Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Asbestos in Domestic Accommodation.


asked the Minister for the Environment whether any survey has been carried out to ascertain the extent of the use of asbestos in both public and private sector housing; whether any recommendations or instructions have been issued to local authorities in respect of same; whether consideration has been given to the danger posed by asbestos in household dwellings; the instructions which are given by his Department in this regard; and the regulations, if any, which have been issued with regard to the disposal of asbestos in domestic accommodation.

An annual survey of the physical features of new private housing in Ireland is undertaken by the environmental research unit of my Department. As part of such surveys the extent of the use of asbestos cement roof tiles is measured and these details are available from the environmental research unit on request.

The hazards associated with asbestos — arising from inhalation of asbestos fibres — have received wide publicity in recent years and have been extensively dealt with in construction industry trade and technical journals. Accordingly, all involved in the construction industry would be expected to be aware of the need for care in handling asbestos, or asbestos-based materials. The most common usage of asbestos in construction is in the form of asbestos cement. Its use in this form is permissible under the proposed building regulations and is not considered to present a danger to the house occupants.

Asbestos waste is a toxic and dangerous waste for the purposes of the European Communities (Toxic and Dangerous Waste) Regulations, 1982, and the larger local authorities — county councils and county borough corporations — are responsible for all aspects of the planning, organisation and oversight of the disposal of any such waste within their functional areas. A number of hazardous wastes including asbestos are suitable for disposal by controlled landfilling. This is the internationally accepted disposal method for asbestos. Local authorities have been urged, in making waste disposal arrangements for their areas, to make provision for landfill disposal of any asbestos waste arising in their areas, including quantities arising from disused building materials.

The main disposal requirements for asbestos waste are bagging in double-walling plastic sacks and deposit at least two metres from the surface or sides of the tiphead.

Is the Minister satisfied that the general public are aware of the use to which asbestos has been put, in particular in houses built prior to the eighties? Does he consider that there is need for a public service advertising programme to alert members of the general public to the use of asbestos fibres, for example, in attic insulation, or asbestos in doors often separating garages from the main portion of the house? This is to ensure that the public are alerted to the dangers within their own households and that members of the general public who carry out what they would see as minor renovation works on their homes do not render themselves liable to the inhalation of asbestos. It is also to ensure that there is responsible dumping of such asbestos waste rather than having it find its way into the dustbin system and being collected as ordinary refuse.

I share the Deputy's concern in this matter. This is a dangerous toxic substance, I am advised now that the greatest health hazard risk from asbestos arises from regular working with the product rather than from its use as a component in building materials and that it is not now extensively used in housing. I understand that roofing tiles are possibly the only use and they are used from the aesthetic point of view.

My question concerns pre-1980 houses.

Old houses.

I understand that. We have advised local authorities in that regard. If the Deputy thinks that there is a general concern about it, I would be happy to have the guidelines further revised, or at least reissued, so that local authorities would understand that if they are dismantling buildings there is an obligation to dispose of the waste as indicated in my answer to the Deputy's question. I agree that asbestos has always been toxic.

I want to ask a final and very brief supplementary question. Would the Minister consider an effective public service advertising campaign of relatively short duration to bring to the attention of people the fact that in many pre-1980 houses asbestos is often put to uses that they may not realise and which pose a health hazard within the home to them and their children? Would the Minister not accept that whereas professionals, builders and contractors, may be aware of the hazards, the general public are unaware of the uses to which asbestos has been put in construction over the past hundred years and of the dangers that may very well lurk within homes? The Department of the Environment have an obligation with regard to the information service in this regard, which cannot be undertaken by individual local authorities.

I shall bring the Deputy's concern to the attention of the relevant section in the Department to see if there is need to have what the Deputy suggests carried out. I understand that the most common use of asbestos now — I gather that the Deputy accepts this — is asbestos cement.

I am talking about pre-1980 houses.

The Deputy is talking about usage in building materials——

Yes, in attic insulation and so on.

——in dismantling, replacement and matters like that.

I do not think that the general public realise the dangers of asbestos dust in the home. Would the Minister give attention to this?

I shall refer it to the Construction Industry Development Board to see if there is a case to be made for doing something about it, as the Deputy suggests.