AN objector to Irish Cement’s plans to burn animal, human and industrial waste at one of its plants broke down in tears at a hearing recalling the personal cost of fronting the campaign.
Mary Hamill of Limerick Against Pollution, who has campaigned on the issue for four and a half years, declined the offer of a break and insisted on continuing her presentation.
“I was thinking of my family,” she apologised. “The cost of fighting this battle has been great. It has left little time for anything else.”
Several objectors on the third day of the hearing expressed frustrations with the process and what they were being told.
They heard that Irish Cement could not carry out test burns to demonstrate that burning waste was safe and should be licenced, because it needed the licence before it could carry out tests.
Brian Gilmore, the company’s communications manager, said this was the opposite of regulatory procedures in other countries.
He added, however, that tests would be carried out and monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) once the licence was granted. “It’s like having a learner driver permit,” he said.
Irish Cement also told the hearing of a HIQA report on deaths from respiratory conditions in the Mid-West which was published overnight and which found no link between death rates and proximity to the cement plant.
Objectors questioned the sudden timing of the publication and expressed annoyance that they had no chance to read it.
Concerns were also voiced about the decision to hold the hearing virtually, with participants affected by lack of internet access, broadband outages, poor signals and line delays.
Irish Cement was asked for a commitment that it would not look to burn more than the 90,000 tonnes of waste annually for which it was seeking the licence, and that it would not burn residues known as ‘red mud’ from the nearby Aughinish Alumina plant.
Mr Gilmore said neither was envisaged but he stopped short of giving a lifetime commitment.
The company uses imported coal and coke to fire its Limerick kiln and says it needs to switch to ‘alternative fuels’ to cut fossil fuel use, carbon emissions and costs.
The EPA has proposed granting a licence that would allow the plant burn 63 types of waste, including animal waste, sewage sludge, landfill leachate, solvents and tyres.
It is holding the hearing before finalising the decision after 4,500 objections were lodged that raised concerns over the risk of air pollution, dioxin releases and dust escapes.
Orla Aherne of the parents council of Gaelscoil An Ráithín, one of four nearby schools and the closest one to the plant, cited World Health Organisation guidance that children were more susceptible to air pollution.
“We want the best for our children,” she said. “To put our children in danger from an unpredictable process is beyond comprehension.”
Irish Cement has put forward seven technical experts who say the proposed burning would not affect human health or the environment.
The hearing resumes on Monday.