Helicopter crews claim ‘exhaust fumes caused their cancer’ as they sue MOD | Bolt Burdon Kemp Helicopter crews claim ‘exhaust fumes caused their cancer’ as they sue MOD | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Helicopter crews claim ‘exhaust fumes caused their cancer’ as they sue MOD

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is accused of knowingly exposing service personnel to cancer-causing chemicals for almost 20 years.

Crew members who served on helicopters including the Sea King, Wessex, Puma and Chinook have allegedly been exposed to toxic exhaust emissions linked with illnesses such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer), lung cancer, throat cancer and testicular cancer.

Those who worked on the MOD aircrafts may therefore be more likely to encounter such illnesses.

Unfortunately, some service personnel have already lost their lives, and others may follow. Those affected and/or their dependants are now pursuing civil claims against the Ministry of Defence. If the claimants can prove the MOD knew about the risks to health and failed to act, they may have substantial financial claims. It is reported that some have already received out of court settlements.

Sea King aircrafts

In keeping with its duty of care, the MOD should take all reasonable steps to protect service personnel from a foreseeable risk of harm.

A publicly available RAF Institute of Health report dated March 1999 recommended exhaust gasses should be diverted on Sea King aircrafts owing to potential health risks. It is therefore alleged the MOD was aware of the risk to health from exhaust fume exposure from March 1999 onwards and yet seemingly failed to act.

Design modifications to redirect exhaust fumes in keeping with the recommendations made in the 1999 report may well have reduced crew members’ exposure to toxic contaminants. The question also arises of whether the MOD should also have taken steps to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent serving personnel on the aircrafts from inhaling the fumes.

Alarmingly, despite concerns raised, Sea King helicopters remained in use until 2018, almost two decades after the publication of the report.

Of additional concern is this is not the only way in which the health of those serving on the Sea King aircrafts were placed at risk. A damning Government report published on 5 December 2018 confirmed the devastating revelation that components of the Sea King were found to contain white asbestos leading to mesothelioma.

The future

It is understood service personnel who have endured prolonged exposure to fumes were not made aware they were potentially sacrificing their future health.

Such risk to life was far beyond the remit of risk assumed by those serving at the time. It’s one thing for service personnel to knowingly risk their lives in combat, it’s quite another for them to be unknowingly exposed to harmful chemicals and carcinogens with utter disregard for their safety and wellbeing.

The very nature of the illnesses linked to aircraft emissions are slow to develop and the extent of the damage caused may not be understood for some time.

In response to the recent press attention, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson has stated: “We hugely value our service personnel and veterans and owe a debt of gratitude to all those who serve, often with great personal sacrifice.

The gratitude of the Ministry of Defence is ultimately redundant to those facing a cancer diagnosis and/or those grieving the loss of a loved one and cannot compensate for failures to adhere to basic health and safety regulations.

Those suffering conditions who suspect this may have been caused by a prolonged exposure to toxic exhaust fumes of military aircrafts are encouraged to contact our Military Claims department who may be able to assist with recovery of compensation.

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