Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
QUESTION NO: 166
To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of University of Limerick students that had been sent to Baldonnel for work experience. 43321/18
Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
My Department facilitated work experience under the University of Limerick student Placement Programme for 3 students per year commencing in 1992 and ending with the 2008/2009 academic year.
The 51 UL work experience students who served over 2 decades at Baldonnel shared substandard working conditions with military personnel at Baldonnel.
UL work experience students were exposed in an unprotected manner to Trichlorethylene, Trichloroethane, Dichloromethane, Isocyanates, Hexavalent Chromium compounds and MANY more CMR chemical. WITHOUT any PPE. So no basic protection like gloves, no eye protection, no respiratory protection.
UL work experience students were subject to hazing incidents (tubbings) just like their military counterparts.
The University of Limerick have so far refused to notify the affected students that they may have been exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals with lifelong consequences.
Of the admittedly small number of UL work experience students we have been able to track down, 2 out of 3 are suffering life changing illnesses consistent with illnesses suffered by their similarly exposed military colleagues.
The University of Limerick sent 3 engineering students a year, from about 1990 to 2008, for work experience at the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.
During their work experience all the UL students were exposed to a range of CMR chemicals in an unprotected manner and at levels known by the Air Corps to be over airborne health and safety limits.
To date the University of Limerick have refused to alert their former students to the fact that they were overexposed to toxic chemicals including Trichloroethylene, Trichloroethane, Dichloromethane, Hexamethylene Diisocyanate, Toluene, Xylene, Benzene, Hexavalent Chromium and many more.
Like their military counterparts that served during the same time period some of the UL students have been injured by their time serving in the Irish Air Corps. They all need to be informed of their exposure so that those suffering can receive appropriate medical help.
The actions of the University of Limerick on this issue to date have been shameful.
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…
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.
The University of Limerick failed to pass on health concerns about the Air Corps hangars to its work placement students, despite several warnings over chemical exposure fears.
Although it was told that students “may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and organic solvents during the course of their work placement”, UL did not follow up on requests to inform the relevant students.
The warnings came over six months before the Health and Safety Authority issued a damning report on the Air Corps’ management of harmful chemicals at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.