In 2001 the Study of Health Outcomes in Aircraft Maintenance Personnel (SHOAMP) was commissioned as a response to the Board of Inquiry. The University of Newcastle’s SHOAMP study* examined members of the four formal deseal/reseal programs, and two comparison groups. The study reported its findings in 2004.
The study found that the incidence of cancer in the F-111 DSRS group, was “higher than expected” with an increase of around 40-50% incidence, relative to both the Amberley and Richmond comparison groups.
While it found this cancer incidence in the deseal/ reseal group to be “not statistically significant”, it also found that deseal/reseal workers reported nearly twice the number of poor health symptoms than comparison groups, and significantly poorer quality of life on both physical and mental component scores.
While not attributing causality, the study found that:
“the results point to an association between F-111 DS/RS involvement and a lower quality of life, greater incidences of: erectile dysfunction, depression, anxiety and subjective memory impairment. There is also evidence, albeit less compelling, of an association between DSRS and dermatitis, obstructive lung disease (ie. bronchitis and emphysema), and neuropsychological deficits.”
15 December 2010 Serum Management Committee
In 2005 the Department of Veterans’ Affairs commissioned a study into the desealant chemical SR51. This study was undertaken by the Chemical Hazard Assessment Laboratory, University of Sydney (CHALUS). The study found that SR51 was unlikely to be mutagenic (ie it did not cause DNA damage), but that it did have the potential to produce mitochondrial damage.
The study also found that toxicity increased with increased temperature and produced greater damage when heated. The study found that SR51 produced a very strong smell, and that this smell is detectable at levels over 1,000 times below the levels that are thought safe.
The study noted that “SR51 and its major solvent components produce toxic effects on the mitochondrial particles used in this test”. The university conducted tests in vitro (in their laboratory) and noted that, “It is not known whether similar results of toxicity would result for living mammals”. The SR51 study concluded that SR51 was “unlikely”’ to cause cancer. (Page 28 of the Parliamentary Inquiry" refers).
In 2004 Professor Frank Bowling was commissioned by the Chief of Air Force to conduct a pilot study into the possible effects on the mitochondria of personnel who were exposed to chemicals involved in the F-111 deseal/reseal programs. The purpose of Professor Bowling’s work was to “identify abnormalities of mitochondria in exposed individuals, both to understand the nature of cell injury following exposure, and to identify a possible marker of cell injury.”
The pilot study found:
- “changes in mitochondrial proteins in peripheral blood samples in individuals exposed to fuel solvents…;
- data suggest involvement of immature blood cells (stem cells) in the protein changes seen following fuel exposure….the mitochondrial changes seen in these pilot studies are an indication of disruption of stem cells in the bone marrow, and possibly in other tissues”.
(Page 30 of the Parliamentary Inquiry refers)
The results of the pilot study were examined by the Defence Work Health and Safety Branch and will be considered as part of the wider Jet Fuel Exposure Syndrome Study (JFES Study) into the health implications of working with aviation turbine fuels.
In 2006 Dr Leonie Coxon from Murdoch University carried out a study on the psychological effects on spouses of deseal/reseal workers was completed. This study found that spouses of deseal/reseal workers were more likely to have somatic complaints, anxiety, depression and higher levels of stress. These findings indicated that “there are significant deleterious effects on the psychological functioning of spouses of individuals involved in the F-111 deseal/reseal programs as a result of the program itself.” (Page 33 of the Parliamentary Inquiry refers)
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation’s Mr Stefan Danek was commissioned by the 2001 BOI, to summarise the BOI’s volumes of scientific reports from various experts. These included a toxicological assessment of deseal-reseal chemicals; the resistance of personal protective equipment, such as gloves and overalls, to various selected chemicals; the monitoring of airborne contaminants during specific processes associated with the deseal-reseal programs; and, the modelling of potential exposure or potential airborne contaminants of these same chemicals. The subsequent summary is known as the Danek Report. (Page 34 of the Parliamentary Inquiry refers)
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released the Third Study of Mortality and Cancer Incidence in Aircraft Maintenance Personnel: A Continuing Study of F-111 Deseal/Reseal Personnel (2009). The first and second studies were made as part of the SHOAMP study. Comparisons were made with the general Australian male population, as well as groups from RAAF Base Amberley and RAAF Base Richmond.
The AIHW study made several findings. Among them:
- Overall cancer incidence in male personnel who were involved in DSRS programs was elevated by 44%, when compared with the Australian male population. However the very small number of people involved means that this result is not statistically significant.
- Lip cancer incidence in DSRS personnel was four times as high as in the general Australian male population. This result is statistically significant, but is based on only four cases.
- Overall mortality for the two comparison groups was lower than that that found in the Australian male population; these results are statistically significant. Cancer incidence in personnel in the two comparison groups (RAAF Base Richmond in New South Wales and RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland) was similar to that of the Australian male population.
- Comparing the exposed groups (the DSRS personnel) with Amberley personnel showed no significant differences in mortality or cancer incidence.
- Comparing the exposed groups (the DSRS personnel) with Richmond personnel showed increased cancer incidence which is statistically significant.
In response to Recommendation 18 of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) Inquiry into F-111 Deseal/Reseal Workers and their Families, Defence has sponsored world first, ground breaking research into F-111 Deseal/Reseal and fuel solvent exposure to look at possible genetic changes in these workers and what may be causing these changes. This research follows previous small pilot studies by Professor Frank Bowling which indicated changes in mitochondrial proteins in peripheral blood samples in individuals exposed to fuel and solvents.
The Jet Fuel Exposure Syndrome Study (JFES Study) is led by Professor Bowling and conducted by the Mater Medical Research Institute (MMRI), in collaboration with Omics (Research) Laboratory (within Mater Pathology) and Emphron Bioinformatics. Administrative support is provided through the University of Queensland.
The former Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, the Hon Warren Snowdon MP, officially launched the Study on 16 December 2010 at the Centre for Military and Veterans' Health, supported by Defence, MMRI and Mater Pathology. Media, DVA, Defence and DS/RS Veterans were present at the launch.
There was a very good response from those who participated in the four recognised F-111 Deseal/Reseal programs to be part of the study. The clinical and laboratory testing phase of the research project was completed in December 2013. Detailed statistical studies and data analysis are now underway. Results from the JFES Study are anticipated in late 2014 or early 2015.
Further details on the progress of the JFES Study are available through the JFES Consultative Forum Meeting Minutes on the F-111 Website.