Town in shadow of toxic dump has 40pc higher cancer rate
Published 19/12/2011 | 05:00
A TOWN living in the shadow of the country's largest toxic waste dump has a cancer rate 40pc higher than the average.
The latest figures from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) -- obtained by the Irish Independent -- reveal that Cobh in Cork harbour continues to have an incidence of the disease 40pc higher than the national average and 35pc higher than that of the rest of Cork.
The latest NCRI data also revealed that the entire Cork harbour area has a cancer detection rate 10pc above the national average.
It is now estimated that 500,000 tonnes of hazardous waste -- including the known carcinogen Chromium 6 as well as heavy metals -- are in the Haulbowline dump.
Cobh directly overlooks the Haulbowline island site of the former Irish Steel/Irish Ispat plant. The town has repeatedly been refused a baseline health study to determine if its high cancer rates could be linked to historic emissions from Ireland's only steel plant and the toxic waste dump it left behind.
The Government has insisted that the dump does not pose a public health risk.
However, the latest NCRI figures make for stark reading for Cobh residents. They show:
• A prostate cancer rate 71pc above the national average.
• A female breast cancer rate 38pc above the rest of Ireland.
• A colorectal cancer rate 42pc above the national average.
• Blood/lymphatic cancers 24pc above the norm.
• A lung cancer rate 19pc above Ireland's average.
The figures for the total Cork harbour area -- including Cobh, Monkstown and Passage West -- showed similarly above-average figures.
These included all invasive cancers (10pc), colorectal cancers (9pc), lung cancer (4pc), female breast cancer (8pc), prostate cancer (11pc) and blood/lymphatic cancers (14pc).
The NCRI data compiled for 1994-2008 also reveal a dramatic shift in cancer detection patterns in Cobh since the Irish Steel/Irish Ispat site shutdown in 2001. The rate of lung cancer detections has more than halved in the past decade.
Lung cancer detections represented 14.1pc of all Cobh (urban) cancer cases detected in 1994-2000, the final years of steel-making.
However, the latest figures seen by the Irish Independent reveal that the rate dropped to just 6.6pc for 2001-2008 -- a period when the steel plant was not in operation.
Cork Harbour for a Safe Environment (CHASE) also said the baseline health study was clearly necessary.
More than 40 years of dumping from the steel plant dramatically increased the size of Haulbowline island -- leaving behind Ireland's worst toxic waste headache.
A clean-up operation has been signalled by Marine Minister Simon Coveney although some fear the final cost could hit €300m.
A spokesman for Lakshmi Mittal -- the Indian billionaire who bought Irish Steel for £1 and then closed it five years later with the loss of 400 jobs -- did not respond to queries about a baseline health study or a goodwill payment toward the Haulbowline clean-up.
Mr Mittal was not pursued for any contribution to the clean-up by a previous government on legal advice.