By Martin Wallace
In late October 2004 a smell of oil was noticed at 11, Castle Court, Cookstown. We brought in an engineer who tested the burner, oil tank and all lines between the two and found no evidence for the smell. This seemed disappear during the spring and summer of 2005 but both of our families when visiting the house commented on a smell of oil in the air, we could not smell it ourselves but had we become tolerant to living in it all the time?
During the autumn of 2005 the smell returned stronger, on advice we contacted our insurance company Churchill Insurance, then Cookstown District Council Enviromental Heath Department and an independant loss adjuster.
Shortly afterwards, while we were still living in the property, Stephen Hollinger from AES Marconi Limited, an enviromental specialist agency, employed by Crawford & Co Loss Adjusters, did an extensive site survey of air particle pollution in our home. When this report was completed Martin & I on advice from Ruairi O’Donnelly from Crawfords Loss Adjusters and Mr. Darren Marks from Claim Solutions moved out of the property at the beginning of November 2005 as the property was deemed to be uninhabitable and extremely dangerous to human health.
Remidiation commenced on the property in early 2006, completion date was given as September 2006. Our loss adjuster Darren Marks from Claims Solutions explained that the property was fully remediated in late September 2006, but we were to remain out of the property a further six week while soil and air sampling took place. These samples were taken for three reasons: 1) to estimate how long the contamination of oil had been in the ground (this was for the purpose of insurance as our insurance company who needed to know if they were liable for the remediation costs), 2) to try and locate source and 3) to ensure that all oil had been remediated properly as to prevent this happening again and make the home a safe enviroment to live in. We found this to be a very stressful time, and were grateful for the involvement of Ms. Geraldine Doogan, who assisted us every step of the way.
We were delighted to return to our home in November 2006 ensured that everything was properly done and the home was again safe to inhabit and trusting the fact that this was the case.
In March 2007 Martin began to feel unwell with a blockage in his throat, after attending the hospital several times it was discovered that he had raised lymph glands and lymph nodes in his chest. Martins symptons included difficulty swallowing, cold night sweats, bowel discharge, energy loss leading to extreme fatigue, and a feeling of all day nausea and sickness. Three possible diagnosises were given at this time Non Hodgkins Lymphoma, TB and Sarcoidosis. On visiting Mr. Windrum @ Antrim Area Hospital Haematolgy Unit, it was suspected that Martin may have Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. Martin attended the unit to get bloods taken, weight checked and scans performed. During this time the lymph glands and nodes in Martins chest did not increase in size so while promising to monitor his condition he forwarded him to Mr. Donnelly of the Respitory Unit in Antrim Area Hospital. Martins health continued to deterioate with several infections inflicting his everyday life. While attending Mr. Donnelly, Martin also attended appointments in the Waveney Hospital in Ballymena to see Mr. Valco in the ENT unit. Also, on the referral of Mr. Donnelly, Martin attended the Gastric Unit of Antrim Area Hospital, under the consultantation of Mr. Byrne, this decision was taken as Martin was still suffering with discharge from the bowel.
Under all these consultants Martin was subjected to several biopsie procedures, these included lung, bowel (upper and lower) and lower intestines. With Martins already ill health these procedures took their toll and nothing conclusive was discovered.
Just when you think things cannot get any worse, and as Martin’s health deterioted further, the smell of oil returned to Castle Court. With a 9 month old baby to consider by then the vacation of the property was swift, AES Marconi came to the property on Friday 3rd of October 2008 and installed a extractor fan under our house. In October 2008 AES Marconi carried out another air quality assessment and to our dismay we discovered that the contamination seemed to have returned.
A site meeting was held at the house when the results of the assessment were given. Those in attendance were Mr. Colin Mc Knight from Crawford & Co, Churchill Insurance Loss Adjusters representatives in Northern Ireland, Ms. Emma Stewart from Cookstown Enviromental Health Department and a local consellor Mr. Tony Quinn. At this meeting, to our shock and disbelief when pressed Mr. Mc Knight revealed that the source of the contamination in 2005/2006 had NEVER been found. Giving the nature of the our now situation and the extent of the remediation two years previously this came as a great dissappointment to us both and our reaction was that we would not return to the property until the source of the contamination was found, I explained that “I did not care if the source was in the Sperrin Mountains they would have to find it”, to this he replied that “he agreed with me” and witnessed by all those present.
While all this was going on, a joint decision had been made by Martins hospital consultants that the only way to try and get answers to his condition was to open his chest and biopsy his lymph glands and nodes ‘this procedure was highly intrusive and dangerous but jointly they felt they had no other option as his health continued to decline and his lymph glands had now raised for the second time.
The procedure carried out in the City Hospital, Belfast under the consultation of Mr. Mc Grath, took place in November 2008. The results revealed to our delight that Martin did not have Non Hodgkins Lymphoma but had carbon dust present in his lymph glands, Mr. Mahood the consultant asked us if Martin had worked in a coal shed, a smokey bar or anything to do with enviromental toxins. None of the above could be connected, but we were back to square one as his health continued to deteriote.
Christmas 2008 saw the first of two air sampling surveys conducted at 11, Castle Court, White Young & Green (WYG) Limited, instructed by AES Marconi Limited, carried out a bubble test with aparatus set up in the living room, the kitchen, the downstairs toilet and upstair main bedroom. In the New Year these results determined the property was safe to live in.
Two months passed with no confirmed return date to the property, during which Martins health got to the point that his immune system was on the verge of collapse and he was no longer able to work. He also had a further two bowel biopsies, one in the Mid Ulster Hospital, Magherafelt and one a couple of weeks later in Antrim Area Hospital, Antrim to try and establish a reason why he was still discharging from his bowel, again nothing conclusive was found. This second procedure reaked havoc on Martin and he was admitted to hospital once more due to complications.
On the 25th April 2009, Geo Whiteford Services, under the instruction of Crawford & Co, Churchill Loss Adjusters, carried out another air sampling survey. Results were not immediately made available, only when questioned on 23rd June 2009, Crawfords revealed that the house was safe to return to. Rent had not been paid for June for our rented accommodation, although we had several confrontations with our landlord regarding late rent payments the rent always was paid, however, Crawfords thinking we had returned home at the beginning of the month refused to pay the rent for June and told us to return to our home immediately as rent for June swould not be paid, however, through consultation with Colin Mc Knight rent for June was agreed.
This, however, did not calm our fears, we felt that no matter how many air sampling tests were carried out our home was not safe without our inital concern of the source being found not dealt with. At this time we had no option but to contact Churchill Insurers directly. Our inital correspondence was greated with sympthy but we were told that we could carry out other surveys but at our own expense. On 6th July 2008, Martin contacted Rebecca Rodgers, our case consultant, threatening to expose the procedures undertaken thus far by all parties into the public domain. She expressed her concern and promised to review the case, we were then told that Questgates Limited would become the new loss adjusters acting on their behalf, and the new remediators would be RAW Consultants. How strange????
This is were the plot thickens, on extensive examination of the property oil was discovered. On speaking to Brian Doyle, of RAW Consultancy, we were astonished to learn of the extent of the contamination both in, what he called, “new oil” and “old oil”. At last, someone had listened to our plight and it was discovered that we were quite right not to move back home. What a disaster we averted.
During this procedure from July 2009 to the present date, we have found all concerned with the case i.e Rebecca Rodgers, Churchill Insurers, David Waller, Questgates Limited and Brian Doyle, RAW Consultants very professional in every way. The same however cannot be said for Nolene Mc Kenna, Crawford & Co or Colin McKnight, Crawford & Co or Enviromental Health Department, Cookstown District Council who have been obstructive and unhelpful thoughout the nine month period from October 2008 – June 2009.
Crawford & Co have been asked to supply the test results from the previous spill in 2005/2006 to aid Martins medical investigation and to help to understand the history of the property, to date, despite legal and personal intervention these results have not been forthcoming, affectively leading to Martins medical treatment being stopped in December 2009 as no diagnosis can be given without this critical information. You cannot help but wonder what have they got to hide?
Up to date now, on 25th February 2010, Rebecca Rodgers @ Churchill Insurers contacted Martin and explained that 11, Castle Court, would be available to return to as of 31st March 2010 as remediation was almost complete and that rent would not be paid to our landlord beyond this date. When Martin expressed his deep concern regarding the issue of source (which has not yet been determinded for a second time) and that returning to the property while this still was a mystery would not be considered, Ms Rodgers asked him was he going to live with relatives if we were not returning home. This is the second time this pressure has been put on us a family, with Eoin who is only 2 years old, Martin with ill heath and no solutions, how do they expect us to return home without the guarantee that this will not happen a third time, remembering that we trusted the first time, only to be moved out a second, do they really expect us to trust a second time and be moved a third time?????
On the reading this we hope that you can see that this has been a traumatic experience for us. We cannot believe, on looking back, that our home has been destroyed twice, our lives devastated twice, and now they expect us to return to the property with no guarentee that it might happen to us a third time????
We would value your opinion, put yourselves in our shoes and tell us what would you do next?
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