Some workers exposed to jet fuel within the RAAF have suffered damage to their body cells, which could have unknown long term consequences to their health. Research released under a Freedom of Information laws request has found that this link is “evidence of small but persistent cellular damage” Dr Ian Garden recently told the ABC.
The findings raise the possibility that a large number of defence workers may be entitled to seek chemical exposure compensation should their health deteriorate. Some RAAF workers who have experienced ill health have already come forward having been exposed to jet fuel on the infamous F-111 deseal/reseal project.
Cellular damage not confined to direct contact with fuel
The research project was led by Professor Francis Bowling of Brisbane’s Mater Hospital and set out to investigate why some of the workers on the deseal/reseal project suffered serious health impacts while others didn’t. These health impacts include depression, anxiety, memory loss, skin conditions, gastro-intestinal problems and an increased risk of cancer.
The research suggests jet fuel damages cells, and that the damage isn’t confined to areas of the body that come into direct contact with the fuel. It’s believed that the fuel components are transported to other organs around the body.
The research also suggested that those workers with inherited defects in their mitochondria might be at more risk than others.
Two maintenance workers on the deseal/reseal project who died of severe neurodegenerative disease were found after post-mortems to have such defects.
‘Malignant potential’ of cell damage
The report also suggests that it was possible some of the damaged cells to live on in the body with malignant potential, but that the long term effects at this stage were unknown.
Dr Gardner, who spoke to the ABC said "This study does not say jet fuel can cause malignancy, what it suggests is there are mechanisms that might be a possible explanation for cancers."
The revelations that come out of the report are not only significant for the RAAF and it workers, past and present exposed to jet fuel, but also to other parts of the Defence Force that use similar fuels.
"The components of the fuel exhibiting toxicity are common to most fuels. Consideration should be given to further studies of workers exposed to fuel of any type," the report said.
The ADF is now liaising with other industries, including the civil aviation industry, where workers might have been exposed to jet fuel.