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Court hears man claims he contracted brucellosis while working as plumber in meat plants

A MAN contracted brucellosis while working as a plumber in meat rendering plants, it has been claimed in the High Court.

Matthew Ryan (67), Bianconi Drive, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, is suing his employer and a number of meat plants after he was diagnosed in 2006 as having the disease.

He suffered weight loss, fever, fatigue and significant pain in his left knee after he contracted the disease, it is claimed. While he has received treatment for it, it remains dormant within his system and can recur at any time, the court heard.

Brucellosis can be contracted in a number of ways but he says he got it from having to work in close proximity with dead carcasses and from breathing in the fumes given off by them.

He is suing his former employers, industrial engineers E. Buttimer and Co, of Cahir in Co Tipperary, National By-Products Ltd, operators of a rendering plant in Clonmel which closed in 2003, and Anglo Irish Beef Processors, operators of two plants in Cahir and Waterford.

He claims they failed, among other matters, to provide him with a safe place of work or with information and training in relation to working at the meat plants. He claims he had to work near grinding machines covered in grease and ground animal parts and which constantly gave off fumes.

The defendants deny the claim and plead contributory negligence.

Opening the case today, John O'Donnell SC, for Mr Ryan, said his client was employed as a plumber with Buttimers between 1986 and 2009 and was sent to the meat plants to carry out work on matters like ducting, conveyer belts and hoppers.

It was while working in the Clonmel and Cahir Plans between 2000 and 2001 and in the Waterford plant in 2005 that he contracted the disease, counsel said.

While there was no dispute that he had contracted the disease, there was an issue as to where he got it, counsel said.

Other possible sources are from working on a farm, from drinking unpasteurised milk or from contact with another person already infected.

However, Mr O'Donnell said, none of these applied in Mr Ryan's case and it has long been recognised that meat rendering plants are a breeding ground for brucellosis.

His client would say he got no training or warnings as to the dangers from either his employer or the plants. He was not supplied with safety equipment such as a face mask.

While he had suffered from a number of pre-existing complaints, including gout, before being diagnosed with brucellosis, it was their case that this (gout) in fact masked the disease, counsel said.

A pain in his knee, which was the site of the disease, became so bad in 2006 that he would tell the court that if he sometimes felt that if he "had a hatchet he would have hacked his own leg off," counsel said.

The hearing continues before Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill.