Evaluate the toxic effects of Aqueous Film-Forming Foams used by firefighters for Class B fire suppression in human-derived kidney cells (HEK-293).
Three widely used AFFFs were collected from fire departments and were added to HEK-293 cells in various concentrations. Seventy-two hours post-treatment, cellular proliferation and toxicity were examined using commercially available kits.
All AFFFs evaluated induced cellular toxicity and significantly decreased cell proliferation, even when cells were treated with concentrations 10-fold lower than the working concentration used for fire suppression.
Despite the reduced usage of PFAS-containing AFFFs in the firefighter work environment, the evaluated AFFFs demonstrated significantly altered cellular proliferation, while also inducing toxicity, indicating the presence of toxic compounds. Both stronger implementation of PFAS-containing AFFFs restrictions and robust evaluation of fluorine-free and next-generation AFFFs are warranted.
Firefighters are routinely exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) through the use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFFs) for the suppression of Class B fire, which derive from flammable and combustible liquids, such as gasoline and alcohol. The addition of surfactants and PFAS in the AFFFs allows them to form an aqueous film that can extinguish the fire, while also coating the fuel. As such, AFFFs are often used for fire extinction in airports and military bases.
Exposure to PFAS in the general population may arise from ingestion of contaminated food or water, usage of consumer products containing PFAS, such as non-stick cookware or stain resistant carpets and textiles, and inhalation of PFAS-containing particulate matter. Detection of increased serum PFAS concentrations has been linked to an elevated risk for kidney cancer in humans, and firefighters are known to have increased serum concentrations of certain PFAS after attending training exercises. In the same study it was also observed that the average urinary excretions of 2-butoxyacetic acid (2-BAA) a surfactant often added in AFFFs exceeded the reference limit of the occupationally unexposed population, ranging from 0.5 to 1.4 mmol/mol creatinine.
Furthermore, an increased risk of mortality from kidney cancer has been observed in firefighters compared to the U.S. population. The detrimental health effects of PFAS are exacerbated by their increased half-lives in humans. A recently published study examined the half-lives of short- and long- chained PFAS in the serum of 26 airport employees and observed a wide range of half-lives which was dependent on the length and chemical structure of each substance that was examined. Indicatively, the shortest half-life was described for perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS), while the linear isomer of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) had the longest half-life (average of 44 days and 2.93 years, respectively), findings which are in agreement with other sources in the literature.
One aspect of this phenomenon could be attributed to renal reabsorption, as humans actively transport PFAS in the proximal tubules. A recently published scoping review of 74 epidemiologic, pharmacokinetic, and toxicological studies examined the relationship between PFAS exposure and kidney-related health outcomes. It was observed that exposure to PFAS was associated with lower kidney function, including chronic kidney disease (CKD), and histological abnormalities in the kidneys, as well as alterations in key mechanistic pathways, that can induce oxidative stress, and metabolic changes leading to kidney disease.
The alarming number of studies showcasing the harmful health effects pertaining to PFAS exposure has led to the banning of the production of AFFFs containing highly toxic, long chain PFAS, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) since 2015. However, this regulation is gradually being implemented across states and little is known about the toxicity of the next generation AFFFs. Based on the above, in the present study we evaluate cellular proliferation and toxicity in kidney-derived cells (HEK-293) that were exposed to three widely used AFFFs.
We hypothesize that different sources of lung irritation may contribute to elicit an immune reaction in the lungs and subsequently lead to multiple sclerosis (MS) in people with a genetic susceptibility to the disease. We aimed to investigate the influence of exposure to organic solvents on MS risk, and a potential interaction between organic solvents and MS risk human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes.
Using a Swedish population-based case-control study (2,042 incident cases of MS and 2,947 controls), participants with different genotypes, smoking habits, and exposures to organic solvents were compared regarding occurrence of MS, by calculating odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals using logistic regression. A potential interaction between exposure to organic solvents and MS risk HLA genes was evaluated by calculating the attributable proportion due to interaction.
Overall, exposure to organic solvents increased the risk of MS (odds ratio 1.5, 95% confidence interval 1.2–1.8, p = 0.0004). Among both ever and never smokers, an interaction between organic solvents, carriage of HLA-DRB1*15, and absence of HLA-A*02 was observed with regard to MS risk, similar to the previously reported gene-environment interaction involving the same MS risk HLA genes and smoke exposure.
The mechanism linking both smoking and exposure to organic solvents to MS risk may involve lung inflammation with a proinflammatory profile. Their interaction with MS risk HLA genes argues for an action of these environmental factors on adaptive immunity, perhaps through activation of autoaggressive cells resident in the lungs subsequently attacking the CNS.
Anecdotal evidence has been emerging for some time of potential illness clusters at Casement Aerodrome to which Multiple Sclerosis has now been added. We are calling for these potential clusters to be investigated by competent authorities.
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…
The Defence Forces (DF) has become the first State organisation to have its safety management systems validated in an audit carried out by the State Claims Agency (SCA). The independent audit, which was carried out throughout 2006, is based on best practice standards such as OHSAS 18001, HS(G)65, AIRMIC and AS/NZS 4360:24.
Certificates of compliance were awarded on 27th February (2007), verifying that proper health and safety management structures are in place throughout the Defence Forces.
“The audit involved an examination of the safety management systems in Defence Forces headquarters, each of the six Defence Forces formations of East, West, South, the Defence Forces Training Centre (Curragh Camp), the Naval Service and Air Corps and in 16 units selected by the auditors from throughout the Defence Forces,” explained Comdt Bob Corbet, staff officer, health and safety.
This was the first time that DF safety systems had been audited. Over the last few years, the Forces had put in place various initiatives to improve its safety management systems and it was felt that these would satisfy the SCA requirements. “Firstly, we computerised our accident and incident reporting and administrative systems and that facilitated the gathering of accident and incident information, which in turn facilitated accident investigation,” explained Corbet. “We wanted to be in a position to comply with the 2005 legislation before it actually came into force.
The collapse of a technician in 2015 while preparing a Pilatus for the 1916 centenary commemoration fly-past and the subsequent chemical induced pneumonia caused to an NCO who came to the technician’s aid was the trigger for a complaint to the Health & Safety Authority. Neither injuries in this incident were reported to the HSA as mandated by law. So much for the computerisation of accident and incident reporting.
Once all these systems were in place, the State Claims Agency began its audit, which took almost a year. Pat Kirwan, head of risk and operations with the SCA, was one of the auditors, along with Gemma D’Arcy, lead risk manager. The State Claims Agency was established under the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000. “Our remit includes the provision of risk management advices to the State authorities in order to prevent claims against the State,” explained Kirwan.
“With larger State authorities like the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, the Dept of Agriculture and the Irish Prison Service, we establish Risk Management Liaison Groups, so we can work in conjunction and consultation with them on risk management issues. We’ve a very claims focused view.”
When the SCA began its audit of the Defence Forces, it looked at the main issues which it felt could lead to large numbers of claims. “We then looked at the management process within the Defence Forces because, in order to have advices and recommendations adopted and effect real change, the systems for managing change and managing risk also had to be examined,” Kirwan continued.
According to Kirwan, the Defence Forces lead the way in health and safety risk management. “We see risk management systems accreditations as the way forward; it’s very much in keeping with the requirements of the 2005 Act and good risk management and claims management practice,” he said. “The SCA audit system is based on the OHSAS 18001, HS(G)65, AIRMIC and AS/NZS 4360:24 systems and has similar criteria. We’re experts in these areas and we can say to the Defence Forces, as an independent body, that we feel that its systems meet best practice standards. The audit is a way of driving improvement, getting people interested and awarding achievement as well.”
It should be noted that personnel in the Risk Management Section of the State Claims Agency were eligible for performance related gratuities aka “bonus pay” for improvements in the risk profile of organisations under their remit. Improvements that were so extensive Irish Air Corps personnel were still collapsing from lack of PPE a decade into State Claims Agency oversight.
Seán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
141. To ask the Minister for Finance if personnel employed by the State Claims Agency branch of the National Treasury Management Agency are eligible for bonus payments; and if so, the way in which these bonuses are structured and attained. [51615/17]
Paschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has informed me that it operates a discretionary performance-related payments scheme for eligible employees, which includes staff assigned to the State Claims Agency. The scheme rewards exceptional performance having regard to the employee’s own performance, the performance of the employee’s area of responsibility and the overall performance of the NTMA. Performance-related payments are made in accordance with parameters approved by the Agency’s non-executive Remuneration Committee. The overall amount of performance related payments made in respect of any year is also subject to the approval of the Remuneration Committee.
The audit took the best part of a year because the SCA auditors had to sample the Forces’ key functions that impact on health and safety such as training, operations, procurement, engineering, buildings and the input of senior officers. The SCA audited the safety function in all the formations within the Forces, including the three army brigades, the Defence Forces Training Centre (Curragh), the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Defence Forces’ Headquarters. “We then sampled at least two but usually three units on the ground within each of the formations, so a total of 16 units were audited,” explained Kirwan.
The audit examined safety policy and documentation; training; objective setting and planning; methods of monitoring and checking on progress; and methodologies for audit and review of systems. Essentially, it validated that the Defence Forces has in place the necessary systems to ensure continuous improvement in occupational health and safety standards.
The Defence Forces got the results of the audit just before Christmas, which was a relief to Corbet as he was due to leave for a six-month tour of duty to Kosovo in early April. “It was great to know the outcome before I headed off,” he said. “The criteria are quite strict and it was very satisfying to have our risk management systems recognised and accredited. There was quite a bit of work involved in it and it took a lot of commitment, and it was a lot of work for the auditors, too. We really appreciated their feedback”
Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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]
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]
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 SCA will return to the Defence Forces this year (2007) to carry out a maintenance audit. This time, the auditors will examine a smaller sample of functions but will look at some in more detail.
“We got nothing but the utmost cooperation from DF personnel over the course of the audit. They’ve taken a very pro-active approach,” said Pat Kirwan. “After dealing with the Defence Forces for a period of time, we recognised that it was at the stage where, with a certain amount of work, it would very quickly meet the best practice international standards. When the Defence Forces sets about doing something, it tends to be done correctly,” he concluded.
This post is based upon an article written by Mary Anne Kenny and was published in Health & Safety Times issue 19 of 2007. A PDF of the complete article may be downloaded here.
To recap a quick timeline of the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy and the State Claims Agency’s involvement.
August 1995 – Irish Air Corps receive report of an “Ambient Air Monitoring for Health & Safety at Work” commissioned by Capt. (now Lt. Col.) John Maloney. The independent report found that airborne levels of dichloromethane were detected at levels of 175ppm when the safe level was 50ppm. No action was taken to remedy this danger and personnel were not informed of the adverse test outcome.
January 1997 – Irish Air Corps receive a further report “Monitoring Air Contaminants in Work Shops” which was commissioned by Lt. (now Comdt.) Colin Roche. This testing was carried out by state body Forbairt. This report also found numerous health & safety shortcomings and recommended personnel be issued with adequate PPE and provided with chemical handling training. The Irish Air Corps finally said they would comply with this by December 2017 after HSA instructed them to do so a mere 20 years later. Hundreds were unnecessarily exposed in the intervening two decades.
2006 – The State Claims Agency commenced continuous Health & Safety auditing of the Irish Air Corps
February 2007 – The State Claims Agency validated the Defence Forces Safety Management Systems to be in accordance with best practice standards such as OHSAS 18001, HS(G)65, AIRMIC and AS/NZS 4360:24. Certificates of compliance were awarded verifying that proper health and safety management structures are in place throughout the Defence Forces.
January 2014 – Legal cases commence against the Irish Air Corps alleging injuries caused by unprotected chemical exposure.
February 2014 – Irish Air Corps conduct their own internal retrospective investigation into ERF facility. Also shortly after the first legal case commenced State Claims Agency officials met with former ERF personnel at the Apprentice Hostel Auditorium at Casement Aerodrome. At this meeting the State Claims Agency discovered that the lack of risk assessments, lack of PPE and lack of chemical handling training was a LIVE issue and not a legacy issue as previously believed. At this point the State Claims Agency had the opportunity to alert the HSA to these failing and have ongoing needless exposure stopped. However, for reasons unknown, the State Claims Agency chose not to intervene to stop ongoing exposure. Not their job apparently.
November 2015 – Two technicians are injured by an unprotected exposure to n-hexane solvent while installing smoke generators into a Pilatus PC9m. This incident was notnotified to the HSA as they are legally obliged.
November 2015 – PDFORRA National Health & Safety officer wrote to the DF SO Health & Safety Re: Concerns about the provision of adequate health surveillance for members in the Irish Air Corps
December 2015 – Serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel made complaints to the HSA as well as Protected Disclosures to Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney alleging wholesale breaches of the 1989 & 2005 Health & Safety at Work Acts. Breaches alleged included lack of chemical risk assessments, lack of job specific health surveillance, lack of PPE, lack of chemical handling training, lack of reporting of incidents, lack of reporting of spillages, disposal of toxic chemicals by dumping in the ground and pouring down sinks etc.
January 2016 – Health & Safety Authority commenced an investigation into the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.
June 2016 – The Head of Department, Dept of Mechanical Aeronautical and Biomedical Engineering in the University of Limerick was alerted to the fact that scores of UL students seconded to Casement Aerodrome on work experience were likely exposed to a dangerous working environment. The response was “Please do not contact me or my office again”.
October 2016 – Another protected Disclosure was made to Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett alleging that a highly dangerous chemical, Ardrox 666, which contained dichloromethane, sodium chromate & cresylic acid had been dumped in the ground for years where Main Technical Stores was subsequently built. The Chief of Staff was also alerted to health problems suffered by personnel of MTS (& their children) that could possibly be linked to exposure. No action was taken on foot of this Protected Disclosure.
October 2016 – Health & Safety Authority issue report of their investigation of the Irish Air Corps and brought to their attention safety, health & welfare matters that they asked receive the Irish Air Corps “immediate attention”. The HSA warned the Irish Air Corps that if their advice was not heeded they could face further enforcement action including prosecution.
September 2017 – Health & Safety Authority write to Irish Air Corps recognising the high level of co-operation “and to acknowledge the considerable progress made towards the implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances that meets commendable standards”.
January 2018 – Protected disclosure made to Junior Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe listing 56 verified untimely deaths of serving & former Air Corps personnel who had died at or before age 66. This list excluded those who died from accidents or murder.
September 2018 – Health & Safety Authority “close the file” on Irish Air Corps opened three years earlier in December 2015.
Initial letter from Health & Safety authority to Irish Air Corps may be downloaded here. The Safety Data Sheet for Ardrox 666 may be downloaded here.
Hopefully the above article provides readers a good overview of the involvement of the State Claims Agency in the auditing of Irish Air Corps Health & Safety.
The lead case in legal actions against the state was commenced in January 2014 and after judgements in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and a five judge sitting of the Supreme Court the case is now in its 8th year of legal discovery.
In the case of Gavin Tobin versus the Minister for Defence, Ireland and the Attorney General the Judgment of Mr. Justice Clarke, Chief Justice, delivered the 15th July, 2019 can be readhere
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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…
Watch Senator Gerard Craughwell request that the speaker of the Irish Senate invite the head of the State Claims Agency before senators in the Upper House to explain why NAMA / NTMA / SCA have ignored an order of the Irish Supreme Court to provide critical toxic chemical exposure data to a former Irish Air Corps technician.
The technician is one of a number of seriously injured Irish Air Corps personnel who are taking legal action against the state alleging non existent chemical health & safety at the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome.
The data was originally requested in 2013 and has delayed legal cases for 7 years. 32 personnel have died young since the data was requested bringing the untimely death body count to 78 personnel with an average age 50 years.
A third of the deaths are cancer, a third are cardiovascular and a fifth (15) suicide. #DelayDenyDie