The Irish Examiner reports that the Department of
the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has been accused
of a 'cover-up' concerning the extent of highly hazardous
waste buried at what has been described as potentially 'the
largest and most extensive pollution incident in the history
of the State'.
Documents seen by the Irish Examiner indicate that
the Department told a sub-contracting firm involved in a clean-up
operation at the controversial Irish Steel site at Haulbowline
Island near Cork to 'cap' lagoons containing hazardous
waste, rather than remove the potentially deadly material
- estimated at about 500,000 tonnes.
The documents also reveal that the waste includes highly
toxic substances such as Chromium 6 - the second most
dangerous carcinogen - as well as hydrocarbons and other oil
and metal byproducts. The cost of the operation at Haulbowline
to-date also suggests a full clean-up of the site could cost
up to €300 million.
The chemical, also known as hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)),
causes cancer and is the same material against which US activist
and film heroine, Erin Brockovich campaigned.
An official investigation - the findings of which have been
seen by the Irish Examiner - has already found that
the waste material is 'likely' to be a 'severe'
health risk to people locally - such as the residents of Cobh
and navy personnel based nearby - mainly because of toxic
dust getting carried by the wind. It also represents a huge
risk to flora and fauna.
A health and safety company, which was sub-contracted to
clean up the site last October, said in its initial submission
that it would remove any hazardous waste from the site 'for
disposal' - with the agreement of local representatives
from the Department.
However, a letter sent to the contractors by the Department
on April 18 last told them - 'It is the considered view
of the Department, following consultations with the Environmental
Protection Agency and Cork County Council, that the required
course of action will be to cap the lagoon with inert slag
material (or other such suitable available material), pending
a detailed risk assessment of the entire site'.
This recommendation came despite the fact that an investigation
and assessment was carried out six years ago on behalf of
the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.
The sub-contractors stated that they had already removed
100,000 tonnes of hazardous waste from the site - at a cost
of €50m - and shipped it to Germany for disposal. The German
company involved in processing the waste has already written
to the contractors expressing concern about the level of Chromium
6 contained in the material.
According to sub-contractors - Louis J O’Regan Ltd
- the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
owes them €20m for the removal of hazardous waste and has
terminated their contract. The company says that health and
safety legislation obliges them to complete the removal of
“They told us to bury the waste and we didn’t” - said a representative
from Louis J O’Regan Ltd. “Under health and safety regulations,
we can’t hand back the site until it is all done.”
Environmental consultant, Stephen Griffin - engaged by the
contractors to oversee the project - told the Irish Examiner
that information on the hazardous waste has been with the
Department since 2001 and that the contractors “were refused
access to this”. The extent of the problem was only realised
when clean-up work started. Mr Griffin accused the EPA, Cork
County Council and the Department of a “a cover-up”.
To cap the waste - with further waste - rather than remove
it, he said, would - “go against every environmental principle
that has ever been written, apart from Irish law and European
law and health and safety law”.
However, the Department said in a statement that the sub-contractors
had carried out “unauthorised works” following the discovery
of the pit of hazardous waste. It accused the sub-contractors
of refusing to vacate the site and continuing to operate -
“without authorisation and in a piecemeal fashion - causing
a threat to the environment by its actions” - and described
accusations of a cover-up as “entirely false”.
Environment Minister John Gormley insisted that he remained
committed to transforming the site from an environmental liability
into an asset for the region. “My officials are finalising
a report on the site, which will outline options for its future
and which I hope to bring to government in the autumn. Work
has been ongoing for the last five years to properly assess
the site, so that an informed decision on its future can be
He added - “In relation to the recent issues regarding sub-contractors
on the site, the Department - acting on best expert advice
of the EPA - ordered the unauthorised work to stop, as there
were serious concerns that the work being carried out in such
a piecemeal fashion posed a significant environmental risk.”
According to the Friends of the Irish Environment
(FIE), who accused Cork County Council of a “cover-up”, the
council refused to release 19 out of 20 records on the issue.
FIE described the contamination as “the largest and most extensive
pollution incident in the history of the State”. Cork County
Council said it was a matter for the Department.
A residents group in Cork - the Cork Harbour Alliance
for a Safe Environment - has said that it has no faith
in Minister Gormley or the EPA to properly address the situation.
Source - The Irish Examiner