05 January 2006

Death by asbestos


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Today the Andersonstown News launches a campaign to have the plug pulled on the controversial asbestos dump which has been given the go-ahead in the centre of our community

Read inside the heart-breaking story of local man, Michael Mc Cann, whose dad, Joe, suffered a painful death from asbestos-related disease.

As West Belfast begins the battle against an asbestos site being set up at the heart of the community, the son of local man, Joe McCann, who died from exposure to asbestos, speaks about his passionate objections to the controversial plans

by Francesca Ryan

As the bitter battle intensifies between the Planning Service and those opposing plans for an asbestos storage facility in the Kennedy Way Industrial estate put forward by Grove Services Group, we spoke to one man who knows only too well the damaging effects asbestos contamination can have on health.
Michael McCann's father, Joe, died in 1998 from mesothelioma, a deadly tumour of the membrane which surrounds the lungs – caused almost exclusively from breathing in asbestos fibres.

Speaking to the Andersonstown News this week, Michael explained the horrific nature of the disease that fast took its toll on his father and related his fears regarding plans to place an asbestos storage facility in the West of the city.

“My father was diagnosed in April of 1998 and died that September," said Michael.

“He had mesothelioma, one of the most severe forms of asbestos poisoning, he originally went into hospital with fluid in the lungs but the doctors kept him in as his health quickly deteriorated."

Highlighting the gravity of the disease, Michael recalled the moment they knew there was no hope of recovery for his father.

“Before we found out what the illness was exactly, my father asked the doctors if it was cancer. The doctor told him that if it was cancer, he would've been allowed out of hospital to go about his business, that really shocked us."

The incurable disease rapidly compromised Joe's lifelong good health as his family witnessed a sharp deterioration in the otherwise fit 75-year-old.
“My father prided himself in his health. He didn't drink or smoke and walked up to six miles every day. To see him in the latter stages of his life was just horrifying, there is no other word for it."

Despite his intense dislike of being in the hospital, the severity of Joe's condition meant he could not manage at home and was confined to a hospital bed for the last few weeks of his life.

“It was just horrendous for us to watch him die – a strong healthy man, and six months later he was dead from this horrific illness.

“Towards the end he couldn't walk, he couldn't talk and he couldn't breathe, he had to wear breathing apparatus.

“The only way I can describe it is like watching someone drowning without the water, it was distressing for all of us and utterly horrifying."

Joe McCann worked in the Falls Baths for over 45 years. Before the building's demolition in 2003 an asbestos sampling survey was carried out and asbestos was found in the basement and the boiler room.

“Obviously the Falls Baths was where by father had been contaminated with asbestos. 30 and 40 years ago asbestos was used everywhere in building, but back then we didn't know the dangers. Those in the medical field did, your average person didn't, but we do now, which is why I find these plans for a storage site in West Belfast unbelievable.

“All it takes is for one microscopic fibre to become lodged in your lung, it can lie dormant for 30 years before it manifests itself but it will lead to a terrible death.

“I am not an expert in the subject but I know what my family went through and it was a horrible experience."

Michael went on to ask why such a dangerous substance was being stored in the centre of a huge residential area like West Belfast.

“Can these people give us a cast-iron guarantee that there will be no spillages, no leakages, that not one microscopic fibre can escape from this storage facility?

“It is one thing to carry out security checks, but can they guarantee it?
“I wonder how these people would feel about an asbestos facility being placed next door to their own homes.

“This site is surrounded by huge housing estates and runs parallel to a motorway which we are hearing is used by 65,000 people every day. Where is the sense in using this location?"

Last month the Andersonstown News revealed that, according to documents from the Department of Regional Development, a safety inspection carried out by Grove Services Group noted that there is a high risk to residents living near the asbestos dump breathing in cancer-causing asbestos fibres and a risk of asbestos escaping from bags transporting the deadly substance.

Sinn Féin's Paul Maskey, who is heading the fight against the plans, told the Andersonstown News he will be stepping up the campaign next week.
“Residents of the greater West Belfast area are against these plans, they are backed by Belfast City Council yet the Planning Service are granting permission despite the health and safety implications.

“The health of thousands of people living in West Belfast will be put at risk when this asbestos dump opens but we are determined to fight it at every step.

“We are taking the petition to local shopping centres next week, there will be a meeting of the Management Board, comprising members of the Council and the Planning Service, in the near future where we will hopefully see this irresponsible decision reversed."

Journalist:: Francesca Ryan

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