21 August 2008

What's the delay with the new "Haulbowline site report"? - Coveney

Simon Coveney TD (FG)
20 August 2008

Fine Gael's Spokesman on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Simon Coveney TD, Cork South Central, today (Wednesday) called on the Minister for the Environment to publicly clarify what he and his Department are doing to reassure people in Cork Harbour about the hazardous waste at the Haulbowline former Irish steel site.

"The problems at the Haulbowline site haven't gone away. The hazardous and toxic waste that remains in the site is still of real concern to people living and working in the Cork harbour area. While political pressure on this issue for Minister Gormley abated in recent weeks, due to his promise of a new site evaluation and reports on air and water quality, people are now impatient for results. The new report was promised in early July and was due to be completed within a month. Yet we've heard no evidence from the Minister to reassure people that the site poses no continuing threat to public health.

"The Minister promised two things, to reassure people following the public outcry after a series of concerns were expressed about the danger to public health and the marine eco-system posed by toxic waste at the site. He said he would undertake a rapid and comprehensive new assessment of the site and he promised a public health audit for the surrounding area. He continues to say that there is no risk to public health, but people simply don't believe him in the absence of hard evidence. All of the previous assessments and reports on the site point to a real and significant risk.

"The Minister needs to update local residents and local public representatives on the progress being made in evaluating the site and on the health audit. Either he can prove that no risk exists or we all need to face up to the reality of the dangers and clean the site up as soon as possible.

"The Irish Steel site is unique in that it is the only former steel manufacturing site in Ireland and therefore it needs to be dealt with as a once-off large scale clean-up project. I am convinced, based on past reports, that this site does pose risks to health and the environment and that the only solution to this expensive problem is the complete removal of all hazardous material from the site. I will be happy to be proven wrong by an up-to-date site assessment, but I doubt that will be the case".


01 August 2008

Indaver ‘a step nearer to building incinerators’

By Sean O’Riordan
Irish Examiner 1 August 2008

WASTE processor Indaver claims yesterday’s Supreme Court decision has brought it a step closer to building two incinerators in Cork harbour. Following the ruling, the company said it is hopeful it could clear a High Court challenge by objectors and have the toxic and municipal waste incinerators, worth €150 million, operational in Ringaskiddy by 2013.

About 30,000 objectors, led by Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (CHASE), are taking a High Court challenge on the decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant Indaver planning permission.

However, CHASE sought to have the High Court case adjourned, because the European Court is investigating if Ireland has failed to implement strict EU laws on environmental impact assessments. CHASE claims Indaver has failed under these laws to submit a proper health and environmental assessment for the project. The Supreme Court decided yesterday not to grant the adjournment.

“Indaver welcomes the decision as we want it to proceed through the system. We’re now one step nearer. We plan to build both of the incinerators together,” said a company spokeswoman. She said the company was hopeful the CHASE High Court challenge would be overcome, as had a similar objection to an Indaver’s project for an incinerator in Meath, building of which is to start later this month. “Much of the arguments [to be put forward by CHASE] will be similar. We are hopeful that the Meath decision has set a precedent,” she said.

However, CHASE chairwoman Mary O’Leary remains defiant. “I would not presume to pre-empt a High Court judge’s decision. We don’t need a municipal waste incinerator as Cork County Council will have ample capacity at its Bottlehill landfill for the next 20 to 30 years.”

Indaver wants the toxic waste incinerator to handle up to 100,000 tonnes of hazardous waste per annum.

“That is way over capacity and it could lead to the importation of hazardous waste,” she added. “The toxic waste uncovered on Haulbowline has proved a wake- up call for Cork harbour, and has underlined a situation where the relevant authorities have failed to protect the community and the environment,” said Ms O’Leary.


29 July 2008

Irish Steel consultants fail to check toxicity

Irish Examiner 29/7/08

CONSULTANTS charged with assessing the level of contamination at the former Irish Steel plant in Cork Harbour have not sought a report on the extent of hazardous toxins shipped from the site to Germany.

This emerged yesterday at a Cork County Council meeting when Councillor Tim Lombard (FG) said he was horrified to discover this oversight when he questioned the consultants. The Irish Government was alerted to the potential hazard a couple of years ago, when German authorities who tested the exported waste found it highly toxic. "I was most alarmed when I found this out. The consultants said they hadn't asked for a full breakdown of the German report and agreed it was a good idea to do it. It's absolutely farcical," Mr Lombard said.

Meanwhile, calls were made on Minister for the Environment John Gormley to resign amid claims that he was failing to come clean about the true level of contamination. Labour's Cllr John Mulvihill said he was disgusted that the Green Party minister had refused to meet a delegation of politicians on a visit to Dublin last week. Instead the delegation met with consultants who are monitoring the Haulbowline slag heaps, which were found to contain the highly carcinogenic chromium 6.

There was some surprise when Fianna Fáil's Cllr Deirdre Forde said Minister Gormley should consider his position, especially as FF county councillors aren't known to criticise members of their junior coalition partners so openly.

"If people in Dublin think this is going to be brushed under carpet they haven't banked on Mulvihill," the Labour councillor added.

Cllr Kevin O'Keeffe (FF) found widespread support when he asked the council to write to Minister Gormley seeking a meeting.

Mr Mulvihill asked county manager, Martin Riordan, to provide a report on what tests, if any, had been done on some of the recycled slag taken from the site and used for building roads. Mr Riordan promised to provide him with a report. He said the recycled slag was used as chip on roads from 2000-2002. "We had no reason to believe there was any cause for concern," Mr Riordan said.


28 July 2008

Moustache forever? O'Dea answers your questions

By Paul O'Brien, Political Correspondent
Irish Examiner 28/7/08

THE need to "tighten the belt" because of the economic squeeze should not mean cutting anybody's wages - politicians included, Defence Minister Willie O'Dea has said.

In the first of a new series in which Irish Examiner readers get to quiz members of the Cabinet, Mr O'Dea answers questions on a wide range of issues today - from the Lisbon Treaty to The Simpsons television show.

... Elsewhere, Mr O'Dea says there are no indications that the toxic waste at the former Irish Ispat/Steel plant in Haulbowline, Co Cork, poses a threat to those working on the naval base which is in close proximity.

When demolition of the steelworks at the plant commenced in 2005, dust-monitoring equipment was installed.

"The data collected to date does not suggest that activities on the steelworks site have had a significant impact on the environment or might pose a threat to the Naval Services at Haulbowline," Mr O'Dea says.

As a precaution, the Department of Defence has hired consultants to carry out soil and air analysis across the naval base.

... What health concerns from toxic emissions would you, as Minister for Defence, have in respect of Indaver's proposed site for a toxic and municipal incinerator being so close to our Navy in Haulbowline, Co Cork, and at the entrance to the new National Maritime College, bearing in mind that the prevailing winds are mostly from the south-west?

M BOWEN, Glenville, Co Cork

The proposed waste management facility at Rinagskiddy has been the subject of a most vigorous examination by both Cork County Council and An Bord Pleanála in terms of the planning process and the Environmental Protection Agency in relation to the application for a waste licence. An Bord Pleanála attached 27 stringent conditions to its planning permission. I am satisfied that the various agencies involved in consider- ing this project have had due regard to the likely impact of the facility on the locality and that all concerns have been addressed.

Both the decision of An Bord Pleanála and the waste licence are the subject of judicial review by the High Court, so I cannot really comment any further.

Can you give assurances that the toxic waste buried on the old Irish Steel/Ispat site on Haulbowline poses no threat to the navy?

D McCARTHY, Bishopstown, Cork city

The health and safety of all Defence Force personnel and employees is of primary concern to me. There is currently no indication that the situation at the former Ispat site represents any risk to the health of Naval Service personnel or civilian employees at the naval base.

When demolition of the steelworks at Haulbowline commenced in the summer of 2005, it was agreed by all interested parties that dust monitoring equipment be installed on the naval base. The monitoring equipment selected and installed in two locations on the base includes Bergerhoff dust deposition gauges, to record total dust fall-out on a monthly basis, and PM-10 monitors to record the respirable fraction of fine dust in real time. In layman's terms, this means that dust-generating events on the steelworks site can be identified and controlled as they happen.

The data collected to date does not suggest that activities on the steelworks site have had a significant impact on the environment or might pose a threat to the Naval Services at Haulbowline.

Purely as a precautionary measure - following the excavations on the East Tip - we have engaged environmental consultants RPS Group plc. They will carry out sampling and conduct soil and air analysis across the naval base checking for heavy metals and other species. This investigation has already commenced. It is expected to be completed by the end of August.

Full article

21 July 2008

Workers 'should blow the whistle'

By Ralph Riegel
The Independent 21/7/08

FORMER Irish Steel workers have been urged to provide whatever information they can about toxic materials on Haulbowline Island amid concerns that a "code of secrecy" surrounds goings-on at the steel mill over the past 50 years.

Now, former Irish Steel/Irish Ispat workers have been asked to supply whatever information they can -- on an anonymous basis if required -- to assist in the full site assessment of the Cork island. The call from environmental groups came as one former Irish Steel worker described as "frightening" the quantity and nature of material disposed of at the site over the course of five decades.

Environmental groups now want specific information to be passed on the Department of the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about precisely what was disposed on Haulbowline Island and where it was dumped.

However, one former Irish Steel worker admitted that former staff have been reluctant to comment on precisely what happened at the mill for a number of reasons. The man -- who asked to be unnamed -- said that Haulbowline Island was the focus of so much toxic material that it ranked as "a mini-Chernobyl".

"You have to remember that fears about the future of the Irish Steel jobs were first raised more than 20 years ago. People were worried that if they made waves about what was going on, it might cost everyone their jobs," he said.


17 July 2008

Council to release documentation on Haulbowline

Cork Independent 17/7/08

CORK County Council is to release documentation relating to the former Irish Ispat site at Haulbowline Island to seriously concerned councillors, writes Mary O'Keeffe.

Cllr John Mulvihill put forward a motion at this week's meeting of Cork County Council requesting that all documentation the Council had in their possession relating to the site be released, amid rising concerns about the possible health implications of the facility for people working on the site and living in the lower harbour area,

According to Cllt Mulvihill, everyone in the harbour area is very concerned about the recent revelations about the Ispat site and of the failure to clean up the area immediately. He described how an agreement had been made as far back as 1996 to build a retaining wall around the East tip of the site to ensure that the contaminants were not washed into the sea, and how 12 years later this had still not happened.

The angered councillor strongly criticised the government's failure to cleab up the site and said that this must be expedited immediately. "We have a major, major problem in Cork harbour at the moment," he said, adding "we (Corporate Policy Group) requested a meeting with the Minister, Cobh Town Council requested a meeting with the Miniater and the Minister said he'd be down in the autumn and he might meet then. This is not good enough, I want the Green Minister Gormley to come down now."

His sentiment was echoed by councillors across all parties who held the same concerns about the site. Sinn Féin Cllr Martin Hallinan said, "The dogs on the streets of Cobh were aware that something was not right in Haulbowline for many years. By not coming down, Mr Gormley is giving us, the elected representatives, the two fingers" while Fianna Fáil's Cllr Alan Coleman said that it would (sic) common sense and political sense for the Minister to meet with a cross party delegation from Cork.

The County Manager agreed to circulate any documentation about the site to councillors after Cllr Mulvihill's motion was passed. He confirmed to councillors that hazardous waste sent from the site had bee transported by boat to two ports in germany and that material from the site had been used in road repairs in 2000, 2001 and 2002 but, said he believed that this wasn't a cause for concern.

Source: Cork Independent, 17 July 2008

14 July 2008

State sold Haulbowline steel plant on the basis it was not polluted

The Irish Times 14/7/08

In 1995 the FG-Labour coalition gave buyer Ispat an assurance that the site complied with environmental laws, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor

THE FINE Gael-Labour government of 1995 gave the buyers of Irish Steel an undertaking that there was no pollution on site.

The Irish Steel plant on Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour was sold by the State to Ispat in 1995 on the basis that it complied with environmental laws - even though the then government had been alerted to a build-up of dangerous wastes.

An investigation of the plant's landfill site, carried out for Irish Steel by engineers KT Cullen in 1995, found samples showing high concentrations of copper, chromium, cadmium, lead and zinc, up to 17 times acceptable levels. The investigation also found "elevated levels of metals" in harbour sediments adjacent to the landfill. Under a 1981 planning permission granted to Irish Steel, there were no controls on the material being landfilled or on containing leachate from the tip.

It is clear from documentation seen by The Irish Times that the main priority at the time Irish Steel was sold to Ispat for the nominal sum of £1 was to preserve 300 jobs at the plant for at least five years. The sale agreement, signed by then minister for finance Ruairí Quinn TD (Labour) and minister for enterprise and employment Richard Bruton TD (Fine Gael), specified that Ispat would face penalties of £10,000 per job in any year if the number of jobs fell below 300.

A clause in the agreement included a statement that, so far as the minister for finance was aware, Irish Steel "has at all times complied with the terms and conditions attaching to any environmental licences in the conduct of its business . . . the company has not produced, handled, stored, transported or otherwise treated or dealt with in any manner whatsoever on the property any substance, other than in accordance with environmental law and any applicable environmental licence".

Nevertheless, the coalition made a "capital contribution" of £2.36 million for environmental works to be carried out by Ispat, including the installation of a metal recovery plant and the construction of a retaining wall around the tip. This sea wall was never built; of the £2.3 million given to Ispat, it is estimated that only £600,000 was actually invested in environmental works.

Building the wall was one of the conditions of an integrated pollution control (IPC) licence in 2001.

Although Irish Ispat was known to be polluting the environment, it was not one of the industries to be scheduled for IPC licensing by the Environmental Protection Agency as a priority. It was not until 1999 - three years after taking over - that the company had to seek a licence.

Apart from requiring the construction of this retaining wall around the landfill, the licence specified reduced emissions of dust, dioxins and furans from the furnace, as well as "fugitive emissions" from slag handling on site.

It laid down that metal sludge then being deposited on the landfill would have to be "sent off site and disposed/recovered by an agreed hazardous waste contractor". This also applied to other hazardous wastes arising on site.

Irish Ispat decided to close down before the licence was issued, owing creditors €36.9 million. It was owned by Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, who according to the Sunday Times Rich List, is worth £27.7 billion (€34.7 billion). The High Court found in July 2004 that the conditions attached to the IPC licence, granted in June 2001, were "onerous", particularly the requirement to build the sea wall at an estimated cost of £25 million.

The court case arose from an action by government ministers seeking to make Irish Ispat (then in voluntary liquidation) responsible for a clean-up. The State side issued a summons against the firm and Ispat International on May 21st, 2003, claiming damages for nuisance, negligence, breach of statutory duty, breach of contract and allowing escape of "deleterious matter".

Geraldine Tallon, now secretary general of the Department of the Environment, said in an affidavit there was "serious environmental pollution at the site in Haulbowline as a result of holding, recovering or disposing of waste by the respondents [Irish Ispat]".

The State was seeking to require Ispat to dispose of radioactive scrap and sources, demolish contaminated buildings, rectify the site's polluted drainage system and remediate the landfill site, including the removal of PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) "hot spots".

But liquidator Ray Jackson argued that steel-making had been carried on for more than 60 years and it would be unfair if creditors had to bear the clean-up cost.

Judge Mella Carroll ruled that, because the licence was granted after Ispat had ceased production, its conditions could not be applied retrospectively. She also found the pollution was a legacy of 60 years of steel-making.

In 2005, after ownership reverted to the State, the Department of the Environment commissioned consultants White Young Green to investigate the site. They concluded that there was no "immediate threat" to human health or the environment. The same consultants have been engaged by John Gormley to carry out an "independent and rigorous assessment of site conditions following extensive unauthorised works by sub-contractors of Hammond Lane Metal Company Ltd".

This assessment, which started last week, will involve analysis of soil, slag, dust, surface and ground water samples. It is known that carcinogenic chromium 6 is present.

The site will have to be remediated. No one can say how much this will cost, but it is clear taxpayers will have to pay.