspot.ie/2011/12/solvent-exposure-and-parkinsons-disease.html

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Below is a photo of one of the locations in the Irish Air Corps that used Dichloromethane, namely the NDT Shop of Engine Repair Flight. Yes that is a stream of the chemicals dripping out of the extractor fan and running down the wall. And yes that is dichloromethane, cresylic acid and the hexavalent sodium chromate all over the floor. The small barrel that is being dissolved by its contents contains Hydrofluoric Acid.

Some extracts from the Ambient Air Monitoring For Health and Safety at Work report dated 2nd August 1995

  1. Dichloromethane levels were measured in the engine shop in Wednesday the 12th and Thursday the 13th of July 1995 at the behest of Captain John Maloney who is still serving in the Irish Air Corps
  2. The level of dichloromethane found in ambient air in the engine
    cleaning area exceeded health and safety limits. 
  3. Levels of Dichloromethane were measured at 175.9ppm (622.5 mg/m3)  while the TWA health & safety limit for this chemical in 1995 was 50ppm.
  4. Significant levels of all parameters monitored were found in nearly all ambient air samples taken in the engine cleaning area.
  5. The ventilation in all areas monitored was deemed to be insufficient. It is thus recommended that mechanical heating and ventilation systems be adapted designed and installed in all areas monitored.

To summarise, the Irish Army Air Corps knew that Dichloromethane levels in the NDT shop in 1995 exceeded health & safety limits by 3.5 times yet officer management

  1. LEFT personnel of all ranks and none to rot in this exceptionally toxic working environment for a further 12 years.
  2. IGNORED the recommendation to design and install design a proper ventilation system, (they stuck in 2 x Xpelairs).
  3. NEVER re-tested the environment to see if the Xpelair fans worked, we suspect they made things worse by increasing evaporation rate.
  4. NEVER informed personnel of enlisted ranks that their workplace was contaminated to dangerous levels.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Delay – Deny – Die

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