A protected disclosure claiming that children of Air Corps employees have died due to toxic chemical personal injury at Baldonnel Airfield has been made by whistleblower within the Defences Forces.
Earlier in 2017 a document was released to the public in which an employee of the Defence Forces claimed to have evidence of the “the untimely deaths of at least 20 adults…of which I believe died of illness related to unprotected chemical exposure”.
The Defence Forces whistleblower claims, with the permission of the children’s parents, that :
The death occurred of a newborn girl due to ventricular septal defect (heart defect)
A five year old boy died while having surgery to address a ‘malrotated intestine’
One girl aged 15 died after suffering from Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of cancer and her father is currently suffering from leukaemia
Additionally there have been reports in relation to the effects of chemical exposure on the wives of members of the defence forces. A former mechanic who previously worked with the Air Corps discovered that a number of these women had experienced multiple miscarriages and in one particular case, a woman had 8 miscarriages in succession. An independent third party was appointed by the Minister for Defence in 2016, to investigate the allegations made in relation to fertility issues.
Although the HSA have advised that procedures into risk assessment need to be monitored, a whistleblower has stated that these steps are “too little, too late”, particularly in the case of those who have lost family members or who have developed life-changing illnesses and disabilities.
There have been claims made that these deaths are due to systematic failure on the part of the Defence Forces which meant that Air Corps personnel were exposed to toxic chemicals at Baldonnel. The Defence Forces are now facing legal action by some former employees. The Defence Forces have issued a statement which says, “Given these matters are subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The Department of Defence has assigned former civil servant Christopher O’Toole with the duty of reviewing claims from three whistleblowers who alleged the health of many Air Corps staff may have been affected by exposure to chemicals used to clean and service aircraft.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he believes a Commission of Investigation is now necessary. He said “The situation is far from satisfactory because with his opening comments the report’s author is essentially saying he cannot fulfill the terms of reference. From the Government’s point of view they established this review, they must have known the terms of reference could not be fulfilled. It’s farcical.”
New unprotected chemical exposure claims against the Defence Forces, made by a former Baldonnel-based air corps mechanic, have been published in the Journal.
Working conditions at the Casement Airbase in Baldonnel, County Dublin, have been the subject of investigation since unprotected chemical exposure claims against the Defence Forces were made in 2015 and 2016 by former air corps personnel, and as a result of a HSA inspection in October last year.
The current investigation is looking into claims that servicemen were exposed to high levels of dichloromethane for up to twelve years despite the Defence Forces being aware of the health risks. The new unprotected chemical exposure claims against the Defence Forces are potentially more serious.
According to the Journal, a “whistle-blower” has alleged air corps servicemen were not protected against exposure to carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals at Baldonnel, and as a result at least twenty former servicemen have died due to neurological and cancer-related illnesses.
The former air corps mechanic also believes that the partners of personnel based at the aerodrome have suffered fertility issues, and that their children have been born with birth defects or development issues. Five children have allegedly died due to their parents´ exposure to toxic chemicals and, the “whistle-blower” claims, many more are living with life-changing illnesses.
The Journal reports the representative association for air corps personnel – PDFORRA – has been attempting to get attitudes towards health and safety changed for many years. The association´s general secretary Gerry Rooney told the Journal: “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.”
Attempts to get comments from the Defence Forces and Department of Defence about the new unprotected chemical exposure claims against the Defence Forces were unsuccessful, but Dublin South Central TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh was heavily critical of junior Justice Minister Paul Kehoe. He told the Journal that previous chemical exposure claims had fallen on deaf ears, despite Minister Kehoe stating the health and wellbeing of members of the Defence Forces are a priority for him.
The widow of a peace-keeping soldier, who was killed in a landmine explosion more than twenty years ago, has had a compensation settlement of 300,000 Euros approved in the High Court. Private Maddix Armstrong (26) was killed, along with two other Irish U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers, when a landmine exploded alongside their truck on March 21 1989 near the town of Brashit in South Lebanon.
Maddix´s widow, Grainne, sued the State and Minister for Defence, alleging that the State had failed in its responsibility to take all reasonable precautions for the safety of Private Armstrong and his colleagues while they were engaged in their duties.
It was claimed in the action that the peace-keepers had been required to drive the truck in an area where there was an ever-present danger of landmines without remote-sensing equipment and with no search conducted for landmines ahead of the truck.
In April of this year, Defence Minister Alan Shatter announced that a review of the three soldiers´ deaths was to be conducted by senior counsel, Frank Callanan. The results of that review are not due until August 19, but Ms Justice Mary Irvine at the High Court heard that the State was prepared to make an offer of 300,000 Euros now to avoid a full hearing during which there would be evidential difficulties. Approving the award, Ms Justice Mary Irvine stated that these were “hard, sad cases” and with such a difficult claim to determine, Grainne Armstrong was right to accept the offer that had been made to her.
Soldiers, who suffered from the side effects of the anti-malaria drug Lariam, are seeking compensation from the State for neuropsychiatric side-effects, brain damage and motor-neurone disorders. The drug was given to Irish soldiers who were deployed in Chad and Liberia while serving with the UN, despite it being known to have serious side effects such as depression, anxiety and forgetfulness. It is also alleged in the claims filed against the State, that the soldiers were prescribed the drug even though their army medical files indicated that it was unsuitable for them.
Lariam is a trade name for mefloquine – a drug which is used to prevent and combat malaria in areas where mosquitoes have developed a resistance to the more commonly used chloroquine – and, as it needs to be administered only once a week, is preferred to alternative mefloquine anti malaria alternatives. However, the potential side effects are well chronicled.
In the United States, Lariam was banned for distribution amongst the Armed Forces in 2009 after it was linked with a series of suicides by Special Forces soldiers in 2002 and following a series of complaints from veterans who have suffered both psychological and physical side effects – which in numerous cases did not surface until many years later.
The Defence Forces have confirmed that ten serving soldiers are undergoing treatment for possible side effects of Lariam, but this could be just the tip of the iceberg, as several thousand Irish soldiers have served in the area in the past few years. Indeed, only last month, it was revealed that the Department of Defence had increased their compensation budget by almost 50% (to 6 million Euros) to allow for an anticipated increase in the number of claims from soldiers who had been administered Lariam.
Internal documents from the Department of Defence have revealed that almost 6 million Euros is being set aside to compensate members of the defence forces in personal injury claims.
The substantial increase, from the 4.1 million Euros which was paid out last year, is due to an anticipated increase in the number of claims from soldiers who were exposed to the controversial anti-malaria drug, Larium.
The department is already aware of at least 10 cases where members of the defence forces have claimed they developed serious side effects as a consequence of taking the drug, and the extra provision in their budget is to account for any new personal injury compensation claims deriving from soldiers who recently served in Chad or the Central African Republic.
The Department of Defence has also factored into their compensation budget an allocation for post traumatic stress disorder as well as an increase for the most common types of compensation claim – personal injuries arising from traffic accidents, occupational personal injuries, and administrative law cases in areas such as promotion and disciplinary action.
The Statute of Limitations applies to member of the defence forces in the same way as the general public, and soldiers have two years from the date of knowledge of an injury in which to make a claim for personal injury compensation.