'Waste is the new drugs money,' says council environment chief
AS THE country's illegal dump crisis deepens, gardaí are examining the possibility that some of the country's missing women could be buried in a dump in Wicklow.
The first illegal dump, at Coolamadra in the scenic Glen of Imaal in Co Wicklow, was discovered at the end of October. Council investigators swiftly moved to another suspected dump just a few miles away at Whitestown and were astounded to find a 10-acre dump, professionally laid out and stuffed with hospital theatre waste. Seen from the base of the dump, the cliffs of rubbish stand 80 feet high.
But there may be a more sinister side to the dump which is situated within the triangle where a number of young women have disappeared without trace. Gardaí have checked the quarry in the past during their searches for missing women Fiona Pender and JoJo Dullard.
They found nothing then, but were probably unaware of the true extent of the 10-acre dump, described as "the size of a football stadium".
While gardaí are playing down the significance of the search of Whitestown, they have visited the site and met with council staff in a bid to ensure that any suspicious finds are immediately notified to them.
The search has been described by council officials as "looking for a needle in a haystack". But the forensic scientists painstakingly sifting through the rubbish are confident they will unearth anything buried there.
Dumping at Whitestown was a very professional job. The refuse was first shredded before being buried in layers, interspaced with alternate layers of soil. Heavy-duty machinery, believed to belong to the perpetrators, was also found on site.
Coolamadra, Whitestown and Belcamp are the major illegal dumps found so far in Counties Wicklow and Dublin. But local authorities countrywide are now frantically checking their own backyards for suspect landfills.
The Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey, yesterday told the Sunday Independent that 45 dumps have been found in Co Meath this year. So far it has just been builder's waste but he says there is no guarantee they won't find something dangerous. He warned there is a danger of similar operations adjacent to other cities.
Wicklow Co Council's Director of Environmental Services, Michael Nicholson, says "waste is the new drugs money. It's a very suitable activity for criminals any area where you have so much money to be made is going to attract criminals. The Sopranos TV series could have been set in Co Wicklow."
Putting that profit in perspective is mindblowing. A man with a 30-tonne truck full of rubbish will pay £100 per tonne to dump it in an authorised landfill a total of £3,000. But a farmer will usually accept it for around £1,000. And the same truck driver could be making three round trips a day from Dublin to the surrounding counties of Wicklow, Kildare and Meath.
Hospital waste is even more lucrative. First it has to be treated and decontaminated before being taken to landfill where it costs a massive £1,500 per tonne. So, if someone takes the waste, doesn't bother to have it treated and dumps it illegally, the profit could be as much as £44,000 per 30-tonne load. This is serious money and one of the reasons that some of the country's best-known criminals are believed to be behind the operation, controlling the truck drivers and arranging the disposal in pre-arranged sites in remote areas.
Minister Dempsey has already called in the Criminal Assets Bureau to investigate a number of individuals suspected of being involved in the illegal waste business. "We have to call a spade a space," he told the Sunday Independent. @@STYL CF,MILS "Anybody involved in this is a criminal."
Green Party MEP Nuala Ahern says she wants to see the "biological terrorists" responsible behind bars.
Minister Dempsey also told the Sunday Independent that senior council officials as well as his own office only learned recently of discoveries made at Belcamp, close to Dublin airport. "It was dealt with at a much lower level," he said.
Following his own investigation, the minister was told of the extraordinary goings-on when the M50 was being built. During the construction of N32 link road, the Northern Cross route extension, the contractors excavated five tonnes of rubbish, including a large number of suspect barrels.
Work was halted and the local authority was informed. The waste was searched and examined and found to consist of builders' rubble as well as barrels of discarded jelly. The minister said there was no hazardous waste, but the whole lot had to be removed to Balleally dump as the rubble was unstable and you can't build a motorway on jelly.
Mr Dempsey believes the M50 won't need to be dug up. But MEP Ahern says she wants to see the underlay of the motorway "assessed" for fear there is contaminated material pinned underneath and seeping into water courses. "If the ground water has been contaminated, then the M50 will have to be lifted," she says, "and we needn't look for EU money for that since we haven't implemented the waste directive."
Ms Ahern fears an extension of the type of waste uncovered on the 120-acre IDA-owned site at Belcamp which included hundreds of bottles of liquid blood. This is believed to have come from a company which made surgical equipment. Some of the bottles were crushed when the foundations for the North Fringe Sewer were being dug out, leaving horrified workers gaping at a digger bucket dripping blood. The blood had been treated with coagulant and had remained in a liquid state. The workmen involved were immediately immunised and given showers and protective clothing.
The site also yielded huge quantities of waste from North Dublin businesses, including personnel and management files from Dublin Airport. The waste was carefully reburied andis now awaiting forensic examination.
The IDA is furious. It started buying the land, planned as an industrial park, five years ago, but negotiations were completed only at the end of 2000. The IDA says the site was examined before it was bought and bore-holes were dug, but nothing suspicious was uncovered.
IDA spokesman Colin Donlon says the full 120 acres will now have to be tested and that's going to take a minimum of two to three months. He says it's pretty clear the waste contractors are the people responsible. "Rather than bothering going to the Finglas dump and paying for the waste, they used this land."
The IDA is now responsible for a multimillion-pound operation but Mr Donlon believes it may have some redress against the previous owners of the land. "If the deal we did wasn't what we got, if the owners knew and we can prove it, we want to see the full force of the law being used."
Polluters under the 1996 Waste Management Act face fines of up to £10m and prison sentences. However, investigators trying to check suspect sites are not always getting cooperation. On Friday afternoon, a team from Wicklow County Council was unable to gain access to a site near Blessington as the entrance laneway was littered with parked vehicles which those present refused to move.
While this was going on there was a queue of up to 20 lorries waiting to unload. Although this particular landfill has a permit for land reclamation, initial investigations reveal that other refuse and heavy metals were being dumped there.
The dump, close to Russborough House, was immediately closed down by council officials and the lorries had to move on.
Minister Noel Dempsey has slammed the Irish attitude to waste which, he says, is "the Paul Daniels solution making waste disappear. If it's out of sight it's out of mind."