This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 5 °C Monday 21 October, 2019
Advertisement

'Time is running out - this is a men's health scandal': Air Corps whistleblower opens up about his fight for justice

Gavin Tobin has spent over €50,000 on his own healthcare.

Gavin Tobin.
Gavin Tobin.

ONE OF THE men taking a case against the State for alleged exposure to dangerous chemicals while working at Baldonnel Airfield said he knows he has a battle on his hand but will continue his fight after winning a Supreme Court judgement earlier this month.

Gavin Tobin worked at Baldonnel Airfield for nearly 10 years. During his time there, he worked as part of the mechanic crew and regularly used dangerous chemicals. 

It was only when a doctor told him 2007 that he couldn’t have children that he started to investigate his own health and the potential link the chemicals at Baldonnel had on him. 

Through his research he discovered how dozens of colleagues and friends had either died early or developed some serious medical conditions. 

Over the last number of years, Tobin has amassed reams of research into the use of specific chemicals and their effects. 

He has a number of health conditions including chronic fatigue and anxiety. However, he thinks of himself as “one of the lucky ones”. 

Despite spending over €55,000 on his medical care to date, Tobin is ploughing ahead with his research and his case against the State. Only last week, he won a Supreme Court appeal which now means that Baldonnel must give him a list of all the chemicals used during his employment there.

TheJournal.ie  last year 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
  • Dichloromethane

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

Speaking exclusively to TheJournal.ie, Tobin said that his fight for justice is only in its infancy but that something must be done sooner rather than later as he himself puts it, “there are men dying now and we want to know why. We want to know how and those men deserve that”. 

Similar cases relating to alleged chemical exposure have been made by defence forces in Australia and Scotland. 

“I signed up to the Air Corps nearly 30 years ago. I was delighted to join. I remember the mammy driving me up to the gates. I was chuffed. The work was tough but there was great camaraderie.

TubTobin explained how on multiple occasions, he along with his colleagues would spend the morning working with chemicals such as Ardrox 666, a potent and dangerous paint stripper, and then would move may be 15 feet away to where they’d eat their lunches. 

“We’d be covered in everything really. You’d almost have to beg the lads across the way for gloves. We should have been using masks and full length gloves. I know what we should have now but that’s a bit too late.” 

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

share (3) Tobin meeting the Defence Forces chief of staff earlier this year.

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.

“When I started looking into all these case, I knew I was on to something and I also knew I had a battle on my hands and who I am up against. But when you see that list of guys who have died or I see my friends who are sick and can’t walk, that’s how I know I’m doing the right thing. 

“I know guys who used to have athletics records in the Air Corps and now they can’t walk. I know guys who suffer everyday with pain that the doctors can’t diagnose and that the guys themselves can’t even describe right. Every single time I find someone new with another condition, it only heartens me to go on and go on.

“The whole point of me going after the State is to safeguard the future and make sure failings which happened during my time there are not repeated. If that’s done, then I can be happy. In my mind, this is a health crisis and something which is essentially being ignored by large parts of the country. The last thing I want to do is turn around and say ‘I told you so’ so I’m telling them now. 

share (2) Tobin has regularly tried to promote the case and has protested outside Leinster House.

“For many of the guys I know, they’re up against the clock. They either have cancer or their health is at a stage where they are not going to get better. I need them to know that there is something being done, that the wheels are in motion and that some form of justice is being sought. Time is running out – this is a men’s health scandal.”

Expert’s view

TheJournal.ie has previously spoken with Dr Paul Gueret, an expert in the effects of organic solvents and chemicals on the human body. He founded occupational healthcare firm Medmark.

He backed up claims that dichloromethane can exacerbate heart issues but stressed that the available studies show it affects those with already pre-existing conditions.

“If you already have an irregular heart, then it can, yes, it can cause cardiac arrest. It essentially acts as an asphyxiate and reduces the level of oxygen in the blood,” he said.

With regards to trichloroethylene, Dr Gueret said there is a link between this chemical and the development of autoimmune diseases such as lupus or inflammatory bowel disease. Exposure to trichloroethylene and the link to autoimmune diseases are still being studied but have been found, Gueret said.

In relation to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and their links to cancers, he said there has been very strong studies carried out. There are hundreds of VOCs in the world such as benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene and toluene.

Benzene, in particular, can cause leukemia, Gueret says, but it’s not as prevalent as it once was. But he stressed that VOCs can have serious and potentially deadly effects on humans. The cancer links between dichloromethane and trichloroethylene are also well established.

However, while the link between hexavalent chromium and Crohn’s disease might be tenuous, according to Gueret, its cancer-causing side-effects cannot be ignored. The chemical has been proven to cause a number of diseases including skin and lung cancer.

“It is now accepted that hexavalent chromium can cause cancers. You would have found it in old petrol pumps which contained benzene. That’s not the case now,” Gueret added.

For Tobin, his fight against the State continues but, in his words, he described how “the clock is ticking for so many people and time waits for nobody. This needs to be sorted and sorted now”. 

The Department of Defence statement on the matter reads: “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.”

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Read next:

COMMENTS (22)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel