Tallaght's unexplained asthma epidemic
In a small estate in Fettercairn, Tallaght, there are 42 houses. In 40 of them, there is at least one person suffering from bronchial or asthmatic trouble. The majority didn't have the trouble before they moved to the area.
Teresa and Carol both have kids tortured by asthma. Teresa has six children aged between five and twenty. All have it except one. They are on steroids, when ``kids that age shouldn't be having that stuff'', and they miss days out of school. ``At least once a week, they're out because of the asthma. It keeps them awake all night. They are struggling for breath. Its frightening,'' says Teresa.
A Sinn Féin survey found that in over three-quarters of households in the area, there was at least one person with bronchial trouble or asthma
``My eldest left the area for a couple of years and went to live in Carlow. The asthma stopped. When she came back, it started again.''
There is a huge increase in the incidence of asthma and general bronchial problems all over Ireland. Asthma has now become a common complaint, when two generations ago it was quite rare. The Asthma Society estimates asthma has increased by fourfold from 4% in 1983 to 17% two years ago. But the figures in Tallaght are something else.
``We went door to door,'' says Carol, ``to find out if it was bad for everyone. It was last summer, before they started the building site across the road. They found that 95% of the houses were affected. I've done everything I can to keep it down, tiles on the floors, wooden floors; I've got rid of all the carpets, the chair covers, I got them all new, washable ones. It's not everyone that can afford all that - it's a terrible expense, on top of all the medication we have to buy.
``We don't know where is it coming from. It might be Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH), which has a massive sand and gravel quarry north of the estate, but we just don't know. What is annoying us is that nobody seems to care.
``After the survey we went to the Department of the Environment. We asked them to test for the dust. They come out and put a black box, outside and then inside the house, a Geiger counter. But when we asked for the results, they wouldn't give them to us. We pestered them. We're like Rottweilers when we get going. In the end, they dropped a couple of graphs through the letterbox, but that was no use.''
Then local Sinn Féin Councillor Sean Crowe took up the issue. The party did a survey through a wider area of the south-west Dublin suburb, in Brookview, Kilmartin and Kilcarrig. The results showed that in over three-quarters of the households in the area, there was at least one person with bronchial trouble or asthma. Furthermore, the survey reported that in over a third of these homes, such respiratory problems had only developed quite recently.
Councillor Crowe took his survey to South Dublin County Council and called for an immediate investigation into the health and environmental impact of Roadstone operations in Tallaght. ``Everyone complains about the dust,'' says Teresa. ``You get up in the morning and it's everywhere. You keep the windows closed and still it comes in. They blast up at the quarry every Tuesday. We know because the house shakes, and the dust is terrible.''
Last week, South Dublin Council came back with results they claimed exonerate Roadstone. They reported that dust levels in the area are ``generally acceptable.''
``Acceptable to whom?'' asks Sean Crowe. ``In the report they had the neck to suggest that the dust must have been generated inside the houses - as if people were to blame because they didn't clean their houses properly. How dare they. It's typical of the council's attitude to people here. They said they couldn't check the houses, because of the building that's going on across the road. But we did our survey before that even began.''
``The local authority investigation is not consistent with the results that appeared in the Sinn Féin survey, which show a far higher incidence of bronchial and asthmatic problems than is the national average,'' says Sean Crowe. ``The local authority and the Department of Health have a responsibility to investigate this and to find the cause of the increased levels of respiratory disease in Tallaght. If Roadstone is not the cause of this problem, then the council must investigate and discover what is. Something has to explain why three quarters of households in this area are affected by respiratory problems.''
``But nobody really wants to know about us,'' says Carol. ``We just don't count. It's only because of Sean Crowe here that they even bothered to consider it at all.''