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June 23, 2018

Asbestos all-clear for Naval Service ships as LÉ Orla readies for high seas

Work on removing potentially lethal asbestos on the Naval Service ship LÉ Orla has been completed, although it will be a few weeks before she becomes fully operational again.

When back on patrol, it will mean that the Naval Service is back to its full complement of eight ships as the LÉ Ciara was also dry-docked for several months while asbestos was removed from it.

A specialist contractor was employed to remove the substance and send it for disposal to Germany.

While the cost of the operation hasn’t been disclosed by the Department of Defence, industry experts say it is likely to top €1m.

Both ships were put out of commission on May 28 last year when significant amounts of asbestos was found onboard. The clean-up operation was overseen by the Health and Safety Authority.

The Naval Service said it has completed a fleet-wide asbestos review and can now confirm a clean bill of health for all vessels.

In 2000, the Department of Defence commissioned consultants to examine all the fleet and reported there was no asbestos onboard any vessels.

The company which carried out that examination has since ceased to exist, meaning that the taxpayer will have to foot the bill for the clean-ups.

In the 1980s, asbestos was widely used in the ship-building industry, especially in engine rooms to insulate pipes and boilers. At the time, it was considered the best and most cost-effective insulating material and was also fire-resistant.

A total of 116 Naval Service personnel and civilian workers are understood to have come in contact with asbestos onboard the ships or at the Naval Service’s headquarters on Haulbowline Island, Cobh.

They have been medically examined and have been promised regular screening in the years to come, as it can take up to 40 years for the symptoms to manifest.

In the meantime, Naval Service sources say they’re hopeful that the latest addition to the fleet, LÉ James Joyce, will arrive at their Haulbowline headquarters in Cork harbour around St Patrick’s Day.

However, this will depend on there being no hiccups during her sea trials.

The €50m vessel is being built at a shipyard in Appledore, Devon, by the same company which supplied the LÉ Samuel Beckett, which became operational last year.

The LÉ James Joyce will replace the LÉ Aoife, which is in the process of being decommissioned and is set to be sold off through auction.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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Asbestos all-clear for Naval Service ships as LÉ Orla readies for high seas

Senator wades in to asbestos row at psych hospital

A senator who worked at psychiatric hospital which is at the centre of an asbestos row says that HSE plans to remove the material while patients are still in situ is simply not an option.

Senator John Gilroy knows St Stephen’s Hospital better than most, having worked as a psychiatric nurse there for 20 years before being elected to the Seanad in 2011.

He has waded into the controversy after psychiatric nurses staged a protest outside the hospital to highlight their “grave concerns” about plans to remove asbestos from a ward while the patients continue to be housed there.

Mr Gilroy said he couldn’t understand why the HSE couldn’t wait to do the job when the ward is closed for a major refurbishment in three weeks’ time.

The HSE maintains that the work can be undertaken with the 13 male patients in situ because experts say the removal of the asbestos is classified as “very low risk”.

The asbestos is contained in the floor of the ward and the HSE said works areas will be partitioned off.

The HSE also said that the partitions will be sealed off preventing any air pollutants leaving the works area.

However, Mr Gilroy said, regardless of this, the noise alone will be extremely disruptive to patients and staff.

“If they are removing asbestos from the floor they’ll probably have to use kango hammers. If this was happening at Cork University Hospital, I’m sure the patients wouldn’t be left in the ward,” he said.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) says it could move all the patients into a unit less than 50 metres away.

The hospital originally opened in 1955 to deal with tuberculosis cases. With developments in treatment for TB the need for beds in the hospital declined and so it became a psychiatric hospital.

“Back then dangers of asbestos weren’t realised. In its intact form there’s no risk, but when it’s broken up the dust presents the problem. There should be an asbestos audit and risk assessment of all the buildings in the hospital,” he said.

The senator said he remembered a few years ago that asbestos had to be removed from another ward at the hospital and the patients were transferred to another building until the work was complete.

The builders were supposed to move in last Monday, but didn’t arrive on site. It was the same day the PNA held its protest.

It’s understood the PNA is considering what further steps it might take to protect the health and safety of patients and staff.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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Senator wades in to asbestos row at psych hospital