The State is currently dealing with 12 claims from people who say they were exposed to asbestos in publicly-owned properties, the State Claims Agency has confirmed.
Since the agency was established 10 years ago it has paid out €217,000 in settlements to two plaintiffs for asbestos-related claims.
It has also concluded approximately 520 asbestos “worried well” claims, the vast majority of which were discontinued or struck out.
The worried well claims refer to individuals who have not suffered any physical injury from asbestos exposure, but say they suffered worry and anxiety as a result of being exposed to asbestos in State-owned buildings. The vast majority of cases were taken by State employees.
Asbestos was widely used in the building industry for years for insulation and fire protection and in products such as cement roof sheets and ceiling and floor tiles. However, in the 1980s it became linked with illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal lining.
Asbestos becomes dangerous when its fibres are released into the air so its removal can trigger health fears.
Asked about the outcome of the “worried well” claims, the State Claims Agency said 84 per cent of claims had been discontinued or struck out. “A substantial sum of money, in respect of the State’s costs in these worried well actions, has been recovered and refunded to the State,” a State Claims Agency spokeswoman said.
She said the State had recovered “a six-figure sum” in these cases. “These claimants did not lose their cases, they discontinued them and this action made them liable for the State’s costs.”
The spokeswoman said the State Claims Agency had entered into confidentiality agreements with many plaintiffs so it was precluded from commenting further.
Of the concluded claims, a further 13 per cent were statute barred, ie, they had exceeded the time limit allowed for taking the case, while 2.5 per cent of cases were dismissed. She said the 12 ongoing cases were at various pre-litigation and litigation stages.
The Office of Public Works, which maintains State-owned buildings, began a major asbestos removal programme in 1999.
In one of its busiest years, 2007, it spent €42.5 million on asbestos removal and reinstatement works in schools, Garda stations, Government offices and other public buildings.