Wednesday 13 December 2017

EPA conference: State spends tens of millions to clean up contaminated sites

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

THE head of the country's environment watchdog has warned the State has been forced to spend "tens of millions of euro" to clean-up contaminated sites after the owners went out of business.

Director General of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Laura Burke, said that clearing-up sites and preventing further damage would be a "major focus" for the agency over the coming years.

Speaking at the EPA's annual conference in Dublin, Ms Burke said the economic downturn had "increased the risk" of companies going into liquidation.

Ms Burke said:  "There have been a number of high-profile cases in Ireland where the State has had to intervene to manage abandoned facilities such as mines, with significant environmental liabilities, and costing tens of millions of euro.

"There are other cases where licensed facilities have ceased or gone into liquidation or receivership.  The current economic climate has increased the risk of such occurrences."

It is understood that in some cases, cash bonds or finances needed to clean-up sites were not available or receivers were resisting releasing them to the agency.

The EPA is involved in a number of legal cases around the issue.

Guidelines have been recently issued on assessing and setting out the costs of making sites safe.

“Proper environmental liability management makes both good environmental and good business sense, minimising environmental impacts and representing forward financial planning for businesses,” Ms Burke added.

"Ireland has a tremendous natural assets in our environment.  We cannot take it for granted and it is under threat.  Protecting what we have will take resources."

Separately, Ms Burke said that while the economic recession had brought “profound hardship” for people, it did provide an opportunity to “break the unsustainable cycle” of production and consumption.

“Resource efficiency has become one of the top environmental priorities,” she said.  “Our use of finite resources across Europe increased by 300pc between 1998 and 2011.  That was, and is, unsustainable. 

“We need to produce products that are reusable and recyclable and we all need to engage in more sustainable behaviours.”

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