It has been reported by TheJournal.ie that more than 300 members of the Irish Defence Forces were exposed to asbestos during a peacekeeping mission in East Timor. The affected soldiers were first informed of the asbestos exposure almost ten years later.

A letter sent to troops in January 2011 by military officials, revealed that buildings used by military personnel in East Timor had been built using asbestos.

These buildings were damaged in the civilian unrest that took place between 1999 and 2002.

The letter, which has been seen by TheJournal.ie, concludes that due to the damage of the buildings, asbestos fibres would have been released and that “serving personnel could have been exposed to asbestos fibres”.

If asbestos fibres are inhaled over long periods of time, scarring of the lungs and cancer could occur as a result. Asbestos was commonly used in buildings until it was banned over 20 years ago.

Once reported to the United Nations peacekeeping mission and the Department of Health in East Timor, other troops that served in East Timor became aware of similar exposures.

Troops could have been exposed to the dangerous asbestos dust fibres whilst sleeping in disused buildings or cleaning up debris.

A spokesperson for the Defence Forces has reinforced that “All members of the Defence Forces undergo a medical examination annually which includes all the procedures for the screening for possible risks of exposure to asbestos.”

This announcement comes just a few weeks after dozens of civilian and military personnel were exposed to asbestos on an Irish navy ship.

The workers of the navy ship are now seeking legal advice after they were not told about the potential dangers of asbestos and no risk assessment was carried out.