Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Respiratory Tract Illnesses.

6.

asked the Minister for Health if, in view of the reported link between central heating and increased incidence of upper respiratory tract illnesses, he will take steps to provide humidifiers at State expense for all flat units in Ballymun, as a preventive health measure.

7.

asked the Minister for Health if he is aware of the unusually high incidence of infective respiratory tract illnesses in the Ballymun housing development; that this has led to considerable loss of earnings and expenditure on drugs by the people affected; and of complaints that this is attributed to the existing heating system; if he will carry out a survey to ascertain if this is so; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

8.

asked the Minister for Health if he has any information of any survey carried out abroad by any official body, including international health organisations, which indicates a link between central heating and the increased incidence of upper respiratory tract illnesses, including the common cold.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 7 and 8 together.

I am not aware that there is a link between central heating and increased incidence of upper respiratory tract illnesses. I am not aware of any survey carried out abroad by any official body which would indicate such a link nor, indeed, am I aware of an unusually high incidence of respiratory tract illnesses in the Ballymun housing development. Moreover, the chief medical officer of the Dublin Health Authority who has responsibility for the public health in the Dublin area is not aware of an increase in illness in the Ballymun flats as alleged. I do not feel called upon, therefore, to take any special action in the matter.

Regarding the Deputy's reference to considerable expenditure on drugs by the people affected I would remind him that people who are not eligible for general medical services cards may be given drugs and medicines, free of charge if, in the health authority's opinion, it would cause them undue hardship to meet the cost privately.

May I point out to the Minister——

Has the Deputy a question to put?

Is the Minister aware that the University of Zurich have carried out research on upper respiratory tract illnesses associated with central heating?

We have not seen that particular report but the engineers involved informed us that in the planning of central heating they took account of the latest British and Continental authoritative opinion in relation to the heating of high-rise buildings, and that, having regard to the general conditions of humidity in this country in ordinary times, they did not feel that any special action needed to be taken. This report from Zurich must be a very isolated one because we have no such records in our Department, although we have access to a wide variety of reports on medical research from all over the world.

If an independent survey were carried out in the Ballymun flats as distinct from Ballymun houses where they have control of central heating, and if an increase in upper respiratory tract infections in the region of 30 per cent is indicated, as reported from Zurich, would the Minister then suggest the provision of humidifiers in accordance with the recommendations of Zurich University?

I am afraid I could not possibly take the Zurich authority as applying to this country. I shall continue to rely on the advice of the chief medical officer of the Dublin Health Authority in regard to this. If he should report that in his opinion there was an increase in the incidence of respiratory tract illnesses in the Ballymun housing area, that would have to be compared with other housing schemes of one kind or another where there is central heating in order to get any proper basis for consideration.

(Cavan): Could the Minister say whether the Ballymun central heating is more or less satisfactory than the central heating in this House?

That I could not say.