- Feb 8, 2007
- Land of Swine and Maple Syrup
It is good that they are finally going to get the answers and the support they need.
Submarine sailors to learn health dangers stemming from fire
Last Updated: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 | 1:23 PM AT Comments2Recommend2
The Canadian Press
Sailors who survived a devastating submarine fire almost four years ago are to get a briefing Wednesday in Halifax from senior Canadian navy and military health officers on the toxins they were exposed to and their potential long-term effect on their health.
"The navy wishes to use this opportunity to inform all concerned on the just completed analysis of the toxicity of smoke test," Cmdr. Jeff Agnew said Tuesday night.
"The crew and their families will also be updated on issues related to the medical process, while Veterans Affairs Canada, with whom DND has worked hand in hand on this issue, will brief on the services they provide."
Agnew said the meeting will be closed to the public to allow for a "free flowing" discussion.
"Most importantly though, this is an opportunity for the Canadian Forces to listen to and address any concerns the families and crew might have," Agnew said in an e-mail note.
He added that many of the crew feel well served by the military medical system.
Crew members and former sailors who served on HMCS Chicoutimi — as well as their wives — were invited to attend.
Some of the 55-member crew have begun falling ill with a variety of debilitating illnesses, including breathing troubles and variety of neurological disorders.
More than a dozen came forward in late February and early March to tell their stories to The Canadian Press.
The electrical fire in October 2004 resulted in the death of Lt. Chris Saunders. It crippled the used British boat on its maiden voyage to Canada and set back the navy's entire submarine program.
Although the navy promised to analyze the smoke and soot in the board of inquiry the following spring, the tests were not completed until recently.
Crew members, many of whom breathed in the smoke and lived in the ash for days afterward, worried because they had no idea what they had been exposed to and the long-term effects to their health.
There were some whose claims to Veteran Affairs Canada had been rejected. The sailors said bureaucrats didn't have enough information.
Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson ordered an immediate review of the crew member's files once the first story on the matter appeared.
New cases surface
The department also conducted outreach with sailors who had not filed claims and as a result the department "has five new clients," according to a government source with knowledge of the decision.
As well, crew members whose requests were rejected have had their claims reviewed and "in some cases adjudicated in their favour."
The navy conceded early in the investigation that the crew had been exposed to a chemical cocktail of smoke.
But precisely what substances were involved required pain-staking laboratory work at the National Research Council — one of the reasons it took years to get answers, the military said.
Once the toxicology report was finished, the navy's medical branch had to study what impact it could have on human health. Those results are expected to be presented to the crew at Wednesday's meeting.
The fire aboard Chicoutimi, which has sidelined the boat until at least 2010, was caused when a rogue wave washed down an open conning tower hatch, causing a short circuit in a major electrical connection.