A whistleblower who has raised concerns over alleged chemical exposures in the Air Corps says the force used five of the same chemicals at the centre of a cancer scandal involving tech giants Samsung.
The whistleblower has compiled a list of 70 deaths of former Air Corps staff that he believes should prompt an investigation into chemical exposures at the force’s headquarters in Casement Aerodrome.
South Korean company Samsung last week apologised for the sickness and deaths suffered by some of its workers after they were linked to chemical exposures in its facilities. Dozens of employees have experienced grave illnesses such as leukaemia and brain tumours.
Samsung and a group representing ailing workers agreed compensation terms after a highly publicised standoff that had been ongoing for more than a decade. The president of its device solutions division said the company failed to “sufficiently manage health threats” at its plants.
SHARPS (Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry) is a group campaigning on behalf of those who worked in Samsung facilities and subsequently suffered illnesses.
Its website has listed case studies and chemicals used by Samsung, including trichloroethylene, a known carcinogenic used by the Irish Air Corps until 2007.
This newspaper has previously revealed the details of an internal Air Corps memo that said it is possible staff may have ingested Triklone N — a vapour degreaser that contains trichloroethylene — over a 27-year-period.
The memo said staff could have suffered other exposures because there was no record that protective measures were in place to mitigate the impact of the toxic solvent.
The summary of an internal Air Corps report, compiled in 2014, asks: “Can the Defence Forces be found not to have done everything reasonably practicable?”
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, the whistleblower said Air Corps workers would have used five of six chemicals listed on the SHARPS site.
He claimed Samsung’s decade-long denial mirrors the State’s attitudes towards both whistleblowers who have raised the alarm and those seeking compensation through the courts.
“They had some health and safety and even had handbooks on the chemicals — we had absolutely nothing,” the whistleblower said of the Samsung scandal.
“Also we had numerous personnel tied up and doused in these chemicals in bullying incidents. I don’t believe this went on in Samsung.
“We now have death certs for 70 men, a third due to cancer, a third due to cardiac issues, and a fifth to suicide, and neither the State nor the Defence Forces have done any study of ill health into either serving or former personnel.
“They are just completely ignoring it and letting people die and suffer continuing ill health,” he said.
The Defence Forces were contacted yesterday but had not replied to queries at time of going to press.
Three whistleblower complaints led to a Health and Safety Authority inspection in 2016 — the results of which saw the watchdog threaten the Air Corps with legal action unless it improved standards at Casement Aerodrome.
The allegations also prompted the commissioning of an investigation by civil servant Christopher O’Toole.
Mr O’Toole found that records “are not readily available” to prove the Air Corps was in compliance with health regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, but that the terms of reference he was given for the probe were ‘impractical’, and that elements of the allegations made were issues outside his expertise.
Defence Minister Paul Kehoe has had the report for more than a year, but has yet to announce if and how he will follow up on its findings.
The whistleblower described the O’Toole report as “a fudge to stall the process”.
“The Government’s start-off strategy has been the same: Delay, deny, die,” he said.
“O’Toole and [Taoiseach Leo] Varadkar say the place to deal with this is the courts but the courts adjudicate not investigate. Meanwhile, the State Claims Agency (SCA), which is culpable and negligent in this scandal, is doing everything in its power to keep cases from hitting court,” he said.
The agency successfully appealed against a discovery order awarded to one complainant who sought a list of chemicals used by the Air Corps. The matter is now heading for the Supreme Court.