An inquest into the death of a former Bord na Mona employee, who died from an asbestos-related cancer, heard claims today the deceased was exposed to asbestos while working at one of the company’s briquette factories over 50 years ago.
Jim O’Dwyer, 80, was diagnosed with an asbestos-related tumour last August.
The father of six died last October, three days after presenting at Milford Hospice, Limerick, for pain management associated with his illness.
Mr O’Dwyer, from Shannon, Co Clare, was employed as an electrical maintenance worker at Bord na Mona’s briquette factory at Derrinlough, Co Offaly, from 1960-1965.
His family claimed during the inquest hearing at Limerick Coroner’s Court that he was exposed to asbestos at the Offaly plant and that he was also exposed to asbestos while working in the UK around the same time.
Mr O’Dwyer’s son-in-law, Noel Monahan, claimed during the inquest hearing that the deceased told him he had been exposed to asbestos while “mixing the asbestos by hand and forming it into lagging pipes”.
The deceased started showing symptoms 30 years later, his family said.
The results of Mr O’Dwyer’s post mortem showed he died from Mesothelioma, an “aggressive form of cancer”, which the inquest heard is specifically associated with asbestos exposure.
Limerick City Corner, John McNamara, said: “Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer, and it is a marker for asbestos exposure. It is a dormant killer that manifests itself many years later.”
Mr McNamara asked during the hearing whether or not others who worked at the Offaly plant could potentially have been exposed to asbestos.
A tumour, discovered on Mr O’Dwyer’s right lung, caused his death, his post mortem concluded.
Dr Gabor Laskai, a consultant pathologist at University Hospital Limerick, and who carried out the autopsy, stated in his findings: “The type of plural fibrotic changes strongly support asbestos etiology of the tumour. In my opinion, the cause of death was the malignant tumour.”
The jury’s findings were that death was “due to occupational hazard” involving asbestos.
As a “rider” linked to its verdict, the jury foreman called on the coroner to contact Bord na Mona to investigate if there were any present potential asbestos-related safety matters at the plant.
“Nobody knows whether it is or it isn't - on the basis of our confirmation of the verdict, they should be contacted, purely to find out,’ the foreman said. "There’s an answer needed here.”
Mr McNamara said the jury’s verdict of “occupational related death” was an “appropriate one”.
“The findings are in accordance with the medical evidence that James died as a result of exposure to asbestos. I will contact Bord na Mona in Co. Offaly, advising them of James’s case, and the fact it was felt he was exposed to asbestos while he worked in their plant,” Mr McNamara said.
“I will ask them to confirm, if they haven’t already, that they have commenced an investigation to confirm there is no further risk to members of the public or employees of Bord na Mona at their plant in Co Offaly.”
“I’m assuming at this stage that any asbestos-related issue has been removed from the factory...because it is over 50 years ago,” Mr McNamara added.
Mr O’Dwyer’s daughter Dee told the inquest her family had concerns that others who were previously employed at the Derringlough plant may potentially have been exposed to asbestos, “and that maybe their families might not be aware”.
Mr McNamara responded: “It’s important that this is brought to the employer's attention. It very well may be the case - and I hope it is the case - that they have removed the asbestos from their factory environs at this stage. It’ll do no harm to notify them anyway,” Mr McNamara said.
Paying tribute to their father afterwards, Mr O’Dwyer’s children described him as a skilled tradesman and “gifted with his hands”.
“He was a gentleman, quiet, and he could fix anything. He was even fixing windows at his house on the day he went to Milford Hospice, three days before he died,” they added.
Bord na Mona has been contacted for a response.