When 'David' Took On Goliath - One Dying Worker Challenges The Corporate Giants
Sunday November 23, 2003 16:29 by Davey Garland
The East Devon – West Dorset coastline has a history of producing and harbouring various trouble makers, be it the pirates and wreckers that inhabited these shores, attacking and sinking trading vessels in the 18th Century, or those who supported disputed heirs to the British crown, such as the Duke of Monmouth, landing his ill-fated cause against James I in 1685.
Upon the shingled beach at Seaton, a new challenger, picks and rolls selected pebbles in his hands, as he gently tosses them into the morning breakers. This person goes by the name of Richard David, or Nibby to his friends. He is set to start in motion one of the most controversial and difficult civilian claims against an employer over direct "toxic kill" levels and radiological contamination, unprecedented, in that the main cause of the collapse in Nibby's health is claimed to be depleted uranium (DU).
In his tiny home, not far from the seafront, Nibby reflects upon the last 15 years of his life, the steady deterioration of his own health and the deaths of his former work mates, colleagues and friends. Nibby was an engineer and machinist between 1985 – 1995, working for an aerospace firm in Somerset, (UK), known world wide for producing and designing helicopters and other parts for the industry.
In the last few years he has discovered that DU was used at the worksite during the period 1966 – 1982, with possible DU oxides emanating from helicopter ballast floating around his area of operation. Nibby's own task was fine finishing metal components with a scouring pad which produced a fine, almost invisible dust, resembling talcum powder, that was inhaled in each breath or would settle upon the work place and employees' clothing. This metal, he now, accepts, was possibly uranium, combined with titanium to form a metal alloy.
Nibby's daily prescribed medication lies out in a coloured line on his dressing table, a pile of pills which includes pain killers, a steroid inhaler, medication for lowered potassium, and diuretic tablets. It was 1985 when he first noticed upper respiratory complications, although conventional doctors failed to acknowledge these health problems. Through an acupuncturist friend, he was warned that his liver was under duress. The ailment continued and in 1989, with Union representation, Nibby's employer sent him for a full medical examination - but again they found nothing. Strangely, the report of this visit was never sent on to his own general practitioner for comment.
On reflection, Nibby acknowledges that those years were filled with constant pain, plus a growing discolouration and change in his skin texture and feeling, especially in his fingers. This was another mystery area to press upon his family's mind. Nibby's body failed him in many ways and at times, his life could be termed an "existence" rather than the life of a husband, father and friend.
In 1990, a top specialist in London began a union sponsored investigation of respiratory problems. Nibby was not able to see the conclusions of this report until 1996. It did in fact show that long term bi-lateral inflammation had caused permanent scarring of his windpipe.
By that time, Nibby's health had deteriorated further, showing increased breathlessness and incapacity, with no amount of antibiotics or inhalers solving the problem. Joint pain and muscular spasms made it almost impossible for him to walk and x-rays showed that both lungs had been permanently scarred and shrunken. In the next two years, other anomalies occured, including chronic fatigue and various growing lumps upon his skull, adding further pain and distress. Heartache continued when he was eventually diagnosed with a rare kidney disorder called Gitlemans Syndrome.
Nibby reaches for another photograph, which was taken in the early 1980's of him riding a bike, his face full of colour and cheer. He then opens his hands to show himself now. For a man in his early 40's who never smoked, was a keen athlete and embraced life fully, these debilitating symptoms were - and are - a living nightmare.
The Legal Struggle
Nibby's attempts to legally challenge his employer began in 1993, when his union persuaded him to meet a lawyer - who bluntly told him that he didn't stand a chance and that there was nothing wrong with him.
Nibby has travelled through 3 legal phases of his case with the company since 1990, starting off with trying to prove a toxic environment. In 1996, he tried to acquire union legal assistance when his lung disease was confirmed but this was dropped in 1997, due to poor medical and legal advice.
Undefeated, Nibby borrowed 500 pounds to issue a high court writ himself, but even after gathering all of his evidence, no medical expert would touch his case. Fortunately, he was eventually able to find a solicitor to represent him, and an out of court settlement was reached. However, 3 weeks later, came the devastating news that the results of independent testing by the Uranium Medical Research Centre in Canada - run under the auspices of Professor Durakovic - showed undisputedly that his body was contaminated with depleted uranium.
Further testing in Berlin has shown chromosomal damage which could have only occurred through radiation exposure and - like many gulf veterans who similarly proved positive in these tests - is far more likely to double the risk of cancer.
He immediately set about putting in a legal bid but, by this time, any chance of legal aid had been phased out for personal injury claims and his lawyers, after initial support, suggested that he would not be able to substantiate his charges, as his previous employer would defend all allegations, "scaring any solicitor into submission."
Before this episode, Nibby was never aware that he was working with uranium based metals, and certainly no one was ever told or given any safety and protective information. It is certainly the end of an "illusion" that DU is only a military concern and now points to the stark reality that this pernicious substance is present and a danger to the general public.
Although Nibby is trying to secure an outcome that will make his life easier, (he is presently unable to secure any benefits, and his wife is working all hours to make ends meet) he feels that this case is not about just him any more, but about all the victims, both civilians and veterans, who have been contaminated by DU.
He looks at the pictures of his work mates, most of whom are now dead or dying of lung cancer or heart problems, in their 40's and 50's. Even his managing director died of throat cancer, directly after retirement. He believes that - like himself - this work-force was exposed to radioactive and poisonous substances.
Having been a county councillor for some years, Nibby had access to various environmental health reports, and began to research the subject of depleted uranium contamination, on his own. In the last few years, Nibby has now established close contacts with many specialists and scientists who support and confirm that Nibby was indeed in contact with radiological substances. Like many others, he finds that his case is not unique and that many unsuspecting victims like him have been contaminated.
He quotes two examples: firstly in Britain, the many scrap metal industry workers who were not aware that they were handling metal contaminated with radioactive DU, and secondly, after the El Al plane – with a still unknown cargo - crashed in Amsterdam in 1992, over 800 families and many clean-up workers have reported similar symptoms to those of veterans and other civilian war victims. Hundreds of kilograms of DU counterweights in the plane burned in the crash, contaminating the neighbourhood with deadly uranium oxide smoke.
Nibby's constant condemnation of the aerospace industry, which still uses this heavy metal, has also opened the discussion as to how much uranium based metals are being used generally within civilian life. In the US, some advocates of recycling DU have hinted that such metals could be used in everyday house-hold products, with DU reportedly having been used, some years ago, in the dental industry and within the building industry. In the UK, this concern is already being realised by some union representatives - who wish not to be named -claiming that these metals have already proliferated into a vast array of various products, such as flywheels and clutches with, again, very few employees aware of the danger.
At the recent World Uranium Weapons Conference in Hamburg, Nibby spoke passionately of the need to expose this cover-up of the effects of uranium metals, be it in the workplace or on the battlefield, and that there is a concerted effort by the manufacturers, government and military to hide the facts from an ever-worried public.
It is evident that the nuclear industry, with its waste problems, is increasingly looking towards finding an outlet, be it overtly or covertly, and is able, if need be, to conceal the source and composition of the materials being used, even if they are of radioactive origin.
Nibby's position is just the tip of the iceberg and although he has had some union support, officials are still silent - possibly worried about the outcome and loss of jobs - if it is ever discovered that these metals are being constantly worked upon with no safety or health prevention measures put in place.
Can the international trade union and anti-globalisation movement be intransigent, if so many workers and an unsuspecting public are at risk from the proliferation of this toxic metal ?
Science says no amount of exposure to radiation is too small to cause damage. In the case of DU, which is an alpha emitter and so does its damage once it is ingested and inside the body, then the findings and case studies from Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Iraq, where DU and uranium weapons were used, fully illustrate that the long term prognosis is very bleak, indeed.
Use of depleted uranium in weapons is illegal, according to the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, beginning with its pronouncements in Resolutions in 1996 and 1997 and then, in reports prepared at its request, submitted and accepted in 1997, 2002 and 2003. In particular, the 2002 and 2003 reports (U.N. Docs. E/CN.4/Sub.2/2002/38 and E/CN.4/Sub.2/2003/35 prepared by Chief Justice Yueng Sik Yuen, Supreme Court, Mauritius) clearly indicate that weapons with depleted uranium are necessarily indiscriminate (weapons of indiscriminate effect, or WIE) and cause superfluous and unnecessary suffering. This makes their use incompatible with existing rules of armed combat.
It is highly regrettable that neither the United States nor Britain fully acknowledges the lethality of DU weapons, although studies made in the U.S., years ago, attest to awareness of it.
There are increasing calls for a moratorium on the use of DU weapons, due to their inherent illegality - but no matter, if DU is vaporized in the heat of weapons or when metal is drilled or sanded in a factory, the physical effects are the same. Those exposed, due to ruthless use of DU weapons in war or from factories making use of it, have a right to full disclosure, the highest standard of medical care and, of course, compensation.
Back on Seaton beach, Nibby catches his breath but manages to smile optimistically. Staring out to sea, he knows that the next few months will be trying and tiring but already, people are beginning to work, both locally and internationally, to support his cause and to spread information about the use of DU and other radioactive weapons/substances. This time, when David goes to meet Goliath, there will be a large crowd behind him, each hoping to throw a stone that will break this deadly charade and finally expose the truth about this metal.
For those who want to support this campaign or raise funds for the Nibby David DU Support Fund, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Davey Garland is co-ordinator of the Pandora DU Research Project and is working with an alliance of other anti-DU/nuclear groups, environmentalists, trade-unionists and veterans for a moratorium on all radioactive weapons. For more details contact: email@example.com and visit: http://www.pandoraproject.org .