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.
DVA has commenced the fourth data Study of Mortality and Cancer Incidence in F-111 DSRS fuel tank maintenance workers who were involved in the F-111 aircraft DSRS programs during 1977-2000.
The Fourth Mortality and Cancer Incidence Study will examine the incidence of mortality and cancer in F-111 DSRS personnel against relevant comparison groups, including a matched group of personnel who served at RAAF Base Amberley and RAAF Base Richmond.
The study is expected to be completed mid 2015 and follows three previous studies completed in 2003, 2004 and 2009 as part of a broader SHOAMP.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is undertaking data analysis utilising more recently updated data than the previous studies, with an additional eight years of mortality data and an additional seven years of cancer data. The study group will also be increased to include personnel identified through the current tier classifications. The Fourth Study is a statistical data analysis study and no individuals will be identified in the results.
The study will provide a better understanding of the rate of the cancer and mortality of F-111 DSRS program maintenance workers compared to their RAAF peers and the general community.
Compensation, ex gratia payments, health care and counselling continues to be available for eligible F-111 DSRS workers. Counselling is also available to immediate family members of F-111 DSRS workers.
More information about the Fourth Mortality and Cancer Incidence Study can be obtained by contacting:
- F-111 hotline – Free call 1800 555 323
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions and Answers
What is the Fourth Mortality and Cancer Incidence Study?
- DVA has commenced the fourth in a series of studies on the mortality and cancer incidence of F-111 Aircraft Maintenance workers who were involved in the Deseal/Reseal (DSRS) programs during 1977-2000.
- The Fourth Mortality and Cancer Incidence Study will examine the incidence of mortality and cancer in F-111 Deseal/Reseal personnel against relevant comparison groups, including a matched group of personnel who served at RAAF Base Amberley and RAAF Base Richmond, as well as the general Australian population.
- This study is a continuation of three previous studies completed in 2003, 2004 and 2009 as part of the broader Study into the Health Outcomes of Aircraft Maintenance Personnel known as the SHOAMP Study.
Why is DVA undertaking a fourth study?
- The Fourth Study will provide a better understanding of the rates of cancer and mortality for those who participated in F-111 Deseal/Reseal work between 1977 and 2000.
- The passage of time and an expanded study group has provided an opportunity to improve on the previous studies.
- Health issues can take a long time to develop. This statistical study will ensure we have a more accurate picture of the cancer and mortality of these personnel compared to their RAAF peers and the general community.
How will the study be conducted?
- The Fourth Study will use updated results with an additional eight years of mortality data (1980-2013) and an additional seven years of cancer data (1982-2010) on the previous studies. The updated data will be sourced from the National Death Index and the Australian Cancer Database.
- The study group will be larger to include personnel identified through the current tier classifications.
- The study involves data analysis only. It does not involve direct involvement of participants.
Who is conducting the study?
- DVA has commissioned the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to undertake the data matching and analysis.
When will the study be completed and will the results be publicly available?
- The study is expected to be completed in early 2015 and a report to Government will follow.
Who do I talk to about the study?
You may contact the:
- F-111 Hotline - Free call 1800 555 323
- email: email@example.com
What if I am not happy about my details being data matched?
No individuals will be identified in the study results, however if you wish to make a complaint about this study, you may contact the DVA Human Research Ethics Committee on (02) 6225 4659 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can I obtain my own individual results?
No. In order to protect the privacy of study participants, the results will not produce any personal information.
How can people take part in the study?
- No action from the F-111 community is required – this is a data analysis study only, using data from the previous studies, the National Death Index and the Australian Cancer Database.
- There will be no participant involvement in this study.
How are personnel details protected?
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare will conduct the analysis under strict privacy and data matching protocols to ensure the protection of individual personal information.
Has ethical approval been obtained?
Ethics approvals have been obtained from all relevant State and Territory Human Research Ethics Committees and Cancer Registries.
Will there be a peer review of the study?
An Independent Scientific Advisory Committee has been established to provide expert scientific advice in relation to the conduct of the study.
What compensation/support is available for those suffering health issues as a result of their F-111 Deseal/Reseal work?
- Compensation, health care and counselling is available for eligible F-111 Deseal/Reseal participants.
- Counselling is also available to immediate family members of those who carried out Deseal/Reseal and associated work.
- More information is available on the F-111 website f111.dva.gov.au
How does this study relate to the Jet Fuel Exposure Syndrome Study?
The Fourth Mortality and Cancer Incidence Study is a data matching exercise by DVA investigating only those who participated in F-111 Deseal/Reseal fuel tank maintenance and other associated work.
The Jet Fuel Exposure Syndrome Study is a separate piece of work being undertaken by the Department of Defence investigating genetic factors that may contribute to adverse health outcomes among some former Deseal/Reseal personnel.