Aircraft workers health study results inconclusive

Results from the third study on mortality and cancer incidence among F-111 aircraft maintenance personnel, commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Veterans' Affairs, were released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report, Third study of mortality and cancer incidence in aircraft maintenance personnel: A continuing study of F-111 Deseal/Reseal personnel, is a follow-up study into cancer incidence in aircraft maintenance personnel involved in the F-111 aircraft Deseal/Reseal (DSRS) programs between 1977 and 1999.

'The initial study in 2004 was prompted by concerns that these workers may have had greater health risks due to the chemicals used in the desealing and resealing of F-111 fuel tanks,' said Ilona Brockway of the AIHW's Population Health Unit.

This report looks at health outcomes up to the end of 2004, and compares the cases of cancers and deaths in the exposed workers against the cases in the general Australian male population and two other groups from RAAF bases.

Findings from this study are consistent with the 2004 study.

'Findings indicate that although overall cancer incidence in men who were involved in DSRS programs was higher than the Australian male population, the numbers were too small to be statistically significant,' said Ms Brockway.

Of a range of individual cancers studied, only lip cancer had a significantly higher incidence in the exposed personnel - four cases, instead of the expected one case.

'Overall mortality was lower for DSRS personnel when compared with the Australian male population, but this could be because of the generally higher levels of overall health and fitness among military personnel when compared to the general population,' she said.

Only mortality for non-Hodgkin lymphoma was significantly higher - two deaths instead of the nil deaths expected.

Comparing the exposed with non-exposed workers showed a marginally statistically significant increased cancer incidence, however the results for mortality were less clear.

The AIHW believes that the small numbers make interpretation of these results inconclusive and recommends that the study be repeated in 2011 when more data will be available to improve certainty about the findings.

Friday 20 February 2009

Further information: Ilona Brockway, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1127, mob. 0418 271 395.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1032.