EPA estimates that there is 8,000t of toxic waste on Irish farms

Farmers have helped fund the collection of 600t of hazardous waste since 2013. Now the EPA says it's time for industry leaders to chip in

Banned and highly chemicals waste still exists on Irish farms
Banned and highly chemicals waste still exists on Irish farms

Claire Mc Cormack

More than 600 tonnes of hazardous wastes have been removed from dark corners of farm yards, sheds and veterinary cabinets over the last three years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The removed waste included 275t of waste engine and hydraulic oil, 158t of batteries and waste electrical equipment, 46t of pesticides, 32t of paints, and 27t of veterinary medicines.

The toxic wastes have been voluntarily contributed by an estimated 5,000 farmers at nationwide collection points organised by the EPA, Teagasc, Department of Agriculture, local authorities, farm organisations and mart owners since 2013.

At least 26t of empty contaminated containers, 15t of oil filters, 10t of biocides, aerosols, adhesives, grease cartridges, brake fluids, creosote, sealants, oily rags and two tonnes of needles and syringes have also been dropped off.

Alan Ennis sorts through syringes to be recycled at the EPA/ ENVA hazardous waste collection in Carnew Mart, Co Wicklow. Photo: Garry O’Neill
Alan Ennis sorts through syringes to be recycled at the EPA/ ENVA hazardous waste collection in Carnew Mart, Co Wicklow. Photo: Garry O’Neill

According to the EPA, an estimated 8,000t of hazardous or potentially hazardous waste is currently stored on Irish farms, along with a further 4,600t of electronic equipment and batteries.

Last Friday, the scheme launched its latest collection drive at Carnew Mart in Wicklow - nine other centres, mostly at marts, will host collection days over the next five weeks.

Jane Brogan, EPA scientific officer, has played a crucial part in rolling out the scheme which is getting busier every year.

"It provides farmers with a solution for the difficult waste that they have sitting on their farms. They willingly come, they have everything separated and identified and they contribute to the cost of running these centres," she said.

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It costs €4/kg for all plastic and metal containers - whether contaminated or not - and €2/kg for pesticides, veterinary medicines, doses, dips, wormers, mastitus tubes, brake fluid adhesives and others. There is no charge to dispose of waste engine and electrical equipment or batteries.

However, Ms Brogan is calling on the veterinary medicines and pesticides industry to "chip in" with funding.

"The industry really should be contributing to this by providing a voluntary amount of money each year to help fund the collections. It is through the use of their products that these wastes are generated," she said.

"We would like to see that they contribute financially to a centralised fund. That money could be used to set up an organisation where they manage and run 26 farm hazardous waste collections on an annual basis," she said.

Although Ms Brogan acknowledges that there is a "legacy issue" when it comes to the disposal of hazardous wastes on farms, she says all farms generate waste every year.

On average each farmer who used the centres in 2013, 2014 and 2015 - mostly dairy and beef farmers - had 34kg of pesticides, vet medicines, paints, contaminated containers, oil filters, corrosives, needles and syringes; 57kg of waste engine and hydraulic oils; 33kg of batteries, waste electronic and electrical equipment, and 0.25kg of POPs - persistent organic pollutants like DDT, endosulfan and lindane. These are extremely toxic to both human health and the environment.

Ms Brogan said an accidental spill of a 5l container of DDT into the reservoir at Poulaphouca, Wicklow would pollute the reservoir twice over and destroy the freshwater ecosystem. The use of POPs is no longer permitted.

Mixed farmers must be particularly cautious.

"A beef farmer might have some tillage as well and they decide not to plant barley or wheat and they will have some pesticides left. That will be generated as a waste or become deregistered over time," she said.

Data from the 2016 collections will inform authorities of a longer term, nationwide solution for a farm hazardous waste collection scheme.

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