A serious asbestos problem is causing a major health threat in a new study in Ireland, the country’s health minister has said.
The study is the first to show a link between the asbestos-filled insulation on a new building and a range of health problems, including heart attacks and lung cancer.
The Health Service Executive has previously said that more than 2,000 deaths and 2,300 hospital admissions are linked to asbestos exposure in Ireland.
The new research, by Dr Pauline Murphy, shows a direct link between asbestos and the development of the heart disease and lung disease in more than 500 people in rural areas of the country.
The data is based on a long-term study of about 7,000 people in Ireland and has been published in the peer-reviewed journal of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
The heart and lung damage are linked in a study with nearly 1,000 men and women who lived in rural Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s.
“This study provides important information on the possible health consequences of the use of asbestos insulation,” Dr Murphy said.
“The study also highlights the need for further research into the possible effect of the building material on human health.”
The study was conducted in the rural areas in County Kerry where there is a major risk of asbestos exposure from the construction industry.
In this rural area, where there are about 1,400 homes, about half of the people are found to have been exposed to asbestos insulation in the last 30 years.
In a further area, nearly half of residents in the same area had been exposed in the past 30 years, with more than one-quarter of those living in areas with a high level of asbestos in the ground.
“Our study shows that the prevalence of asbestos is increasing and this is associated with increased risks of heart and respiratory disease,” Dr Murphy said.
It is important to remember that the study did not identify which type of asbestos was causing the heart and breathing problems, but that it did find that the types found in asbestos insulation were linked to increased risks.
“We are now beginning to look at the effects of this in terms of heart disease, lung cancer, and mortality,” she said.
In an email to The Irish Sun, Dr Murphy’s office said the results of the study were consistent with previous studies, which have also linked asbestos to heart disease.
“These findings do not mean that asbestos is safe,” it said.
“It does not mean we should be putting any asbestos-containing material in our homes.”
“But they show that we should continue to consider the potential for asbestos to cause health problems in a rural population.”
The research was conducted between 2001 and 2013 by the Irish Research Foundation and the Irish Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.
The Institute said that it was also concerned by the findings of the research and its implications for future research.
“There are no known links between asbestos insulation and the incidence of cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart disease or other chronic health problems,” the institute said.
Dr Murphy said that the research showed that the number of heart attacks, strokes, lung diseases, lung infections and other conditions were increasing in rural communities.
“It is clear that the heart is a very vulnerable organ to asbestos, and that this is something that we need to be aware of as we design new homes,” she told The Irish Star.
“A new house that is built in a highly asbestos-constructed building, in a low-quality building, or in an asbestos-contaminated area could have a much greater impact on the health of its occupants.”