Brucellosis case closed laboratory

 

A unit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development's regional veterinary laboratory at Athlone, Co Westmeath, has been closed for several months because a worker contracted brucellosis.

The Health and Safety Authority has ordered that the post-mortem room, where samples from animals from all over the west of Ireland are examined, remain shut until remedial works are carried out at the facility.

The problem began earlier this year at the laboratory when a worker became ill. The facility at the laboratory, which had been closed down during the foot-and-mouth crisis, has not reopened since then, even though work is continuing in other parts of the building.

The post-mortem room, which is understood to be the most modern of its kind in these islands, had been upgraded four years ago when Westmeath County Council formally complained that the operations at the laboratory breached the Air Pollution Act.

A Department of Agriculture spokesman said yesterday that problems had been found with the ventilation system at the post-mortem room at the laboratory, which is near Coosan.

"Like all the other regional laboratories, in Cork, Kilkenny, Sligo and Limerick, the facility was closed down during the foot-and mouth crisis and it was discovered there was a problem with ventilation and air emissions," the spokesman said.

The matter was referred to the Office of Public Works, which is responsible for providing the building, and plans were put in place for remedial work.

However, he said, for various reasons the work had not yet been completed by the builders and the facility had remained closed.

"The unit cannot be reopened until certification has been obtained from the Health and Safety Authority, and it will remain closed until it is passed by that body," he said.

The rest of the complex was working as normal, and there was no disruption of the service as other laboratories in Sligo, Limerick and Cork were handling the work normally carried out in Athlone.

Both private veterinary surgeons and Department veterinary services use the laboratory and bring samples of diseased animals or animals which have died mysteriously for examination.

A spokeswoman for the Health and Safety Authority confirmed last night that it was involved in the investigations.