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.
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.
Twenty [serving & former] Air Corps personnel have died prematurely since a whistleblower asked Leo Varadkar for help more than two years ago, the Dáil has heard.
According to joint Social Democrats leader Róisín Shortall, they are among a total of 85 premature deaths among Air Corps personnel.
Of these, 32 of them were under the age of 50, with “many” in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, she said.
The Dáil has previously heard research by Gavin Tobin, a former technician with the Air Corps, which has raised questions over the deaths.
Personnel like him, the Dáil has heard, were regularly exposed to chemicals while working at the Baldonnel Air Base at a time when they had little or no personal protective equipment.
The Air Corps remains accused of failing to protect its technicians from the effects of cancer-causing chemicals, with whistleblowers like Mr Tobin claiming decades of neglect has had a devastating effect on their health.
In January 2017, Mr Tobin contacted Mr Varadkar about his campaign to highlight issues around alleged exposure to dangerous chemicals and solvents in the Air Corps.
Mr Tobin asked him if he would contact him “in confidence” in relation to health screening for those who were allegedly exposed to chemicals while serving. A few minutes after Mr Tobin sent his text on January 26, 2017, Mr Varadkar replied:
“Hi Gavin, Cabinet Handbook doesn’t allow me to go behind the backs of other ministers or enter into confidence with someone else to exclude them. (I) signed an (sic) contract to observe Collective responsibility and cabinet confidentiality.”
Deputy Shortall told the Dail today:
“(Mr) Varadkar was contacted by an ex-Air Corps member in relation to the issue of premature deaths, which is very serious and needs urgent examination”
Read full article by Neil Michael on Irish Examiner website…
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.
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.
‘Is it hoping witnesses will die?’ The reluctance of the State Claims Agency to release documents has put the spotlight on Micheál Martin.
Senator Gerard Craughwell didn’t mince his words after he found out Gavin Tobin can’t get documents he has sought since 2016 from State Claims Agency lawyers.
Is — he later asked, when he raised the issue in the Seanad — the agency hoping that people like him will die before any action takes place?
It’s not the first time the issue of air corps personnel dying has been raised in the Oireachtas in relation to exposure to dangerous chemicals.
The Dáil has previously heard research by Mr Tobin which has raised questions over at least 73 (now 80 as of July 2020) deaths of former air corps personnel with an average age of 50.
Among the documents the former technician wants is the list of all the chemicals that were used while he was employed in the air corps for just under 10 years.
Personnel like him, the Dáil has heard, were regularly exposed to chemicals while working at the Baldonnel Air Base at a time when they had little or no personal protective equipment.
The air corps remains accused of failing to protect its technicians from the effects of cancer-causing chemicals, with whistleblowers claiming that decades of neglect has had a devastating effect on their health.
“Is it hoping witnesses will die?” Senator Craughwell asked of the inability of the State Claims Agency to comply with a 2019 Supreme Court ruling that the documents have to be handed over.
It falls to this House to make damn sure that those who work for the State comply with the orders of the courts at the very least.
“Whichever minister is responsible for the State Claims Agency should be brought before this House to explain why it is that it can do what it is doing. We have seen what happened regarding cervical cancer and various other areas. It is bloody well outrageous.”
Aengus Ó Snodaigh, the Sinn Fein TD who has repeatedly raised the chemical exposure issue in the Dail, agrees.
He plans to once again raise a motion floated last year that there be “an immediate health review of all current and former members of the air corps to ascertain their level of exposure to dangerous chemicals while in the service”.
The TD said the matter is also likely to be raised by Sinn Féin at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence.
When it does, he said, Department of Defence chiefs will be asked to account for their actions, including how whistleblowing Air Corps chemical exposure survivors have been treated.
“I believe Micheál Martin should act on his comments over the years,” he said.
“The Fianna Fáil party has, in general, supported calls for a review of all of the health and safety issues around the historic handling of chemicals. Now the party has the opportunity to act on what they have said over the years.”
Read full article by Neil Michael on Irish Examiner website…
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
In the early 1990s the Irish Independent & Evening Herald kicked off a campaign of ridicule against the Irish Defence Forces due to the high age profile of Irish military personnel.
Driven by “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the ranks of the Defence Forces had swelled in the 1970s and with a severe recession in the 1980s personnel were obviously reluctant to leave. Subsequently the average age of an Irish soldier in the early 1990s hovered around the 42 year age mark.
Being true patriots, the Irish Independent & Evening Herald kicked off a campaign of ridicule against the Defence Forces trotting out “Dad’s Army” headlines and urging the government to reduce the age profile.
Knowing how Independent newspapers group operate they were probably conniving with some political party to bring this about. Perhaps it was Fine Gael who connived with the Indo although later the same newspaper helped topple the FG led rainbow coalition with the infamous “it’s payback time” headline the morning of a general election.
Ray Burke TD had issued an Independent Newspapers group subsidiary “Princes Holdings” with MMDS licences for the rebroadcasting of TV signals across Ireland and the Indo had subsequently gotten a bit upset that the rainbow government had failed to crackdown on community TV deflectors which ate into their MMDS profits. As it turns out Princes Holdings had issued cheques of £30,000 made payable to “cash” to Ray Burke before he awarded them the licences.
In order to lower the age profile, the Department of Defence had to find a way of encouraging older soldiers to leave so that they could start a recruitment campaign for younger personnel. If any other state or semi state employer at the time needed to reduce headcount they offered a Voluntary Early Retirement (VER) package to entice older personnel to leave but the Department of Defence had a better idea.
Military personnel were in a somewhat insecure position in terms of employment in that they were on rolling contracts some of which were in terms as low as 3-years. It was possible that the Defence Forces could decide that your “service was no longer required” and at the end of a particular contract term you could be refused re-engagement. The Department of Defence decided take advantage of “service no longer required”.
The Department of Defence decided to introduce a stringent annual medical and a stringent annual fitness test. As part of the annual medical they introduced a hearing test and this is where the spectacular own goal kicked into play.
Personnel who had served the Defence Forces during a very difficult period in the history of the Irish state started to be informed that their service would be no longer required because their hearing was not up to the required new standard.
Anyone who served in the Defence Forces during this period knows that Health & Safety was nonexistent. There are stories of soldiers bringing civvy ear defenders to range practice only to be told to take them off because the were not “issued”. All personnel, including those firing heavy weapons , such as artillery, mortars & naval guns, had to make do with stuffing cotton wool into their ears if they were lucky.
When some basic disposable foam earplugs were eventually introduced there were occasions where these were handed out on the ranges only to be collected again and handed out again “used” to different personnel the next day. Yes, some personnel received disposable earplugs that had been inside someone elses ear.
The Defence Forces commenced informing personnel that their service would no longer be required and indeed some were discharged on medical grounds for hearing loss. This spread panic amongst serving personnel as they faced losing their livelihood in a country still in tough economic circumstances.
When personnel started to compare the printed results of their audiometry tests they started to notice a consistent common pattern in the hearing loss. The loss was most pronounced at the frequency range that matched gunfire.
Considerable rules & military law existed for the protection of hearing in the Defence Forces stretching as far back as the the Defence Act of 1954 but these had been utterly ignored. Similar to how the Irish Air Corps ignored legislation relating to chemical Health & Safety, the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence simply ignored their own rules on protecting serving soldiers hearing to save money.
Internal DoD/DF communications came to light where it was revealed that spending of £2 million on full hearing protection for all personnel was refused on cost grounds.
The threat of job losses spurred personnel to take legal action for the hearing loss they suffered. This later spread to FCA/RDF personnel as they were treated in an equally appalling manner.
Eventually the Department of Defence did introduce a Voluntary Early Retirements scheme which ironically was used to bully Irish Air Corps personnel out of SAR squadron at Baldonnel. A SAR winchman who had been injured likely by exposure to aviation fuel & exhaust gasses was treated as a malingerer and returned from sick leave to find an already completed VER form in his locker…all that was left was to sign the dotted line.
Even today the Department of Defence still try to paint the biggest own goal in the history of the state as a scam perpetrated by soldiers and the Independent who helped kick off the whole scandal are happy to keep spreading this misinformation.
Perhaps the Indo can investigate how thousands of serving, retired & reserve personnel were able to spoof deafness at 4kHz? Anyone who has ever sat an audiometry evaluation knows that the frequencies are fed to you randomly so either thousands of personnel are pitch perfect at spotting 4kHz signals or perhaps it wasn’t a scam at all and through decades of neglect the hearing of thousands of personnel was damaged.
We know who the courts believed!
Incidentally with 78 untimely deaths in the Irish Air Corps workplace chemical exposure, the Irish Independent are more than willing to look the other way and completely ignore the tragedy. No shareholders interests are being harmed obviously and you only have to consider their anti Sinn Fein headlines to understand how politically directed the Indo currently are.
Delay – Deny – Die
It is interesting to note that the Independent have trotted out former Minister for Defence Michael Smith and there are two things worthy of note.
Firstly Minister Smith, who paints himself as a hero who defended state coffers from greedy, cheating Defence Forces personnel, was a member of the Fianna Fail cabinet who struck a deal in 2002 to indemnify religious orders from legal action due to clerical child abuse. It has estimated that this deal which Smith’s cabinet signed off, has cost the state in the region of €1,500,000,000, yes folks Smith was party to actions that left the irish state liable for claims totalling €1.5 billion so far.
Secondly, a serving member of the Irish Air Corps was knocked down and left for dead in a hit & run collision outside Templemore in October 1994 This man was badly injured suffering fractured eye sockets, haemorrhaged eyes, thirty fractures to his upper & lower jaws, his back was broken in four places, his hips were dislocated and his internal organs bruised.
This motorist drove over his head, did a U turn, stopped to look at him and then drove off leaving him to eventually fall into a coma.
The injured Air Corps technician, who had represented the Defence Forces as an athlete at national level, worked hard to make a good recovery . He subsequently attempted to carry out a fitness test required to extend his contract but the Air Corps refused to allow him take the fitness test saying he wasn’t medically fit to conduct the test.
The Air Corps technician sought the assistance of Minister Smith to intervene and overturn the decision to not allow him to conduct his fitness test but the minister never intervened and the airman was effectively sacked.
The motorist was charged with leaving the scene of an accident/crime by Gardai. The victim’s legal team called the Gardai seeking to know when the case was coming to court, as their client was obviously the chief witness, but the Gardai informed the victims legal team that no date was scheduled.
It turns out that the information the Gardai passed to the victim’s legal team was untrue and the case went to court a few days subsequent to the phone call without the victim being present. With no witnesses the charges against the motorist were dismissed.
By sheer coincidence the woman who knocked down the Air Corps technician and left him for dead happened to be a niece of Minister Michael Smith, the same minister who would not help him save his job.
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.”
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