Asbestos-related deaths are expected to hit a record high in the next few years as the recovering economy sees an increase in building renovations and refurbishments.

Notifications to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) about asbestos finds increased from 164 in 2010 to 290 up to the middle of December this year.

Darren Arkins, a senior inspector with the HSA, said that the vast majority of notifications were coming from the private sector and were expected to rise over the coming years.

Recent high-profile discoveries of asbestos have included:

  • Leinster House, where major refurbishment works are under way;
  • A warehouse in Arklow, Co Wicklow, where a roof fire lead to local people being warned to stay indoors;
  • A quarry, also in Co Wicklow, where blasting exposed asbestos-containing rock later dispatched to building sites for use in paths and driveways.

However, Mr Arkins said small projects also presented serious risks.

“The residential side is a key concern for us. We have to up the level of awareness with homeowners,” he said.

Deaths from asbestosis, a fast-developing disease caused by exposure to high doses of asbestos, are exceptionally rare in Ireland but cases of pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung linings caused almost exclusively by inhaling tiny amounts of asbestos fibres, often decades earlier, are on the rise.

The National Cancer Registry recorded 20 cases in 2005 but that rose to 34 in 2014 and the registry expects it to leap to 68 cases per year by 2020 as workers exposed to asbestos up to the 1980s when its use ceased, finally begin showing symptoms.

There is no cure for mesothelioma which usually kills within a few years of diagnosis.