Deseal/Reseal Tragedy

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Keith:

World First Research Study on Jet Fuel and F-111 Aircraft Fuel Tank Maintenance WorkersThe Minister for Veterans? Affairs and Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, today announced a multi-million dollar research study into the health implications of working with aviation turbine fuels and F-111 Deseal/Reseal agents.

The Jet Fuel Exposure Syndrome Study is in response to a parliamentary inquiry?s report into F-111 workers and their families.

I take very seriously the need to ensure the ongoing health of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force.

?Defence is undertaking world first, ground breaking research into the F-111 Deseal/Reseal exposure to look at possible DNA changes in these workers and what may be causing these changes.

We hope this research will help us understand why some Defence personnel became very ill after working with jet fuels and solvents on the F-111 programs and possibly help us to prevent it ever happening again? Mr Snowdon said.

The Study is a collaborative project between the Defence Centre for Occupational Health and Mater Medical Research Institute and will focus on the relationship between exposure to jet fuels and solvents in the F-111 Deseal/Reseal programs and mitochondrial genetic changes.

The research will be led by Professor Frank Bowling, a Metabolic Disease Consultant and Chemical Pathologist and a Professor of Medical Biochemistry.

Defence is seeking a range of volunteers for the Study:

Current or past members of the Air Force who participated in one of the recognised  F-111 Deseal/Reseal programs, including Pick and Patch;

Current or previous members of the Air Force who were NOT involved in the F-111 Deseal/ Reseal programs and have NOT had direct exposure to F-111 jet fuel; and

First degree relatives (parent, sibling, child) of someone who participated in one of the F-111 Deseal/Reseal programs.
I would strongly encourage interested individuals to come forward and volunteer for this project.  


Persons who fit in one of these groups and are interested in participating in the Study are encouraged to contact the Defence Centre for Occupational Health on tel: (02) 6127 2080 or email JFES.Study@defence.gov.au to register their interest.

Editors note: Pictures of aircraft are available for media: http://111.125.172.46/fotoweb/Grid.fwx?archiveId=5000&position=1&search=1517

Keith:
Pigs mightn't fly again but that's no Defence

September 26, 2010

Paul Daley

The 'Goop Troop' technicians who kept the fabled F-111 airworthy have paid a terrible price but the government can right the wrong by acknowledging and compensating them.

IT HAS been a very long goodbye.

A few days ago one of Australia's last F-111 fighter-bombers performed a signature move over Brisbane to mark the end of the iconic aircraft's 40-year service in keeping our shores secure.

The "dump and burn" is a spectacular sight; a huge load of fuel is dropped behind the aircraft and ignited by the jet's afterburner, leaving a dazzling plume of flame. It never fails to captivate the crowd.

Last week was no different as aircraft enthusiasts gathered to watch the spectacle and then to extol the virtues of the aircraft that has become known affectionately ? due to its grunt, its resilience and broad fuselage as "the Pig".

Few plane spotters would, however, know the tragic human story behind Australia's fleet of F-111s.

Anybody whose child is about to join the Australian Defence Force should familiarise themselves with what happened to those specialist men and women who maintained the aircraft so that they could safely patrol our borders. They may then have pause to convince their children to seek another career.

What happened to these people is a national disgrace ignored by successive federal governments despite reassurances to the contrary.

Between 1973 and 2000 up to 400 but by some estimates up to 800 aircraft technicians were exposed to a highly noxious array of chemicals used to repair the faulty fuel tanks of the F-111s while stationed at Amberley air force base in Queensland. These personnel chose to serve their country. In return their employer poisoned them and now, tragically, their government refuses to adequately compensate them.

By some estimates terrible illness has claimed the lives of about 60 personnel who worked on the deseal/reseal program that involved aircraft technicians crawling into the confined innards of the great aircraft and stripping the fuel tanks with chemicals, many of which, it would transpire, were known carcinogens. The tanks would then be resealed to prevent fuel leaks.

The Menzies government ordered 24 General Dynamics F-111s from the US at the height of the Cold War in 1963. The F-111 was considered the most aggressive and intimidating fighter and strike aircraft on the market. It was just what was needed by Australia a staunch American ally isolated at the southern end of the world and surrounded by potential aggressors.

With its great weapons load, the F-111 ? thanks to the great capacity of its fuel tanks that occupied every spare inch of fuselage and wing space could fly to any Asian capital, drop its enormous payload of bombs and missiles, and return to its Australian base without refuelling. It was an ideal and highly effective deterrent (the pigs have never fired a shot in anger) in an uncertain world.

But as is so often the case with expensive consignments of military aircraft (witness the cost blowouts and production problems surrounding the Joint Strike Fighter), the F-111s were beset by technical problems. They were delivered in late 1973 five years behind schedule. And they came with a serious defect all of the fuel tanks were leaking.

The Americans' own aircraft shared the problem. Perhaps attuned to the potential future scandal of using its own personnel to rectify the fault, the Americans used mainly labourers from Latin America to clean and reseal the tanks of its F-111s.

The Australian Defence Force made its own members work in the tanks with the potentially deadly chemicals. Too many have paid a terrible price.

Suicide is rife among the former members of the "Goop Troop" (so-named in reference to the poisonous chemical "goop" they used on the tanks). But it usually follows a range of other terrible afflictions among them gastric problems, skin disease, sexual dysfunction, cardiovascular and respiratory illness, crippling depression, lost memory and neurological disease that have beset the technicians.

A 2001 military board of inquiry delivered a scathing set of findings in relation to the RAAF's negligence. It highlighted a deeply flawed, chaotic and seriously unresponsive chain of command and a group culture at Amberley that resulted in two generations of aircraft technicians being exposed to the deadly material.

A 2004 University of Newcastle study found the desealers were twice as likely as other military personnel to develop cancers and that they suffered disproportionately from a range of other terrible and life-threatening afflictions.

I was first moved by the plight of the former Goop Troopers five years ago, when I featured seven of them in an article for The Bulletin. Two of those men, most in early middle age, have since died. One died of cancer. The other killed himself. The rest are very ill.

Both of the dead had been in lengthy legal disputes with the Commonwealth for compensation.

Rob Solomons was already desperately ill when we met. Frustrated by his long fight with the Commonwealth, he moved to Vung Tau in Vietnam where his father, also a serviceman, had been stationed during the war.

Unable to stand his physical pain, and feeling as if his country had turned its back on him, he killed himself in early 2008, aged 49.

He wrote to his best mate Frank Cooper, also a seriously ill desealer: "Frank, I am sorry I cannot control my depression any more. You are a good mate. What did they do to us Deseal/reseal is an agonising death. Look after your family mate. Sorry I have let you down."

Last year, having promised in opposition to strike a better deal for the F-111 technicians, Labor responded to a parliamentary inquiry with a series of piecemeal measures that will make little or no difference to the injured.

Some have taken costly and time-consuming legal action against Defence which typically when dealing with complainants  has largely responded with obfuscation and delaying tactics. Defence has always been anything but a model litigant.

How ironic that so many of the desealers will die with so little financial and emotional security, having dedicated their lives to securing our country. In late December there will be a memorial service at Amberley for the passing of the F-111s.

Here's an idea: let's forget about the aircraft and acknowledge, and perhaps think about meaningfully compensating, those whose lives were ruined by keeping it flying for so long.

 

Source: The Sun-Herald

 

 
 
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All truth passes through three stages.  First, it is ridiculed.  Second, it is violently opposed.  Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Keith:
 
 
VA045                                                                                                                


Tuesday, 13 July 2010 

F-111 MAINTENANCE WORKERS ENCOURAGED TO COME FORWARD
 

The Minister for Veterans Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, Alan Griffin, today called for all those involved in F-111 fuel tank maintenance between 1973 and 2000 to come forward to check their eligibility for compensation and health care.

 

Mr Griffin said as part of the 2010 11 Federal Budget, the Australian Government announced $55 million over four years to ensure more F-111 fuel tank maintenance workers, including pick and patch workers and others, have easier access to compensation and health care for conditions that relate to their service.

I encourage all those involved in F-111 fuel tank maintenance and associated tasks between 1973 and 2000, and who didnt receive a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs in late May, to visit f111.dva.gov.au or freecall 1800 555 323 to check their eligibility, Mr Griffin said.

An estimated additional 2,400 workers now have easier access to compensation and health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 for medical conditions linked to F-111 fuel tank repair.

This new package opens up the capacity for all workers who were employed in F-111 fuel tank maintenance, involving fuel tank entry and other associated tasks, to access compensation and health care if they need to, Mr Griffin said.

To streamline the process, statutory declarations will be used as evidence for claims where official records are incomplete, subject to guidelines.  A health care scheme has also been re-opened to support the health care needs of affected personnel while their claims for specific conditions are being determined.

Mr Griffin said the new package was in response to the findings of a parliamentary inquiry into F-111 workers and their families.

The former F-111 scheme gave ex-gratia payments to people based on where they worked, rather than their actual health needs.  This scheme has not been extended or expanded, but surviving partners or estates of those who died before September 2001 and did not receive an ex-gratia payment may now be eligible for one, Mr Griffin said.

Keith:
TSMH
 
Compo for RAAF vets and Maralinga personnel flagged in vote-chasing Budget

Steve Lewis and Ian McPhedran
From: The Courier-Mail
May 07, 2010
 

FORMER Amberley RAAF personnel poisoned by a cocktail of toxic chemicals will finally get compensation in Tuesday's Federal Budget.

It is part of a multimillion-dollar plan to look after veterans affected by chemicals and radiation during the past half century.

The Government also will unveil a new initiative to try to halt the spread of radical Islam throughout Australia as part of a big-spending package to bolster national security.

Thousands of former military personnel, including 2500 exposed to Maralinga's toxic nuclear program, will get generous pension entitlements as the Government tries to win over a key constituency.

In another big win for veterans, Treasurer Wayne Swan will announce plans to expand aged care arrangements - costing tens of millions of dollars - to take the pressure off public hospitals.

Hundreds of RAAF mechanics affected by chemicals while working on the F-111 jet program will get additional compensation.

It will benefit hundreds of RAAF staff exposed to toxic chemicals during the "deseal-reseal" program on F-111 fuel tanks at Amberley.

Compensation will be extended to all those involved with the F-111 fuel tank upgrade.

The men were forced to work in the jets' fuel tanks without adequate protective gear and were exposed to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.

Some have had ex-gratia payments of between $10,000 and $30,000 but the Government will cease individual payments in favour of an overall compensation package.

Many of those paid compensation have not developed any of the 31 recognised medical conditions associated with their exposure, including depression and lung disease, while others who have not been paid have become ill.

Tuesday's election-year Budget will earmark hundreds of millions of dollars for national security as Labor tackles concerns that it has gone soft on border protection following a flood of asylum seekers in recent months.

It includes several "preventative" measures to counter the growth of terrorist cells across Australia.

And while the Government will be careful not to demonise Muslims with its policies, it is understood new programs will target the potential spread of radical extremism in the nation's jails.

Some states already have programs aimed at stopping the rise of radical Islam in prisons. But the Budget is expected to outline a national scheme, including religious classes and better contact between inmates and their families.

With the Government hoping the Budget will help it regain much-needed momentum, the latest boat carrying asylum seekers was intercepted off the northwest of Australia ? the 51st vessel detained this year alone

 

 
 

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Keith:
From: Walker, Brett (D. Hale, MP)
To: undisclosed-recipients:
Sent: Thursday, September 17, 2009 6:00 PM
Subject: HALE - HOUSE OF REPS - Committees: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committees; Report - 16/09/2009



Committees: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committees; Report



HALE 16/09/2009 11.00am


I rise to speak on this very important issue. In this place, we do many things. I do not think that I have so far, in my nearly two years as a parliamentarian, had a more emotional experience than being on this inquiry. When I went to Brisbane, I met with families of people who have died through cancer and people who have kids with disabilities. The responsibility of being a parliamentarian really hit home. I would like to congratulate all the people who came and gave evidence. It was very hard to sit and listen to the stories. I support the member for Cowan?s comments in regard to the women who were at home washing the clothes of these pitch and patch workers. It was gut-wrenching stuff, to be honest, to listen to these stories of the hardship that had come upon these families due to this activity that these workers were carrying out with the F111 program. It really drove home the importance of this inquiry and of what we were doing.

On 21 May 2008, the Minister for Veterans? Affairs, the Hon. Alan Griffin MP, wrote to the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Senator Michael Forshaw, noting that one of the election commitments of the Rudd government was to conduct a parliamentary inquiry into the inadequacy of the support for the health needs of the RAAF deseal/reseal workers and their families. It was very important that we brought this issue to a head and were able to address what had been off the agenda for a long time, the needs of this group of people.

Listening to the evidence, as I was saying, was gut wrenching. These guys crawled inside F111 tanks. Often, there was still some fuel inside. When you see movies of when F111s are flying, fuel is coming out of the fuselage. It is very hard to seal them. After a run, the planes would come back. These guys would get in and first pick all the old goo out of them. Then they would re-goo them, basically, and try to seal them as best they could for when the plane was back in the air. The chemicals that they were using to strip the sealant were found to be toxic as well. These people were often sitting in fuel as well as this chemical in order to do this job. We did not have the same sort of OH&S obligations then that we do now. They were not in place. Often, these guys were swimming in this stuff. They were smoking cigarettes as well. As a lot of them said, there was a culture of smoking cigarettes in the workplace. I would suggest that working with kerosene and fuel and smoking is not a really good thing for your health at the best of times. These guys were subject to this. They wore thongs and very little protective clothing and they certainly had no respirators. We have learnt. Thank goodness that we have progressed in the way that we look after our workers now and how we deal with hazardous chemicals.

I would like to commend all members of the committee. There was a lot of care and compassion shown by the committee in these hearings. They were difficult hearings. The chair, the member for Brisbane, did a very good job in bringing this matter to a head. As the member for Cowan alluded to, there is a list of recommendations that have been put forward. I will not go through all of those recommendations. There are about 18 in total.

Certainly for the families of the victims, their kids and the people who are left behind, it does, to some extent, bring a little bit of closure because there has been a parliamentary inquiry and there is a list of recommendations. These people can feel satisfied, to a point, that the government has acted in an appropriate way with regard to this. As I said, it was a very gut-wrenching experience, because we were dealing with the lives of these people.

The committee received over 130 submissions and there were 12 supplementary submissions from organisations and the general public. In all, the committee received 743 pages of submissions. The committee also heard evidence recorded in more than 360 pages of transcript covering six public hearings. It was very thorough. The committee received a private briefing on the nature of the fuel-leak repair work and inspected training facilities, tools used and an F111 airframe.

Inspection of the various fuel storage areas in the F111 provided a very graphic understanding for all of us of the extremely small spaces that were involved in this work. Entry to some fuel tanks would make it difficult for even a small person to enter. I had no chance of getting in there. But certainly, once inside the tank, some work areas were so confined it was difficult to understand how personnel could spend hours at a time in such a cramped and physically unpleasant environment. And they did so with a range of chemicals surrounding them as well. A lot of this work was done in Queensland, where they were subjected to the hot summer conditions.

It was a pleasure to be on this committee. I think it was a very important committee. I fully support the list of recommendations. Once again, I congratulate and thank all the people that gave evidence on this issue. I also thank my colleagues from both sides of this place for the time that they put into considering the evidence and working towards the list of recommendations.


Sheena Dunne

Office of Damian Hale

Federal Member of Solomon

PO Box 2163

DARWIN NT 0800

Ph: 8981 3434

Fax: 8981 8731

sheena.dunne@aph.gov.au

www.damianhale.com.au

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