State facing compensation actions over toxic mould in the workplace

Monday November 29th 2004
THE State is facing its first compensation claims from public servants who claim their health has been damaged as a result of being exposed to toxic mould while working in State-owned buildings.

Two compensation cases have been lodged with the State Claims Agency from workers who say they have suffered personal injury due to the toxic mould.

Exposure to certain types of fungi, known as toxic mould, can lead to a serious allergic reaction, secreting chemicals called mycotoxins which can find their way into the body, entering through the nose, mouth and skin.

The chemicals are capable of lodging in the digestive tract, lungs and even the brain.

They have been known to trigger asthma attacks, sickness, and in extreme cases - particularly in infants - death.

Health and safety experts said certain types of mould, particularly those that produce mycotoxins, can lead to health problems by breaking down the immune system.

Symptoms can present as a runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion, and asthma-type problems, or respiratory infections.

Hot and and humid climates provide the best conditions to encourage mould to grow.

Although such a climate would not be present in Ireland, cold winter weather had led to greater efforts in making old buildings, in particular, more airtight.

Mould has been described as the "monster in the closet" which thrives on the lack of ventilation.

Similar compensation cases in the United States and Canada have led to big payouts to victims whose conditions were linked to the state of the building.

The cases here have now prompted the State Claims Agency - as part of its risk management programme - to commission a survey of a number of Government-owned buildings located countrywide, to find out if they have toxic mould.

The buildings selected were of varying age and building types.

The report, it is understood, did not reveal "any prevalent toxic mould problem".

However, the State Claims Agency is now in discussions with the Office of Public Works to ensure that the necessary systems are in place to allow for the identification and removal of toxic mould where it is discovered.

The State Claims Agency is to provide guidelines to the Office of Public Works and State authorities early in the New Year, based on the report's findings.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that in the last five years around 55m has been spent on an asbestos management programme in schools.

The money has been spent on remedial works including extensive reinstatement works, following the removal of asbestos materials.

An estimated 2,700 schools have so far been surveyed and works identified as necessary have either been completed, are in hand or are scheduled over the coming months.

The remaining 1,300 will be surveyed during next year and arrangements for the management of any materials identified will be put in hand as soon as possible, a spokesman said.

Eilish O'Regan
Health Correspondent

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