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Specalist asbestos removal company workers at one of the asbestos waste dumps in Kilkee last year. Photograph by John Kelly

Couple face 20 years of health checks

A Kilkee couple will require medical screening for the next 20 years, following the discovery of potentially dangerous brown asbestos near their home, at one of the nine unauthorised dump sites in West Clare.

Former Kilkee town councillor, PJ Linnane, has confirmed  that one of the country’s top lung specialists, Dr Joe Commiskey, has recommended testing for him and his wife for at least two decades.

The retired councillor, who hasn’t allowed his grandchildren to visit his house since June 2013 amid fears of contamination from a landfill site near the decommissioned Lislanaghan reservoir, also believes his neighbours will also need to be screened. His home is just off the Kilkee to Doonbeg road, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way route.

Clare County Council has confirmed it has commissioned an “external independent investigation” into the circumstances surrounding the depositing of asbestos-cement materials at a number of sites throughout West Clare. The Clare Champion understands this could involve a former county manager and county engineer from different counties.

The removal of the material is being conducted in three separate phases, the council explained.

“Phase one, which is being done in accordance with the advice of a specialist asbestos removal consultant, involves the removal of pieces of broken asbestos pipe on the surface at all sites. This work, which commenced last week and will take approximately three weeks, is being done in accordance with method statements notified to the HSA and informed to the EPA. Phase two involves the appointment of a specialist asbestos consultant to develop and carry out soil-testing on the sites, to establish the extent of asbestos material which is buried at the sites. We are in the process of procuring that consultant.

“Phase three will involve the removal of any asbestos material at any of the sites which is buried. The timeline for phase two and three is not known in detail, as yet, because it is subject to estimating the amount of material in each site. The costs associated with carrying out these works are, as yet, undetermined and will be guided by the outcome of the site investigations to take place in phase two,” the council outlined in a statement.

When interviewed, Mr Linnane said Dr Commiskey, who is a specialist in respiratory and lung cancer, described brown asbestos as potentially lethal and said he and his wife had to be screened.

The Health Service Executive has confirmed people who have been exposed to asbestos for a long period of time can develop problems, including asbestosis and cancers of the lung.

There is usually a long interval between exposure to asbestos and the development of these conditions.
Mr Linnane said Clare County Council, who started the removal work last week, is considering whether they will need to get any of their staff screened. He claimed some local authority staff removed some asbestos material without protective clothing last August.

Uncertainty surrounds the issue of who will cover the cost of properly disposing of asbestos-cement materials from six unauthorised sites in Kilkee and three in Kilrush.

In a statement, issued on March 5, the council said, “It is considered that all of this material originated on Clare County Council water services mains replacement and mains repair work. The material appears to have been deposited of behalf of the council, over a number of years, up to June 2013.”

The authority said the figure for a clean-up cost couldn’t be determined at that stage because the works “are as yet undetermined”.
While the council still insists the final costs of the clean up are undetermined, Mr Linnane’s engineer, Michael Flynn, estimates it could be as high as €3.37 million, depending on the overall extent of soil contamination. His figure  is based on an estimated total tonnage of 7,502 from the nine West Clare sites. Rilta Environmental provided a quoted rate of between €450 and €500 per tonne, excluding VAT.

Mr Flynn has stressed this figure might decrease or increase following intensive site survey and soil-testing.
According to a HSE information sheet on the removal of asbestos cement pipes in West Clare, air monitoring conducted by a firm of independent consultants, engaged by the council, showed there was no asbestos in the air samples.

Describing this as “very reassuring”, the HSE stated there should be no or minimal increased risk to the public living or working near the sites, as the specialist contractors will take appropriate measures when clearing the site.

Mr Linnane has called for the establishment of a statutory independent inquiry, amid claims there are three more sites in the Shannon area and one in South-East Clare.

He believes  the issue is no longer a West Clare problem; it is a “county and national issue”, as the practice seems to be prevalent in other counties.
According to Mr Linnane, the council has identified two more asbestos dumps in the Shannon area and is seeking his assistance to establish the exact location of a third site.

The Clare Champion has also learned that a large amount of asbestos has also been dumped illegally on private land, without any local authority involvement, between Cratloe and Sixmilebridge.

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Dan Danaher

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