Royal Dutch Shell has a company policy stating they are committed to ensuring safe working conditions at their sites for all who they employ, including contractors. “[My story] shows that words on a policy document are not always enforceable,” Keith MacDonald said.
In 2000, while working in Syria MacDonald was exposed for a couple of hours to 6,336 counts per second of beta radiation from naturally occurring radioactive materials (“NORM”). Years later, this exposure would be the cause of illness and heartbreak. Not only has MacDonald himself suffered illness but in 2010 his 14-month-old son, Scott was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Although the leukaemia was successfully treated with chemotherapy, in 2013 five-year-old Scott had a relapse and died. At first, MacDonald didn’t connect his son’s illness to his radiation exposure. But while he was researching the effects of radiation, he happened on information that would plague him with guilt. He discovered that radiation exposure can cause mutation of reproductive cells which in turn can manifest in children conceived post-exposure:
“If one or both parents have been subjected to high doses of radiation this can ultimately affect the blood chemistry of the cells. The cells mutate and it’ll affect the reproductive cells that give him conception. And I stopped and started thinking ‘I’ve killed my own son. My DNA has transmitted damaged cells to him’, unbeknown to us.”
MacDonald wants justice, not only for himself but to avoid others suffering a similar fate:
“I want to get some sort of justice … punish the company for being so reckless. Shell has a pretty lousy track record for safety … If we can stop it from happening to somebody else…stop another family from having to go through what I’ve gone through … Let’s expose the people who destroy lives before profits.”
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How Has Shell Responded?
In 2017, MacDonald contacted John Donovan, describing what had happened. Donovan is a co-founder of Royal Dutch Shell Plc.com, a website that publishes news and information on Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
Donovan attempted to engage with Shell inviting them to investigate MacDonald’s case and respond accordingly:
I have written twice to Shell CEO Ben van Beurden (“BvB”) explaining the background circumstances of a serious work incident which led to dire medical consequences that have gradually emerged over a period of time from radioactive contamination exposure.
I supplied Mr. Van Beurden with a copy of the email I received from Keith MacDonald in which he eloquently sets out what happened to him and his family.
I mentioned to BvB the recent coverage of Shell’s claimed ethical code and significant charitable donations to good causes. I supplied an email address for Keith so that BvB could, if he felt the least bit of compassion or interest, instruct a colleague to contact Keith direct to establish the facts. Neither Keith nor I have heard anything from Shell.
Apparently, Shell is more interested in PR opportunities for supporting prominent good causes than in the health of a former Shell worker whose life has been ruined by Shell.
Although Keith has supplied me with photographs of the medical consequences to his body, I have not passed them on to Shell, or published them, because they are too disturbing.
I have published documentation confirming Keith MacDonald as being the subject of a hazard identification report. Shell has seen the documentation and has not disputed authenticity.
I also gave Shell the opportunity to comment on this article. Again, complete indifference. No response to the tragic chain of events that befell Keith and his family as a consequence of his work and work instructions given to him by Shell.
Shameful situation.Shell worker victim of flagrant HSE breaches resulting in radioactive contamination, John Donovan, 15 December 2017
MacDonald recently informed The Exposé that Shell still refuses to even discuss the possibility of the harms he has suffered while in their employ.
The above serves merely as an introduction to Macdonald’s now 22-year struggle for accountability and its implications. In 2020, Justin Nobel wrote an in-depth article uncovering the oil industry’s radioactive secret which covered MacDonald’s story in detail:
“The story of how MacDonald got here is a tale of adventure and tragedy fit for a Hollywood thriller, only it is real. Even with many unknowns, MacDonald’s case unearths a shocking part of the world’s most powerful industry that somehow has remained hidden for generations,” Nobel wrote.
We feel Nobel’s article is important and so we will share it in a subsequent series of shorter articles. It is important not only for MacDonald and his family but for others who work in the oil and gas industry and may be suffering harm from radiation exposure, or potentially could suffer harm in the future.
“The industry is terrified to expose any of this knowledge because there are too many people with billions and billions of dollars invested, [MacDonald said]. At the end of the day, I want to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is not an isolated incident, and there are other people being exposed,” Nobel wrote.
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