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

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 90 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 77 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 53 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

  • 39% of deaths are from cancer
  • 29% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 15 deaths are from suicide
*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.

*****

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

Illnesses linked to dichloromethane aka DCM aka methylene chloride

CAS number: 75-09-2

Diseases linked to this toxicant grouped by strength of evidence.

Photo of DCM-based paint stripper as used by the Irish Air Corps in 2015. An EU ban on the use of DCM-based paint strippers came into force three years earlier on the 6th of June 2012.

Strong Evidence

  • Arrhythmias*
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)*

Good Evidence

  • Brain cancer – adult*
  • Fetotoxicity (miscarriage / spontaneous abortion, stillbirth)*
  • Reduced fertility – male (infertility and subfertility)*

Limited Evidence

  • Breast cancer*
  • Hepatocellular cancer (liver cancer)
  • Lung cancer*
  • Pancreatic cancer*
  • Peripheral neuropathy*
  • Prostate cancer*

Illnesses marked thus * have been suffered by Irish Air Corps personnel or their offspring.

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

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 89 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 76 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 52 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

  • 39% of deaths are from  cancer
  • 29% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 15 deaths are from suicide
*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.

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

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 88 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 75 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 51 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

  • 39% of deaths are from  cancer
  • 29% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 15 deaths are from suicide
*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 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.

*****

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

Five years on from protected disclosures Air Corps whistleblowers still ‘waiting for justice’

IT IS NOW five years since former members of the Air Corps submitted protected disclosures detailing allegations that they became unwell due to their exposure to dangerous chemicals at Baldonnel Airfield.

Since then, whistleblower Gavin Tobin and several of his colleagues have been trying to have their full case heard in the courts. Tobin is currently involved in litigation against the State. That remains in the discovery phase as Tobin waits for more files to be handed over.

Last July (2019), a five-panel Supreme Court hearing unanimously found in favour of Tobin, meaning the State must now disclose documents outlining any chemicals that Tobin may have been exposed to while working at the airfield between 1990 and 1999.

Tobin has been continuing to log what he has described as the untimely deaths of his colleagues. Of the 85 deaths he has cited, five relate to the 1980s seven to the 1990s and the rest have taken place since 2000.

Tobin also contacted then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in 2017, when Varadkar also held the Defence portfolio. Tobin said: “Subsequent protected disclosures to Varadkar were either ignored or forwarded to then Junior Minister Paul Kehoe.

“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.”

The average age of death of the cases recorded by Tobin stands at 50 years old. Tobin believes the number of deaths from chemical exposure could be as high as 100.

The 2016 HSA report warned the Air Corps it could face prosecution if it did not “comply with advice and relevant legal requirements” about how hazardous substances were managed, among other safety matters.

The HSA’s report stated immediate attention was needed at Baldonnel and that protective equipment must be made available to staff. The necessary equipment should include protective gear for eyes and hands, as well as respirators to protect against inhalation of toxic fumes.

The whistle-blowers in this case alleges there was a disregard for the safety of young Air Corps members. According to an online resource created for those who believe they were affected by the chemical exposure, there was:

  • No meaningful chemical risk assessments.
  • No risk specific health surveillance
  • No Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) issued
  • No chemical health and safety training whatsoever
  • No reporting of health and safety incidents
  • No follow up of unusual illnesses by medical personnel
  • Ignoring dangerous air quality reports
  • Personnel doused in toxic chemicals as pranks (hazing) incidents
  • Highly toxic chemicals disposed of onsite in an unsafe manner

Read full article on The Journal website below…

*****

To be clear, the original Protected Disclosure made in November 2015 was to make Minister Simon Coveney aware that chemical health & safety at the Irish Air Corps was completely sub standard and an ongoing threat to the health of the men & women who worked there & their families. 

The appalling working conditions that Tobin alleges harmed his health in the 1990s still prevailed in 2015. Since his Protected Disclosure his and other whistle-blower allegations of poor chemical health & safety work practices have been vindicated by both the Health & Safety Authority and the “Independent Third Party Investigator” appointed by Minister Paul Kehoe. 

The priorities of the Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors are firstly to prevent further unnecessary loss of life amongst survivors and secondly to improve the quality of life of survivors by reducing unnecessary suffering. Both the Royal Australian Air Force & the Armed forces of the Netherlands have offered templates as to how to approach unfortunate workplace chemical exposure issues with competence, fairness, justice & urgency.

At no point have ACCAS nor any of the whistle-blowers sought any legal intervention into ongoing court cases. 

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.

*****

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

20 Air Corps personnel died prematurely since whistleblower contacted Varadkar in 2017, Dáil hears

*****

19 men and 1 woman have died since the Varadkar was approached for help. Subsequent protected disclosures to Varadkar were either ignored or forwarded to then Junior Minister Paul Kehoe.

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. 

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Éireann – Motion on Confidence in Tánaiste Leo Varadkar – 10th November 2020

Róisín Shorthall (Social Democrats)

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.

Delay – Deny – Die