Sunday 26 May 2019

Residents alarmed over toxic dump at former steel mills

Gormley denies claims of ‘capping’ cover up

Ralph Riegel

Worried residents living near a huge toxic waste dump have rejected claims by Environment Minister John Gormley there is no risk to their health.

People living near Haulbowline, Co Cork, reacted with horror and alarm yesterday after it was disclosed almost 500,000 tonnes of waste are buried at the former Irish Steel/Ispat site.

The waste includes some of the world's deadliest carcinogens such as Chromium 6, the poison familiar to millions because of the work of US campaigner Erin Brokovich.

It was alleged yesterday that officials wanted to store the waste in 'capped' underground lagoons.

Issue

Mr Gormley denied claims yesterday that there was any attempted "cover up" of the Haulbowline toxic waste issue.

"Those allegations are completely false. We were acting to the highest environment standards -- I am assured there is absolutely no risk to the public," he said.

The minister claimed he could not comment further on the nature of the waste -- or the intended disposal options -- until further consultations with Cork Co Council.

"(But) I want to assure people that there is a cohesive, detailed plan in place to protect the Cork harbour environment," he said.

Mr Gormley confirmed that an environmental assessment is currently under way -- and said that the sub-contractor had, in fact, undertaken unauthorised works at the site and that these had generated the original waste concerns.

However, the site sub-contractor, Louis J O'Regan Ltd, was adamant his firm were instructed to 'cap' the toxic waste into underground lagoons rather than remove it for overseas disposal.

The firm also flatly denied having conducted unauthorised works -- and said the department had paid them to remove surface material and cap what remained.

A company spokesman claimed that, at one point, its machinery was actually sinking in the sub-tidal waste material.

Yesterday, Cork harbour residents, environmental groups and even trade unions, expressed horror at the scale of the Haulbowline waste claims.

One Rushbrooke resident, Pa Keeffe, said locals were always worried about precisely what kind of waste remained on Haulbowline island after five decades of steel manufacturing.

"But this is worse that anyone could have dreamed. How are people expected to live normal lives here knowing that the island is covered with those kind of poisons," he said.

The Naval Service -- which shares Haulbowline Island with the former steel plant -- is also monitoring the toxic waste issue with alarm.

Navy union, PDFORRA, said that its members at the Haulbowline base would logically be those most at risk from the kind of dangerous materials at the centre of the clean-up.

The Mayor of Cobh, Cllr John Mulvihill (Lab), warned that the waste on Haulbowline Island now represents "a ticking time bomb for the health of everyone in Cork harbour".

Pressure was last night mounting on the Department of the Environment, the EPA and Cork Co Council to clarify precisely the quantity and nature of waste at the former steel mill.

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