Family of factory worker who died from asbestos illness say others may be unaware of health risks


21 January 2022

The family of a retired factory worker who died from an illness caused by exposure to asbestos has expressed concern that other employees at a former tyre factory in Dublin may be unaware of the risk to their own health.

Elizabeth Sullivan told an inquest into the death of her father, Patrick Byrne, that she hoped there could be some form of inquiry to establish if other people who worked at the former Semperit tyre factory in Ballyfermot may also have been exposed to asbestos.

Dublin Coroner’s Court returned a verdict of death due to occupational-related disease as Mr Byrne (85) of St James Road, Walkinstown had died from malignant mesothelioma – a form of cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibres which affect the lungs and heart.

The Semperit tyre factory on Killeen Road, Ballyfermot was in operation before its closure in December 1996 with the loss of 650 jobs.

The inquest heard Mr Byrne, who was a non-smoker, joined Semperit in 1974 and worked there for 20 years until his retirement.

Ms Sullivan told the Dublin Coroner’s Court that she was concerned that other former Semperit staff might not be aware of mesothelioma and how it could affect them.

She told coroner, Dr Clare Keane, that her father had experienced “a strange stabbing, severe” pain in his chest for about a year before his death on March 19, 2020.

Ms Sullivan said her father had only started working in the Semperit factory in his 40s, while many staff had worked there even longer and could be facing similar health problems now.

“My father was in great, unusual pain. It was very difficult to understand and if other men are facing that I would like that they could be helped,” said Ms Sullivan.

She added: “I really believe there must be an awful lot of people out there that are suffering the way my father suffered without knowing why they are suffering. And to me that’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed.”

The inquest heard Mr Byrne had been referred by his GP for an urgent chest X-ray in Tallaght Hospital in February 2020 after which he was confirmed as having malignant mesothelioma.

In written evidence, Professor Stephen Lane, a consultant respiratory and general physician at Tallaght Hospital, said Mr Byrne had a significant exposure to asbestos in the past.

The inquest heard Mr Byrne was not deemed suitable for chemotherapy as the risk of treatment outweighed any marginal potential benefits.

In response to a query from Mr Byrne’s family about holding an inquiry into asbestos-related illness at the Semperit plant, Dr Keane said the coroner’s office had previously been in contact with the Health and Safety Authority as a result of asbestos-related deaths.

Dr Keane said the HSA had confirmed it was active in raising public awareness about mesothelioma, particularly among targeted workers in the construction and demolition industry who were most at riskfrom inadvertent exposure to asbestos as well as the owners of buildings built before 2000 which were more likely to contain the material.

She said the HSA agreed with a previous recommendation of the Dublin Coroner’s Court that further sources of information and support to individuals who may have been exposed to asbestos in their previous occupations would be beneficial but the HSA believed it was a matter for the Department of Health and HSE to consider.

Offering condolences to Mr Byrne’s family on his death from a “difficult and aggressive form of cancer”, Dr Keane said she would raise the issue with the HSA again.

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