Death rate among former Irish Air Corps personnel needs to be examined, expert says

Whistleblowers blame premature deaths on exposure to toxic chemicals without PPE

The rate of deaths among former Air Corps personnel who have been exposed to dangerous chemicals needs to be examined by the Government, a leading public health expert has said.

Anthony Staines, who is professor of health systems at DCU, said the number of former personnel who have died prematurely appears to be higher than what would be expected for that population.

Protected disclosures about the exposure of aircraft technicians to dangerous chemicals at Baldonnel Airfield were first made to the Government in 2015.

One of the whistleblowers, former Air Corps technician Gavin Tobin, has been keeping track of serious illnesses and premature deaths in former colleagues which he believes may have been caused by exposure to these substances without personal protective equipment (PPE).

As of Friday he had recorded 96 premature deaths resulting from a variety of illnesses, including heart problems and rare forms of cancer. The average age of those who died is 52, he said.

Prof Staines told The Irish Times he has examined the figures provided by Mr Tobin and found them “surprising”.

He said the death rate is not particularly out of step with the general population but that “this is a group of people where the death rate should be low!”.

Read full article by Conor Gallagher the Irish Times website…

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96 Untimely* deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

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

3 most significant causes of death

  • 41% of deaths are from cancer
  • 27% deaths are from cardiac issues
  • 16% of deaths are from suicide (at least 15 suicides)

*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 52 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

We are not stating that every single death is directly due to chemical exposure but many personnel who did not handle chemicals directly were unknowingly exposed due to close proximity to contaminated work locations.

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

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

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

3 most significant causes of death

  • 40% of deaths are from cancer
  • 27% deaths are from cardiac issues
  • 16% of deaths are from suicide (at least 15 suicides)
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 52 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 16/12/20 – “Not an Outdoor Gymnasium” adjacent to Spray Paint Exhaust

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 149

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the person or body that chose the installation location of the recently installed outdoor gymnasium at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin. [43855/20]

QUESTION NO: 150

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way in which the Air Corps formation safety office allowed a leisure facility such as the new outdoor gymnasium at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin, to be installed 15 m to 20 m from the low level exhaust stack of the Air Corps spray paint facility; if the exhaust stack routinely emits chemicals that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction; and if he has full confidence in the current Air Corps chemicals health and safety regime. [43856/20]

QUESTION NO: 151

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the cost of the new outdoor gym; the cost of installation; and the potential cost of relocating it to a safer alternative location at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin. [43857/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 to 151, inclusive, together.

The Deputy will be aware that three protected disclosures were received in late 2015 and January 2016 in relation to the Air Corps. Legal advice was sought and an independent reviewer was appointed. The Reviewer’s independent report considered the Defence Forces health and safety regime, its current policy and its application. Although the report found that the Defence Forces regime appears to be capable of meeting statutory requirements, it makes a number of observations; including in relation to documentation, health surveillance, and exposure monitoring. It also notes that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is the appropriate statutory body to deal with such allegations. The report of the independent reviewer was provided to the individuals who made the protected disclosures and it was also published on the Department of Defence website.

In parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016 by the HSA, the Air Corps had continued to work with the HSA to improve its health and safety regime. The HSA has formally noted the considerable progress made to-date by the Defence Forces towards implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances. The HSA has now closed its investigation. However, it must be noted that in the Air Corps health and safety is a matter of ongoing monitoring, supervision and adjustment.

I am advised by my military authorities that the facility referred to by the Deputy is in fact an outdoor training area as distinct from an outdoor Gym. This equipment was installed at a cost of €21,918 including the necessary site works. I am further advised that the Defence Forces do not plan to relocate the equipment elsewhere as they are not aware of any safety concerns pertaining to the current location.

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The Air Corps base at Baldonnel, Co. Dublin comprises several hundred hectares of space. That the Air Corps could install an outdoor training facility within metres of the exhaust stack of the Spray Paint Facility either shows a staggering level of confidence in the filtration capabilities of the extraction system or utter incompetence.

The outdoor training facility or “not an outdoor gym” is built on the site of the old Avionics/Engine Shop complex which was demolished when sick personnel who worked in the location started to seek their medical files. Prior to demolition the building was condemned and marked out of bounds but the minister as denied it was ever condemned in previous parliamentary questions. 

Dangerous chemicals routinely emitted by the Air Corps spray paint facility include the following that are highly dangerous to human health and especially dangerous to the health of pregnant females and their unborn child as they are capable of causing genetic mutational harm leading to congenital birth defects.

        • acetone
        • cyclohexane
        • ethylbenzene
        • heptane
        • hexamethylene diisocyanate
        • hexane
        • methyl acetate
        • methyl ethyl ketone
        • phenol
        • stoddard solvent
        • toluene
        • xylene
        • zinc chromate

For decades these very same chemicals exited this low level exhaust stack, blew across the road and into the windows of Avionics Squadron & Engine Repair Flight likely harming health and likely contributing to the untimely deaths of multiple personnel in both locations. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

First year anniversary of formally asking Cathal Berry TD for assistance seeking medical intervention for injured Irish Air Corps chemical exposure survivors? Still NO response!

10th June 2021

Still awaiting a response from Cathal Berry TD exactly a year to the day from writing to him.

Apparently he is not so #CredibleCompetentCaring after all.

10th January 2021

Dear Deputy Berry,

Exactly six months ago on the 10th of June 2020, I  wrote a registered letter to you asking for your assistance obtaining medical interventions for chronically ill Irish Air Corps personnel in an effort to reduce unnecessary suffering & untimely deaths.

I am disappointed that after six months I have had absolutely no response or follow up to this letter, not even an basic acknowledgement of receipt.

As a former Defence Forces officer and as a medical doctor I hoped that you were best placed to both understand & champion in the Oireachtas the best interests of those suffering a multitude of health effects from decades of unprotected toxic chemical exposure in what HSA inspectors told me was “the worst case of chemical misuse in the history of the state”.

As I have not heard from you I can only assume that I was wrong and that you either simply do not believe there are any health problems suffered by serving & former Air Corps personnel due workplace chemical exposure, or worse still, you acknowledge personnel have been injured but have no interest in helping them.

I would be grateful if you could please reply publicly to this open letter and while doing so could please answer the following.

  1. Do you believe Irish Air Corps survivors when they tell you that the Health & Safety Authority found serious non compliance with the Safety, Health & Welfare At Work Act 2005 in relation to basic chemical health & safety at Casement Aerodrome and that the same HSA threatened prosecution if their “advice” was not complied with?
  2. Do you accept that the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 were enacted by the state to protect workers from injuries and if an organisation failed to implement these same Acts for decades after they were enacted then the likelihood of injury to personnel is increased?
  3. If you do accept that the Irish Air Corps was not in compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 and if you do accept that health and safety legislation is enacted to protect workers can you please explain why you have done nothing publically to raise awareness of the Irish Air Corps chemical exposure tragedy since you were elected to Dáil Eireann almost 1 year ago and why you have not mentioned it even once in your numerous chamber utterances or press releases.

I look forward to your response, if any.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Tobin
Spokesperson
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors

Please find linked below a copy of my original letter to you and also a copy of the Health & Safety letter to the Air Corps dated October 2016 outlining urgent steps to be taken  threatening legal action if they are ignored. The HSA letter was obtained under FOI.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 01/06/21 – Irish Air Corps leads Defence Forces in WRC complaints & settlements

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 450 – 18th May 2021

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of times action has been taken against the Defence Forces and brought to the Workplace Relations Commission; the number of cases his Department has won, lost or settled out of court; the number that are ongoing by service that is Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in tabular form; the breakdown of the awards paid and settlements; and the legal costs of defending these actions. [26471/21]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) was established on 1st October 2015. Since that date twenty-eight (28) complaints have been made against the Defence Forces, with the Minister for Defence listed as the Respondent in all such cases.

Complaints made may originate from either Defence Forces personnel or civilians (“Others” in the table below). The Chief State Solicitor’s Office is responsible for the State’s legal representation for complaints lodged with the WRC where I am the named Respondent in my capacity as Minister for Defence, and any costs arising from such representation.

A breakdown of these complaints is as follows:

Defence Forces WRC Complaints (Overview)

Total Complaints Lodged Complaints Won - not upheldComplaints Lost-upheldComplaints Settled or WithdrawnAwards /
Settlements*
Ongoing Complaints
285113€162,116.119

* Settlements containing confidentiality clauses are not included.

The origin of each of the nine ongoing complaints is as follows:

Defence Forces WRC Complaints (Ongoing)

ArmyAir CorpsNaval ServiceOther
3312

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Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 370 – 1st June 2021

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 450 of 18 May 2021, if he will provide a further breakdown in origin for the outstanding Defence Forces Workplace Relations Commission complaints; if he will provide a complete breakdown of the 28 WRC complaints by origin per service, that is, Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in tabular form; and if he will provide a breakdown and further details regarding the other category. [29475/21]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

A complete breakdown of the 28 WRC complaints received by my Department, by origin per service in the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) is as follows:

Defence forces WRC complaints (Full)

Type of ComplaintArmyNaval ServiceAir CorpsOther
Won - not upheld*0132
Lost - upheld0010
Settled or Withdrawn**1
1100
Ongoing3
132
Totals43174

* The correct number of Complaints Won (not upheld) should have read 6 in PQ 26471

** The correct figure for Complaints Settled or Withdrawn should have read 12 in PQ 26471

The category titled “Other” in the table above refers to complaints made to the Workplace Relations Commission by non-PDF members, including members of the Reserve Defence Force and the general public regarding issues concerning the Defence Forces.

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DELAY – DENY – DIE

An open letter to Deputy Cathal Berry TD asking why he did not respond to requests for assistance seeking medical help for injured Irish Air Corps chemical exposure survivors?

10th January 2021

Dear Deputy Berry,

Exactly six months ago on the 10th of June 2020, I  wrote a registered letter to you asking for your assistance obtaining medical interventions for chronically ill Irish Air Corps personnel in an effort to reduce unnecessary suffering & untimely deaths.

I am disappointed that after six months I have had absolutely no response or follow up to this letter, not even an basic acknowledgement of receipt.

As a former Defence Forces officer and as a medical doctor I hoped that you were best placed to both understand & champion in the Oireachtas the best interests of those suffering a multitude of health effects from decades of unprotected toxic chemical exposure in what HSA inspectors told me was “the worst case of chemical misuse in the history of the state”.

As I have not heard from you I can only assume that I was wrong and that you either simply do not believe there are any health problems suffered by serving & former Air Corps personnel due workplace chemical exposure, or worse still, you acknowledge personnel have been injured but have no interest in helping them.

I would be grateful if you could please reply publicly to this open letter and while doing so could please answer the following.

  1. Do you believe Irish Air Corps survivors when they tell you that the Health & Safety Authority found serious non compliance with the Safety, Health & Welfare At Work Act 2005 in relation to basic chemical health & safety at Casement Aerodrome and that the same HSA threatened prosecution if their “advice” was not complied with?
  2. Do you accept that the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 were enacted by the state to protect workers from injuries and if an organisation failed to implement these same Acts for decades after they were enacted then the likelihood of injury to personnel is increased?
  3. If you do accept that the Irish Air Corps was not in compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 and if you do accept that health and safety legislation is enacted to protect workers can you please explain why you have done nothing publically to raise awareness of the Irish Air Corps chemical exposure tragedy since you were elected to Dáil Eireann almost 1 year ago and why you have not mentioned it even once in your numerous chamber utterances or press releases.

I look forward to your response, if any.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Tobin
Spokesperson
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors

Please find linked below a copy of my original letter to you and also a copy of the Health & Safety letter to the Air Corps dated October 2016 outlining urgent steps to be taken  threatening legal action if they are ignored. The HSA letter was obtained under FOI.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 08/12/20 – How many Whistle-blowers is the Irish Air Corps currently trying to sack using medical boards?

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 313

To ask the Minister for Defence the number of whistle-blowers the Defence Forces is currently attempting to dismiss using medical boarding procedures; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
[41233/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The term “whistle-blower” is often used to describe a person who discloses relevant information in relation to relevant wrongdoings, as set out in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. A person whose information satisfies the criteria set out in the Act also has the benefit of the protections set out in the Act such as protection of identity and protection against penalisation.

Subject to exceptions, a person to whom a protected disclosure is made, and any person to whom a protected disclosure is referred in the performance of that person’s duties, shall not disclose to another person any information that might identify the person by whom the protected disclosure was made.

The making of a protected disclosure does not necessarily prevent the conduct of any other statutory procedure. Any member of the Defence Forces who feels that s/he has been penalised or threatened with penalisation for making a protected disclosure has the right to make a complaint to the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces.

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The Irish Air Corps routinely use the Medical Boarding process as a HR tool to dismiss those they perceive as “troublemakers”.

It is interesting to note that Minister Simon Coveney does not use this opportunity to deny that whistle-blowers’ are sacked from the Air Corps using the medical boarding process. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 09/12/20 – Why is death in service rate of (smaller) Irish Air Corps higher than (larger) Naval Service

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 94

To ask the Minister for Defence the reason the rate of death in service of Air Corps personnel over the past 20 years is approximately twice the rate of death of that of Naval Service personnel when the figures are adjusted for service strength; if he and or his predecessors have ever commissioned an analysis of Defence Force personnel death rates and causes of death while in a post service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42242/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The total deaths in service for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service for the past 20 years as of 31 October is 204, 21 and 16 respectively.

The Deputy will be aware that there is ongoing litigation in relation to allegations regarding the use of certain chemicals in the Air Corps. As the matter is subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment on any speculation which may impact on such litigation.

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Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 95


To ask the Minister for Defence the breakdown of Air Corps personnel deaths by categories of non-accidental death and accidental death while in service for the past 20 years to date. [42243/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The total deaths in service for the Air Corps since 2000 as of 30 November 2020 is 21.

The Military Authorities have advised that six of those deaths relate to accidents, four of which occurred while the personnel in question were on duty. Fifteen deaths were non-accident related.

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DELAY – DENY – DIE

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

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 464

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

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

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

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Air Corps personnel have been badly served by the Medical Corps

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

It must be said that the negligence 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 surveillance. Risks specific health surveillance 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 the Defence Forces undergo. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE