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This photograph shows a group of Air Corps members on a hillwalk, a number of whom have either passed away or are dealing with serious illnesses.
This photograph shows a group of Air Corps members on a hillwalk, a number of whom have either passed away or are dealing with serious illnesses.
Image: TheJournal.ie

Air Corps whistleblower claims death toll from chemical-linked illnesses surpasses 72

Chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety are just some of the conditions the whistleblower has been living with for over a decade.
Jan 21st 2019, 12:06 AM 30,795 29

A MAN WHO is taking the State to court over his time in the Air Corps believes 72 of his colleagues died prematurely, linking their deaths to alleged chemical exposure at work. 

The recent death of a former airman has brought the alleged death toll to 72, according to the whistleblower. He also alleges that: 

  • 72 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 59 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 36 of these deaths have occurred since 2010

The whistleblower is claiming that the State neglected health and safety rules and exposed himself and his fellow workers to seriously harmful levels of toxic chemicals. This continues to be strongly contested by the State.

A 2016 inspection by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) identified a number of shortcomings at Baldonnel Airfield – with corrective actions then taken by the Defence Forces in relation to how it handles such chemicals.

According to the HSA report seen by TheJournal.ie, the Air Corps was warned 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.

Chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety are just some of the conditions one of the whistleblowers has been living with for over a decade.

Others whistleblowers claim they have developed cancers and rare autoimmune diseases.

The whistleblowers 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

In 2017, TheJournal.ie reported how a number of former Air Corps members have made protected disclosures alleging wrongdoing with regard to health and safety in the Defence Forces.

A number of cases have been taken by the workers against the State in the High Court. There, they allege that there was a systematic failure on the part of the Defence Forces which allowed Air Corps personnel be exposed to harmful chemicals during his time at Baldonnel. 

TheJournal.ie obtained a detailed list of chemicals which were purchased for use by the Air Corps. These include the highly toxic Ardrox 666 and Ardrox 670.

Other chemicals which have been used at Baldonnel include:

  • Hexavalent chromium
  • Dichloromethane
  • Trichloroethylene

All these chemicals have been proven to cause serious damage to humans after long-term exposure.

TheJournal.ie has spoken with a number of those who claim they have been affected by the chemical exposure in the Air Corps. 

Speaking to us about the experience of taking the State to court, one whistleblower explained his frustration.  

“We haven’t given up but I’ve learned a valuable lesson in these two years or so; never take the State to court – they’ll delay it until your dead or broke. That’s what it feels like is happening to me and the other guys anyway. 

I’ve gone about it the way you’re supposed to. There’s only so much we can do. We’ve gotten loads of support in the Dáil and in other political circles. 

“I just want the State to say that they could have done better. There are at least 70 men who are dead and we think that their exposure to toxic chemicals either contributed to their deaths or were one of the main reasons for their deaths. 

“The families of all those who served in the Air Corps and passed away deserve to know if the State’s incompetence was the reason behind their passing. I am sick. My friends are sick. My colleagues are sick or dead and nobody gives a fuck. I am so sick and tired of people not caring about us. I don’t understand why. But we’re going to keep plugging away until we’re either dead or this is dealt with. 

“We always think they can’t just dismiss us out of hand and then we remember that’s what they’ve been doing since 2016. I’m honestly scared that I’m going to die before we get to the bottom of this, I really am.”

Earlier this year, TheJournal.ie reported how a large number of Air Corps members have experienced brain inflammations, Crohn’s Disease, cardiac arrest, ulcerative colitis and leukaemia.

The general secretary of the representative association for Defence Force members, PDFORRA’s Gerry Rooney, has said that chemicals and their use have been a problem for defence forces worldwide.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, he said that the representative association is working closely with all the whistleblowers and said that attitudes within the force would have to change if better health and safety practices were to be implemented.

“There’s a tendency in military organisations to focus on carrying out the operation at all costs.

“It’s fairly clear there was a problem with chemicals and their use.”

A statement from the Department of Defence read: “The State Claims Agency is currently managing six claims taken by former and current members of the Air Corps against the Minister for Defence for personal injuries alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps in Baldonnel in the period 1991 to 2006. Given these matters are subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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Garreth MacNamee

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