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Asbestos exposure on building sites led to men’s deaths

THE families of two Donegal men have been told they died of exposure to asbestos while working on building sites in England decades ago.

Charles Cunnea of Doonalt in Glencolmcille passed away in April this year after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, an extremely rare form of cancer linked directly to asbestos.

Charles Quinn of Meencally in Donegal Town died a month later of the same disease.

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An inquest into their deaths heard that the only link between the men was that in their younger years they worked in the construction industry in the UK.

A report published last month revealed how the death toll from asbestos exposure is reaching crisis levels in Britain, decades after the widespread industrial use of the carcinogen between the 1950s and 70s. Thousands of families have begun legal proceedings over what has been described as a “failure by industry and government” to properly protect workers. According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, there were 2,523 deaths in 2017 from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the organs caused almost exclusively by the inhalation of asbestos fibres.

Charles Cunnea worked in England during the 1960s and 1970s, primarily in construction and tunnelling. He returned home in the early 1970s to help look after his family.

His son, Terence, told the inquest that on his return to Donegal his father found work in a local hotel and drove a school bus. In his later years Mr Cunnea developed mesothelioma in his lungs which led to his death in Donegal Hospice at the age of 78.

Charles Quinn’s circumstances were almost a mirror of Mr Cunnea’s although his exposure to asbestos was much later.

In a High Court deposition taken shortly before his death he said he worked on building sites in England between 1990 and 1995. He laboured on a site that had been bought up by a hotel group.

There were 200 men working on the refurbishment project which Mr Quinn described as a “dirty and dusty” environment.

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Recalling one particular day, Mr Quinn said in his testimony, “One day I saw a man wearing what I can only describe as a space suit. I did not see where they were or why. But I do recall seeing pipe work lagged with asbestos.”

Charles Quinn died in April at the age of 67.

Outlining his findings, coroner Dr Denis McCauley ruled that both men died of an industrial disease as a result of exposure to asbestos.

The ruling paves the way for both families to pursue legal action over the deaths of their loved ones. Thousands of bids for compensation have been lodged following a Court of Appeal ruling last year which put an end to a technical defence used by defendants and insurance companies to defeat claims for compensation by mesothelioma sufferers and their families.

Claims cannot be pursued however without an official cause of death ruling from a coroner’s court.

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