An official tasked with reviewing whistleblower allegations of chemical exposure within the Air Corps was not given access to the Defence Forces’ own report on the claims, the Government has confirmed.
The Irish Examiner previously reported how an internal Air Corps report cast doubt over whether all appropriate safeguards were taken to protect workers from exposure, and speculated staff may have ingested harmful chemicals through food that could, potentially, have been contaminated.
Six former Air Corps staff are suing the State, claiming their exposure to chemicals while in the Defence Forces caused cancers and other chronic illnesses they now suffer.
Meanwhile, three whistleblowers came forward to allege health and safety mismanagement within the Air Corps, in the years up to 2016. A subsequent inspection by the Health and Safety Authority confirmed many of the complaints outlined in the whistleblowers’ protected disclosures.
A Freedom of Information request earlier this year from Deputy Aengus O’Snodaigh had revealed Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe had been given a copy of a report entitled “Chemical Exposure Report (1994-2005)”.
The Department of Defence, meanwhile, tasked former civil servant Christopher O’Toole with reviewing claims from three whistleblowers who alleged the health of dozens of Air Corps staff may have been seriously compromised by exposure to chemicals used to clean and service aircraft.
In his report, however, Mr O’Toole concluded the terms of reference he was given had been ‘impractical’, and noted that appropriate records to demonstrate the Air Corps complied with health and safety regulations “are not readily available”.
This week, the Sinn Féin TD subsequently asked Mr Kehoe whether Mr O’Toole was provided with a copy of the “Chemical Exposure Report (1994-2005)”.
Mr Kehoe said it would not have been “appropriate” to give the report to Mr O’Toole. “As the report is subject to legal privilege, it was not appropriate to make it available to the independent reviewer,” the minister said.
He also further disclosed the report was compiled by the Air Corp’s Formation Safety Officer following a request for information from the State Claims Agency after it received the first of six legal claims against the State in August 2013.
Last May, the Irish Examiner revealed details of an Air Corps investigation into the use of trichloroethylene, a known carcinogen and vapour degreaser that was used to clean engine parts.
Among its findings, the report said no records show that personal protective equipment had been made available to staff, or had indicated they were trained on the dangers of the chemical.
It further stated that work areas were not segregated and doors to adjoining areas were left open; that the workers’ tea room and meeting area were located in an adjoining area, raising the risk of food being contaminated; and that workers clothes could have been contaminated as personnel lockers were located in the immediate area where the chemical was used.
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