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.


Cork CoCo Meeting: Documentation on Haulbowline Island, Cork Harbour

Cork County Council Meeting 14 July 2008

Minutes of Proceedings at Meeting of Cork County Council held in the Council Chamber, County Hall, Cork on 14 July 2008.


Councillor N. Harrington, County Mayor presided.

Councillors K. Murphy, Neville, Coleman, Sheehan, P.G. Murphy, O'Shea, Crowley, Kelly, Fleming, Ryan, Gilroy, McGrath, Forde, Canty, M. O'Keeffe, T. Lombard, Desmond, J A. Collins, K. O'Keeffe, O'Flynn, Pyne, O'Doherty, P. Buckley, Marian Murphy, Marie Murphy, N. Buckley, Donegan, Creed, Moynihan, Coughlan, Mullally, Fitzgerald, O'Connor, Sheahan, Hegarty, Mulvihill, N. Collins, Ahern, Hallinan, Murray, O'Sullivan, Collins, McCarthy, Carroll, O'Donovan, Daly.

County Manager, A/County Engineer, Senior Executive Officer


Councillor J. Mulvihill proposed, seconded by Councillor M. Hallinan, the following notice of motion:-

"That Cork County Council would make available all documentation that the Council have in their possession in relation to former Irish Ispat site at Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour."

Members noted report from the Director of Corporate, Community & Economic Development, which outlined as follows:-

In July, 2003, Cork County Council agreed to implement proposals for the management and maintenance of the Irish Ispat Site at Haulbowline for and on behalf of the DoEHLG.

In December, 2003, a Steering Group was formed comprising of DoEHLG, EPA., DCMNR and Cork County Council.

The Steering Group met on 18 occasions in the period 2004 to 2006. The final meeting of the Steering Committee was on 27th June, 2006.

In 2004, a Contract was awarded to Hyder Consulting to act as clients representatives for arranging and assessing an Invasive Site Investigation at the site.

In June, 2005, White Young Green was retained to carry out an extensive subsurface ground investigation.

The White Young Green Report of December, 2005 was approved by the Steering Group at its meeting on 27th June, 2006.
White Young Green produced two additional reports on:
(a) Groundwater and Gas Monitoring Assessment
(b) Dust Impact Assessment.

I will arrange for these reports to be made available to Members of Council through Corporate Affairs.

At the Council's A.G.M. it was agreed to request the Minister for DoEHLG to:
(a) Clarify what arrangements were put in place by the Contractor for the transportation of all waste from the former Irish Steel Site;.
(b) Carry out a health impact study of Cork Harbour
(c) Release the findings of the Site Investigation Report of the former Ispat Site and publicise its findings.

Issues (b) and (c) have been responded to by the Minister in the Dáil.

Arrangements are being made to confirm the position regarding transfrontier shipment of waste. I can confirm that hazardous waste was transferred by ship to 2 no. Ports in Germany - Bremen and Hamburg between the period April, 2006 and May, 2008.

In addition, issues have been raised regarding the recycling of slag in road materials.

Cork County Council understands that recycled slag from the former Irish Ispat site was used as chip and was used on a number of road resurfacing projects in the County during the years 2000, 2001 and 2002. The use of recycled slag for chip is a legitimate operation and is widely used throughout Europe and the UK consequently. Cork County Council had no reason to believe that there was any cause for concern. No further use of recycled slag from the former Irish Steel site has occurred since mid 2002 following the takeover of the site by the State.

Based on the available information, Contractors engaged by Cork County Council used the chip from the recycled slag for surface dressing on a number of County Roads.

The Minister for the Environment in 2008 appointed White Young Green to carry out comprehensive testing to be completed over a 5 week period.

Arrangements will be made to have the report of White Young Green made available to Members of Council, on publication.

Councillor Mulvihill said he had a number of questions to which he was seeking answers.

* Whether agreement between Department of Finance and Irish Steel to construct a wall had been complied with;
* Have there been samples taken of the mud surrounding Haulbowline Island.
* Has the size of the Island been increased since steel construction commenced.

Councillor Mulvihill said that the people of Cobh have been let down by numerous governments and the Minister for the Environment has snubbed Cork County Council for his failure to meet with them.

The Manager said there are contractural issues which he would not comment on and said he appreciated that there is fear and anxiety and it was important not to add to that. He said up to now the report on Irish Steel was a matter for the Department but it has now been released by the Minister and he was prepared to make it available to any Member who wants it.

The Manager said in order to avoid confusion it was important that Members would put in writing what they want done.


13 July 2008

Toxic threat on Haulbowline island probed

John Mooney
The Sunday Times 13/7/08

Inspectors from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) have asked the government for copies of environmental reports which outline the type of toxic waste buried at Haulbowline island in Cork and the threat it poses

The HSA will examine whether the government and other state agencies took the necessary measures to protect council and construction workers employed to do works at the site of the former Irish Steel plant.

Scientific reports made available to the Department of the Environment have recorded the presence of toxic materials and PCBs, cancer-causing particles which are invisible to the naked eye, at Haulbowline.

It is not known whether staff employed to clean up the site used safety measures that anticipated PCB contamination or exposure to chromium, another toxic chemical found at the site.

The contractors hired to clean up the site say they were not provided with environment reports which indicated the presence of PCB toxins and other dangerous substances.

HSA inspectors visited the former steel works last week and asked council officials to erect fencing around certain areas for safety. The inspection followed complaints from residents and Stephen Griffin, an environmental consultant appointed to oversee the removal of waste from the site this year.

His contract was terminated last month, after he raised concerns of a health threat posed by toxic sludge at the site. Some 1m tonnes of toxic waste is believed to be buried on the island.


12 July 2008

Our poisoned paradise

By Nicola Anderson
The Independent 12/7/08

The view from Mary O'Leary's garden, amid the drowsy drone of bees, is as beautiful as any you will find in Ireland: a wraparound vista of Cork Harbour with its gentle inlets, isles and vivid blue seas. Even the much-maligned Spike Island, site of a proposed new prison, has a ruggedly impressive charm all of its own.

A singular blot mars this breathtaking seascape and one which local residents are finding increasingly difficult to block from their vision, given what they now know about Spike's sister island, Haulbowline, where nothing grows on the black slagheap at the easterly 'nose'.

It stands as a barren and ominous reminder of the Irish Steel plant, which operated there for over 60 years as the home of Ireland's heaviest industrial activity and which locals who worked there remember as a 'Dante's Inferno'.

The residue from the steelworks is so toxic that some experts say it will take €350 million to clean up the site known as the East Tip. And the horrible irony for the neighbours of Haulbowline is that the same week their story caused a national outcry, the government outlined its most stringent cutbacks for two decades. The figure needed to clean up the island is almost identical to the €360 million Brian Cowen has announced will be slashed from "non-front-line programme expenditure".

Cobh is a town of strange contradictions. With its lofty, though scruffy, Victorian facades, legendary Titanic links and the pealing bells of St Colman's Cathedral, it could easily be the jewel in the crown of East Cork. But with none of the chi-chi restaurants and boutiques of a Kinsale or a Schull, the town has found itself oddly left behind, with residents telling of how tourists might briefly visit Cobh for its historical connections before being quickly bussed out elsewhere. And far more worrying than these monetary problems are recent reports that just half a mile across the water, Haulbowline's slagheap, constantly leaking into the harbour, contains the deadly carcinogen Chromium 6.

Exposure to toxic levels, as well as cancer, can cause liver, kidney, heart and respiratory disease.

Alarmingly, Cobh has a cancer rate more than 44pc above the national average, with, anecdotally, high levels of asthma among its children -- though local GPs warn more research would have to be done to definitively link these health problems with the Irish Steel slagheap.

Just as sinister, though equally impossible to pin down, are whispered reports of fishermen casting their lines into the harbour only to land a three-eyed fish or one with extra fins.

Peter Griffin of Louis J O'Regan Ltd, subcontractors employed to knock down the former Irish Steel buildings, discovered what was buried at the East Tip and spoke of watching pigeons who drank the water on Haulbowline becoming disorientated, keeling over and dying.

He revealed how soil samples sent from the northern shoreline were sent to a lab in the UK in December 2007 and one came back with 'huge levels of mercury', waste samples sent to Germany for disposal were found to have traces of Chromium 6, with traces of arsenic and zinc found in other samples.

Mary O'Leary, chairperson of the Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (Chase) said local people are deeply frustrated with the lack of information made available to them by the authorities, claiming officials had known of the toxicity of the site since the early '90s but did nothing about it. As a mother of four, she says she is worried at the health risks posed by the dumping ground.

Over 100 pharmaceutical firms operate in a string around the Harbour area. They are also a cause of concern, with strange smells occasionally drifting across to Cobh but Mary said they are relying upon these companies to be good neighbours, given that they operate under strict licences.

Opened in 1939, the Irish Steel works employed 1,200 staff at its height, taking scrap metal from all over Europe for processing. One local man told the Irish Independent how, at the age of 17 during the 60s, he had rowed across the Harbour with friends in search of work. "After taking one look inside, I decided that there was no way in hell I could work there," he said, describing the heat of the furnaces and filthy conditions.

Local man Reynolds Forde did work there, as did his father before him. Gazing out across the harbour, he said: "They should put explosives on it and blow it up," adding: "If it's a threat, they're not doing much about it."

In 1996 Irish Steel was bought for the nominal sum of IRL ?1 by ISPAT, the steel company owned by billionaire Lakshmi Mittal and the steel plant operated until 2001 when its doors shut for good. The full extent of the pollution situation emerged when Hammond Lane Metal Company sub-contractors, Louis J O'Regan uncovered the potentially highly toxic sub-surface waste.

Peter Cunningham, Senior Licence Enforcement Inspector at the Environmental Protection Agency's Cork office, explained that the 'chicanery' surrounding the sale of the works in '96 meant ISPAT refused to pay for the clean up, the EPA no longer had a formal role in the monitoring or clean-up operation and sole responsibility fell upon the Department of the Environment.

"It's a very frustrating situation -- not helped by the fact that this material has been allowed to accumulate for 60 years," Mr Cunningham said.

"The problem is that there wasn't enough recognition at the time by the local authorities of the harmful nature of this material.

"It was considered sensible to stockpile it in the harbour. We now know better and the EPA is very concerned about the possibility of this material remaining there indefinitely." He added that they appreciate the fact that the clean-up will cost 'an enormous amount of money' but would be very concerned that any harmful materials would be allowed to remain in the harbour without any 'clear roadmap' for its removal.

Local Green councillor, Dominick Donnelly insisted that there is "nothing new" about the situation on Haulbowline. "It's the way things have been for a long time and people on the Harbour have now gotten a wake-up call with the mention of Chromium 6 getting people all excited but we've known there have been nasties out there for a long time.

"It's the slag from a steel mill -- it's got to be full of heavy metals. But I'd believe the levels are probably far lower now than when the steel plant operated."

As a Green Minister for the Environment, John Gormley has moved to address the fears. He has promised a peer review of a relatively reassuring 2005 report by consultants White Young Green, employed by the Department of the Environment to monitor the potential environmental hazards of the site.

Results are expected in the next four weeks. Kevin Cleary, a director at White Young Green said they will take samples of sediment, mussels and water on Monday, though: "physically, I'm not seeing any evidence of contamination and the water quality looks fine".

But he admitted: "If I was living there I would think concern was warranted."

Not everyone in Cobh is worried. Sean Parker, passing the time of day with two old friends by the quayside said he has been swimming in the harbour for the past 50 years with no ill consequences, while Ted McNamara, eating locally caught fish for the last 31 years says it's done him no harm.

The truth will only be revealed when the water gives up their secrets.


11 July 2008

Lenihan to have final say on toxic site

Irish Examiner 11/7/08

FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan will ultimately decide what is to be done with the former Irish Steel site in Haulbowline, Co Cork, the Department of the Environment said last night.

In a meeting last week, Environment Minister John Gormley was unable to guarantee local residents that budgetary concerns would not prevent the clean-up of the toxic site. Yesterday, Mr Gormley met with Cork TDs and the same issue arose.

Consultants are carrying out an investigation of the site which is expected to be finished in five weeks. Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney, who was at the meeting, said Mr Gormley was asked what would happen if the consultants found the site did present a threat to the health of local residents and the harbour ecosystem. "The minister said he could only make that judgment call when he got the report and went to cabinet after the summer," said Mr Coveney.

A spokesman for Mr Gormley confirmed this, saying: "The minister can't make false commitments without knowing the full extent of what the commitment would be and, in any case, it would be a government decision as well. The options he will be bringing [to cabinet] will only be options. It will be up to the Government, in particular the minister for finance, to make a decision on the remediation of the site."

Despite Mr Gormley's inability to give a commitment on this front, TDs who attended the meeting believed he was "sincere" in his desire to remedy the problem and praised his openness. However, they stressed more would have to be done to allay local concerns.

"This is about reassuring people that whatever needs to be done will be done and will be done expediently," said Labour TD Kathleen Lynch. "No one wants to live in a constant state of fear." She said it was essential that the proposed health study of local residents include both former Irish Steel workers and those who had worked in the nearby Verolme dockyard.

Mr Gormley said he would need sanction from the Department of Health for the health study, meaning its parameters cannot yet be determined.

Mr Coveney, meanwhile, questioned whether Mr Gormley and his department were correct in waiting for the site investigation to be completed before doing something about the toxic waste which had been disturbed.

The department was using a 2005 consultants' report to say the site posed no risk, yet contractors on the site until May of this year had warned of the need for "emergency treatment" of the waste, Mr Coveney said. "My concern is that those warnings haven't been taken seriously enough and that, instead, the department is using a three-year-old report as the sole basis for telling the general public that this site poses no threat."


10 July 2008

Road firm used Haulbowline material

Irish Examiner 10/7/08

... Environment Minister John Gormley admitted to the Dáil on Tuesday that anecdotal evidence suggests inert slag material was removed from the site and used for roads while the steelworks was in commercial operation, and possibly also during the period when the liquidator owned the site.

But he said his department has no records of any materials being taken from the site since it took custody of the area in 2003.

Mr Gormley assured the Dáil that consultants White Young Green would carry out "an independent and rigorous assessment of site conditions following the extensive unauthorised works by the subcontractors".

He said the firm has the full benefit of the advice of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Marine Institute and the Health and Safety Authority in assessing the quality of surface water, marine sediment and mussel bivalves near Haulbowline Island, in assessing any health or environmental risks that may be posed by the recent works on the east tip, and in monitoring ambient air. Local TDs from Cork will meet with Mr Gormley to discuss the issue today.

Full article

Publish new Haulbowline site investigation

Michael McGrath TD (FF) 10/7/08

Cork South Central Fianna Fáil T.D. Michael McGrath has called on the Minister for the Environment John Gormley T.D. to publish the report into the ongoing site investigation at Haulbowline Island as soon as it is completed. Deputy McGrath, along with his Cork Oireachtas colleagues, will be meeting Minister Gormley later today to discuss the ongoing site issues.

'I welcome the fact that White Young Green consultants are now on-site carrying out a detailed site investigation. I understand this investigation will be completed in approx. 4 weeks, and I will be asking the Minister to publish the report immediately.

'It is essential that the people living in the harbour area and the employees who work on or near the island are given reassurance that there is no risk to public health arising from the hazardous material on-site. This reassurance must be based on a comprehensive site investigation and I am pleased this work is now ongoing.

'I understand that Minister Gormley will be bringing a report to Cabinet on the future of the site. I am firmly of the view that local residents deserve to have full site remediation works carried out. There should be no long-term legacy of hazardous waste allowed to remain on the site.

'I will be conveying my concerns directly to Minister Gormley later today, and I will be asking him to continue to deal with this matter as a priority issue. I believe it is important that the forthcoming report is published promptly, and that the Department acts swiftly to implement any measures recommended by the consultants.

'The health, safety and welfare of local residents and people working on or near the island is my absolute priority, and I will ensure the Department continues to treat this issue with the priority it deserves,' stated Deputy McGrath.


09 July 2008

Navy calls for assurances of safety at Haulbowline

By Ralph Riegel
The Independent 9/7/08

DEFENCE Force unions want safety assurances before any expansion of Ireland's only Naval base on to the former Irish Steel site, which contains toxic waste.

PDFORRA is now monitoring the environmental and health row over the clean-up operation at Haulbowline Island in Cork harbour amid disputed claims about the nature and volume of toxic waste stored at the island.

One contractor has claimed that potentially up to 500,000 tonnes of toxic waste remains at the former steel mill site -- some of which includes mercury, Chromium 6, zinc and even heavy metals. Environmental contractor Stephen Griffin said that the entire controversy could have been avoided if the concerns of his firm been properly acted upon.

Cork TD Ciaran Lynch (Labour) has now vowed to seek a Dail adjournment debate to clarify the claim that substantial quantities of slag material was apparently removed from Haulbowline for use in road construction.

Environment Minister John Gormley has already agreed to bring proposals to the Cabinet for a health study of the harbour after revelations from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) that cancer detections in Cobh were 44pc above the national average.

But Mr Gormley has denied that the former Irish Steel site poses a major public health risk.

The row has effectively suspended long-term plans by the State for Haulbowline Island to be transformed into a leisure and marine centre -- with smaller sections of the old Irish Steel site being handed over to the Naval Service.

Ireland's only Navy base is on the other half of Haulbowline Island. Navy commanders have been keen to secure additional "elbow room" at the site. However, Navy unions now want firm assurances about the environmental and health status of the land involved before any such expansion proceeds.


Coveney seeks reassurance and clarification from Gormley on Haulbowline

Simon Coveney TD (FG) 9/7/08

Opportunity to press the Minister on series of important issues arising from site.

To-day (Wednesday) I secured a meeting with the Minister for the Environment John Gormley to discuss the many issues still outstanding on the Haulbowline waste issue. I will meet the Minister in private along with other representatives from the Cork area tomorrow afternoon.

There are a series of issues that we still need clarity on regarding Haulbowline. We need to know for certain whether any waste from the site was used in road surfacing, and if it was, then where, in what quantity, and what measures were carried out to ensure it was not toxic.

We need to know why the Minister thinks it is appropriate to engage the same consultants who in 2005 produced the only report to date stating that there is no serious risk to public health from this site. Does he not think that there is a potential conflict of interest, and that people might be sceptical of a new report, if it is not done by entirely new consultants?

We also need to know the Minister’s opinion on the ‘high risk’ status awarded to the site by previous reports done by reputable environmental consultants, and whether he can give assurances to the naval personnel living and working on the island.

The Department has, as recently as last May, received warnings as to basic material at the site and the potential risk to public health. I intend asking the Minister whether he is satisfied that the response to the warnings has been acceptable and in line with responsible management of a dangerous site.

Finally, we need clarity on when the ‘base line’ health study will be completed in the harbour area and what communities in the harbour will be included.

I am glad that this meeting is now scheduled, and I look forward to discussing these issues with the Minister.


07 July 2008

Toxic dump contractor 'will not be silenced'

Irish Examiner 7/7/08

THE man who blew the whistle on the Haulbowline toxic dump scandal has said he will not be silenced by the state's threat of legal action.

Environmental consultant Stephen Griffin vowed to continue to highlight what he describes as the "worst pollution incident in the history of the state". Mr Griffin was speaking last night after storm conditions swamped the toxic dump site in Cork Harbour with sea water over the weekend.

He said he was horrified when he saw the extent of the flooding of the contaminated East Tip dump site, at the edge of the former steel works plant. Gale force winds and high tides combined on Friday night to force sea water into the dump site.

The slag heap walls were also breached, allowing huge volumes of water to wash into the site and leach unknown quantities of contaminated materials back into the harbour. Mr Griffin said people should also be concerned about tidal waters seeping into the site from underneath.

"For an Environmental Protection Agency-licensed landfill, there has to be a five metre barrier between the dumped material and any watercourse," he said. "There isn't even a 1mm barrier on this dump site."

Mr Griffin is among several subcontractors who were involved in the removal of hazardous materials from the polluted island who have now been threatened with legal action by the Government.

They have been warned to respect a confidentiality clause in their terminated contracts and not release any documentation on work they did for the Department of the Environment on the former steel works site. But Mr Griffin, who came to the Irish Examiner to break the story almost two weeks ago, said he will not be silenced.

He revealed that he will spend more than €46,000 of his own money on independent and detailed soil analysis from the site to prove the extent and scale of the pollution. He also said that he is aware of a "concerted campaign" to blacken his name. "There is a concerted effort to shoot the messenger. But I will be sticking to the message," he said.

Mr Griffin confirmed he is a former commercial pig farmer who decided to get out of the business because he "couldn't stomach the environmental cost of the operation". Today, he lives by "green principles" with his wife and children in Carrigtwohill. They keep their own hens and ducks.

He said despite attempts to discredit him, he knows there is nothing anyone might produce that will prevent him from highlighting the Haulbowline scandal. "I just couldn't walk away from this one. I don't believe anyone would have done that."


Doctors call for monitoring of chemical levels in people

Marie O'Halloran
The Irish Times 7/7/08

A DOCTORS' environmental organisation has called for the establishment of a national "biomonitoring" study to establish the baseline level of chemicals in people's systems.

The Irish Doctors' Environmental Association said such a study would be particularly important for people living near landfill sites, incinerators and industrial facilities. Dr Liz Cullen of the association said there should be baseline monitoring of the population around Carranstown, Duleek to establish the current background level of contaminants - before work on a new incinerator in the area gets under way. "If we can afford incinerators, landfill sites and industrial facilities, then we must be able to afford the cost of monitoring the environment and public health," she said.

"If, God forbid, there was an accident or a release of chemicals, it is important to know the levels of chemicals in the population, and the change. Otherwise, we will never know there is any increase from any industrial or hazardous waste." The same should apply in Haulbowline, Co Cork - the site of a toxic waste controversy.

In the Dáil last week, Minister for the Environment John Gormley agreed a baseline health study for the area was to be recommended, in light of data from the National Cancer Registry which showed the incidence of cancer in the Cobh area was 44 per cent higher than normal. Mr Gormley is expected to bring proposals to Government about the health survey and the clean-up of the site in the autumn.

Biomonitoring - measuring the levels of chemicals in the body - should be done on a national basis as a random study, according to the association. Monitoring should not be on a voluntary basis, "as people who volunteer would be concerned about their health and most likely to eat organically and be fastidious", said Dr Cullen. She said the biomonitoring should follow the example of the US, where it is done on a regular basis.

She insisted that the study should include "a wide variety" of tests and be "comprehensive", including the taking of blood and fat samples and other tests, and that it not be limited in scope.

Dr Cullen, who has just completed a doctorate in climate change and health, is a public health doctor working in the area of infectious diseases.

At this year's agm of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), doctors backed a motion by the association chairman Dr Philip Michael, and Dr Cullen, to establish "registers of known relevant baseline data in the vicinity of new incinerators and landfill sites and, in addition, that active ongoing health surveillance systems, including bio-monitoring, be undertaken in these areas in order to detect changes in the incidence of sentinel diseases and the levels of biotoxins in the population". See www.ideaireland.org for details.


Residents fear plant's toxic waste seeped into harbour

The Irish Times 7/7/08

RESIDENTS OF Cobh in Co Cork have expressed concern that gale-force winds and a high tide may have caused potentially toxic waste from the old steel plant site on Haulbowline to seep into the sea at Cork Harbour. Cobh residents became worried on Friday night after a high tide and gale-force winds caused pools of water to form in the middle of the slag heap on the old Ispat site on Haulbowline.

Mayor of Cobh John Mulvihill jnr said local residents should not be expected to live in dread every time there was a high tide in the harbour.

He insisted that the situation needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency to allay public fears.

“The people of Cobh are in a vacuum regarding information. The Minister [John Gormley] said he was going to publish all the reports that were being done on the site back in the Dáil on Wednesday. I was talking to all our local TDs and they have not received any reports.

“That ought to raise some serious questions. We need to get these reports out in the open and let the people of Cobh know what is over there.

“We need to get the problem sorted out in the town.”

Mr Mulvihill added that he did not want to be alarmist, but that the people of Cobh “deserved better” from their elected representatives.

Meanwhile, local environmental engineer and councillor Marcia Dalton told RTÉ News that until full reports had been compiled in relation to the site, residents would continue to worry about the magnitude of the problem.

“This is not the first time since Ispat closed in 2001 that there have been strong easterly winds with high tides. This may have occurred before.

“Until we see analysis and we establish what is going on, we don’t know the magnitude of the concern we should have.”

The controversy arose in Cork last month after it was disclosed that almost 500,000 tonnes of waste are buried at the former Irish Steel/Ispat site.

Health fears were raised after a subcontractor involved in a surface clearance at the site claimed to have uncovered levels of a toxin, chromium six.

Mr Gormley has denied suggestions that there was any attempted cover-up of the Haulbowline toxic waste issue.

However, residents of Cobh said that they feared that pressure on the public finances could delay the clean-up of toxic waste at the site.


05 July 2008

Concern over focus of investigation into Haulbowline site

Barry Roche and Olivia Kelleher
The Irish Times 5/7/08

A SOLICITOR acting for residents of the Cork Harbour area has expressed concern about the focus of a report commissioned by the Department of the Environment into the remediation of the former Irish Steel plant at Haulbowline Island.

Joe Noonan, who advised Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, said the 2005 report by consultants White Young Green for the department seemed very focused on possible uses for the site rather than the immediate risk it poses to health.

"The report seems to have a very limited purpose. Rather than providing a comprehensive assessment of its current impact on health and the environment across the site, it seems very focused on assessing its impact on future developments," he said.

White Young Green divided the 20-hectare site into two parts for examination - the main steel plant adjacent to the naval base and the East Tip, which had been built up over decades by dumping slag from the plant on the foreshore.

However, the examination was confined to areas outside the steelworks buildings, resulting in some 50 per cent of the main steelworks site being excluded from the investigation, which involved sampling of soil, groundwater and marine sediment.

The consultants assessed each part of the site for elements like arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel and dioxins and for possible future use including residential, public open space and commercial/industrial.

They concluded that there was a moderate risk to human health and environmental receptors in the event of a residential or open public space use, while they assessed the risk as low to moderate if the site was remediated for commercial/industrial use.

"It is considered that the most feasible development solution from an economic and technical view would be a commercial/industrial use for the main site and a public open space use for the East Tip," it states.

The authors recommend capping the East Tip area using standard earth layer and high-density polythene. They estimate the cost of the capping work at €7.52 million.

They also recommend further investigation in areas not investigated such as under building slabs, more testing for dioxins in the East Tip area and asbestos in the built-up area of the main site as well as further tests for landfill gases such as methane. However, Mr Noonan said the fact that 50 per cent of the site was not investigated was a cause for concern, while he also questioned what the department had done to implement the recommendations.

"The consultants acknowledge the limitations of their initial investigation and recommended further site investigation," he said. "This report was completed in 2005 and yet none of these recommendations have been acted upon." Fine Gael spokesman on health Dr James Reilly warned that the Government would expose the State to litigation if it failed to order an immediate independent health impact assessment of the site.

Meanwhile, Cork Labour TD Ciarán Lynch has written to Minister for the Environment John Gormley seeking clarification on suggestions that tens of thousands of tonnes of potentially toxic material may have been removed from Haulbowline to be used in the construction of roads.


Polluted land was proposed for marina

By Paul Melia and Olivia Kelleher
The Independent 5/7/08

THE Government proposed turning the contaminated Haulbowline Island in Cork harbour into one of the most "attractive waterside sites in Europe".

The plan was outlined just a year after a major report said the site posed a potential risk to human health, and would have included 200 apartments, a hotel, offices and a 225-berth marina.

The then enterprise minister, Cork TD Micheal Martin, announced in 2006 that a high-level group of senior civil servants would submit proposals to transform the former Irish Steel site into an "attractive place to live, work and do business".

But yesterday it emerged that officials have not made contact with the Department of the Environment to see what works need to be carried out to make the site safe, despite a 2005 report which outlined the possible risks to human health.


It also emerged that four investigations have been carried out on the site, which is described as the most polluted in Ireland after 50 years of steel production.

Two reports were carried out between 1995-2002, with another 2002 study by Enviros Aspinwall carried out on behalf of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. It warned that the site posed a 'high' risk to human health, while a 2005 report for the Department of the Environment from White, Young, Green found there was a 'moderate' risk to human health if homes were built on the site.


Mr Martin's ambitious plan to redevelop the area has been put on hold, the Department of Enterprise said yesterday, saying that while the high-level group had met several times, the plan had been shelved pending further investigations.

Mr Martin was not available for comment.

Yesterday, Defence Minister Willie O'Dea also ordered a investigation into possible health risks for members of the Irish Navy serving at Haulbowline, to run in tandem with a separate study commissioned by the Department of the Environment.

He rejected opposition calls to provide health checks for serving members, saying the Defence Forces provided annual medical examinations and health screening and there was "no indication" that the site posed health risks to Naval Service personnel or civilian employees.

The Government was also warned by the Fine Gael health spokesman, Dr James Reilly, that it could expose the State to huge amounts of litigation if it failed to order an immediate independent health impact assessment of the Haulbowline site.


What next for Haulbowline's poisonous steelworks?

Barry Roche, Southern Correspondent
The Irish Times 5/7/08

Recent events at the former Irish Steel plant in Haulbowline, Co Cork, are a matter of dispute, but what matters to residents is that one of Ireland's most toxic sites is made safe as quickly as possible

IT MAY NO longer hum and hiss to the sound of molten metal being poured, but the former Irish Steel plant at Haulbowline has lost none of its capacity for creating controversy, as events over the past fortnight have shown with front-page headlines and heated debates in the Dáil.

While the dispute over the former site between contractors and the Department of the Environment has been marked by claim and counter-claim, both sides are pretty much in agreement that the former steel plant is one of the worst cases, if not the worst, of industrial pollution in Ireland.

In one sense, the only surprise about the issue is that anyone is surprised. After all, Irish Steel operated as a heavy metal industry for almost six decades, during which time environmental protection was scarcely a consideration, let alone a legislative requirement.

By the time the plant was closed in 2001 by its then owners, Irish Ispat, it had been operating for more than 60 years without any environmental monitoring. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) licence in 2001, it was never implemented by Irish Ispat.

An attempt by the EPA in 2004 to compel the liquidator, Ray Jackson (of KPMG), to fund the clean-up of the site failed, leaving the State to foot the clean-up bill, which at the time was estimated to be around €30 million but which the contractors claim is likely to be 10 times that amount.

The contract for the first phase of the clean-up was awarded to Hammond Lane Metal Ltd, which in turn hired environmental consultant Stephen Griffin, of CTO Greenclean, to advise on the work, with Griffin subcontracting clearance work to Louis J O'Regan Ltd.

According to Griffin, Hammond Lane had demolished buildings on the site in 2005 and 2006, and in September/October 2007, Louis J O'Regan began work on removing the debris as part of its contract brief to "leave a clear, level, safe site" for remediation. The 20-hectare former steel-plant site, which is owned by the Department of Finance, can be broadly divided into two main sections: the main steel plant adjacent to the naval base and the East Tip, which had been built up over decades by dumping slag from the plant on the foreshore.

According to Griffin, work went well initially, but tests he had ordered on the material began coming back in December 2007 with readings that showed high levels of contamination for a range of heavy metals including zinc, mercury, nickel, cadmium and chromium.

Test results also began showing high levels of hydrocarbon-saturated soil in the East Tip area. In February, one of Louis J O'Regan's machines started to sink through an earth crust into an oil lagoon and the subcontractors had to excavate tonnes of oil-soaked waste to retrieve it.

According to Griffin, the Department of the Environment instructed him to put the oil-soaked waste back in the lagoon, but he refused to do so. He declared an emergency response situation and created an enclosed, bunded area using mixed dry soil to soak up the oil. This action led to a stand-off with the department, which, according to Griffin, advised that he cease further work and back-fill the contaminated lands still remaining. After taking advice from his health and safety consultant, Griffin refused to sanction such work.

According to Griffin, the health and safety consultant advised that he would be liable for any risk to workers and public arising from such back-filling and that there was no option but "to continue with the removal of all contaminants from the site".

The Department of the Environment has a different view of events, claiming that "following the uncovering by Louis J O'Regan Ltd of the sub-surface sludge pit of hazardous waste, a series of unauthorised works resulted as a consequence".

"Despite repeated instructions to stop these unauthorised works, including by letter from the Chief State Solicitor's Office on May 23rd 2008, the subcontractor continued to excavate significant volumes of buried hazardous material."

According to the department, the contract with Hammond Lane was, following legal advice, terminated with immediate effect on May 30th 2008, with instructions to vacate the site by 5pm on Tuesday, June 3rd.

The subcontractors refused and continued to operate without authorisation and in a piecemeal fashion, actions which the department claims caused a threat to the environment. They finally left the site following discussions with Hammond Lane Metal Company Ltd, according to the department.

THE CONTROVERSY, which broke in the Irish Examiner, has generated an angry exchange of claim and counter-claim regarding the hazardous waste. The debate is notable for its lack of precise detail as regards concentration levels of the various hazardous materials.

According to Griffin, some 100,000 tonnes of hazardous debris material were removed from the site and shipped to Germany in 41 shipments between December 2007 and early June 2008, and it was tests done in Germany on this material which raised concerns.

Griffin claims that these tests on leachate found levels of the carcinogen, chromium six, four times higher than what is deemed safe, while further tests done in the UK found that one sample contained mercury levels 26 times what is allowed in a legal lined landfill site.

Visiting Cork last week, Minister for the Environment John Gormley sought to reassure people living and working on Haulbowline and in the Lower Harbour area, while admitting that the full extent of hazardous waste on the site has yet to be established.

"It's very difficult to quantify how much hazardous material is there," he said. "We know that there were 50,000 tonnes deposited there every year for 10 years, so there's at least 500,000 tonnes, but you can never know until you bore down properly and start to remediate the site.

"Remediation is difficult because when you start to remediate you're digging up a lot of this stuff and you are exposing people, and this is where the dispute arose with this particular subcontractor and the EPA - and the department felt this digging was counterproductive."

Griffin, however, disputes this. "We were obliged in our contract to leave a clean, safe, level site for remediation, but there's no such thing as a clean, level, safe surface on Haulbowline because every time we took off surface layers, we found more layers of hazardous waste. "Our initial discussion was on the removal of about 15,000 tonnes of hazardous material, but when we hit 100,000 tonnes, people in Dublin became fearful about the cost, and the issue of unauthorised works came up simply because we were finding hazardous waste everywhere."

The Department of the Environment entirely rejects this version of events. "The nature of the material which was lying on the surface and which was the subject of the contract was clearly understood by the contractors before the work started," the department told The Irish Times yesterday.

John Gormley was unable to meet local residents during his visit to Cork, so he invited them this week to Dublin, where, following accusations of a cover-up by Griffin and Friends of the Irish Environment, he offered to make all reports on the site available to them.

His officials handed over the most recent official report, from 2005, by consultants White Young Green, which involved a site investigation focusing on two distinct main areas: the main site of the steelworks and the East Tip, where slag was dumped over the decades. Gormley subsequently announced that White Young Green is to go back to Haulbowline to provide an updated report on the site in terms of hazardous materials. He also agreed to a peer review of the consultants' findings.

Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (Chase), which represents a number of residents' groups, has welcomed Gormley's commitment to make all reports available and his promise to go to Cabinet to seek funding for a baseline health study of residents in the harbour. While Chase acknowledges that the Department of the Environment is in a contractual dispute with Stephen Griffin and Louis J O'Regan over payment for clearance work on the site - a dispute which may end up in court - the residents' group says it still needs reassurance regarding the health risks.

Chase spokeswoman Mary Hurley was one of the residents who attended the Dublin meeting with Gormley this week and she reiterated the determination of residents to ensure that the Haulbowline site is made safe.

"We accept John Gormley's bona fides about giving us the reports, but we're more interested in what he's going to do to clean up the site," Hurley says. "There's a dispute between the department and the contractors, but we don't want the concerns of the community getting lost in that wrangle.

"The Minister told us that he has to go to Cabinet for funding for the clean-up. We believe the costs involved are going to be extensive if a proper job is to be done. This is about ensuring a safe, clean environment to protect people's health, and money should not be an issue."


Department orders health risk analysis

Irish Examiner 5/7/08

THE Department of Defence has ordered an environmental air and soil analysis at the site of the naval base in Haulbowline in Cork harbour to investigate if there's any threat to sailors from hazardous waste buried in the area.

The football pitch used by naval staff has been declared "out of bounds" by the department because of its proximity to the old steel plant where the toxic waste is buried.

The analysis work began on Wednesday by environmental experts, RPS, and is separate to work being carried out by the Department of the Environment.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, Fine Gael Cork South Central TD Simon Coveney said the head of the Naval Service had written to the Department of the Environment, "expressing serious concerns" about the health threat posed.

A Department of Defence spokesman said: "This department continues to accept the assurances of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that there are no risks arising from the presence of the waste material. It is expected our survey by RPS will confirm this.

"The Naval Service has informed us its Health and Safety staff are in regular dialogue with the Department of the Environment concerning the remediation of the ISPAT site."

Labour TD Ciaran Lynch has written to Environment Minister John Gormley, looking for details on what happened to the toxic waste that was removed from the site. Mr Lynch is seeking clarity on suggestions that the waste was used for the construction of roads. "A substantial quantity of slag-heap material was apparently removed from the island over the past decade - but nobody seems clear on where the material went. There are now real concerns about such material being in contact with ground water," he said.

"I would like Minister Gormley to confirm whether or not material was removed from slag heaps at Haulbowline to be used in road construction and to indicate the quantity of material removed.

"I would also like to know whether that material was examined for toxicity and was whether it was treated. Minister Gormley should also identify the company that removed the materials, and provide an indication as to where it may have ended up."


04 July 2008

Areas of Haulbowline closed off pending health risk inquiries

Mark Hennessy, Political Correspondent
The Irish Times 4/7/08

THE NAVAL Service has closed off part of its lands on Haulbowline while an investigation is carried out into the environmental dangers posed by the former Ispat steel plant.

It has also emerged that a consultants' report in 2002 warned that airborne pollution from the site could pose a high risk to the health of local residents.

The site at Cork Harbour has been at the centre of controversy since last month when it emerged that more hazardous waste may be buried there than previously thought.

The decision to put a football pitch used by sailors near the steelworks "out of bounds" was taken last week, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defence told The Irish Times last night.

The department last week hired environmental experts RPS to carry out soil and air tests, and staff from the company spent yesterday and Wednesday on the site taking samples.

Two previous analyses were undertaken at the naval base, in 2000 and by Bord Na Móna in 2005, while a number of air monitors are in place to detect airborne contamination. The monitors are situated at the dockyard, the base's church and the back of the hospital, which are near the steelworks, and also at the island's highest point covering the slag heap.

"To date no alarms have been noted," the Department of Defence said in a statement. "This department continues to accept the assurances of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that there are no risks arising from the presence of the waste material."

It was expected that the survey by RPS would confirm this, it added.

The department said Naval Service health and safety officers were "in regular dialogue" with the Department of the Environment about the steelworks' future.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, Fine Gael Cork South Central TD Simon Coveney said the head of the Naval Service had written to the Department of the Environment, "expressing serious concerns" about the health threat posed.

The steelworks on the eastern side of Haulbowline were run by Irish Steel until the Government sold the plant to Ispat in 1997. Irish Ispat went into voluntary liquidation four years later.

It emerged yesterday that a 2002 investigation of the site carried out by consultants Enviros Aspinwall, released under the Freedom of Information Act and provided by Mr Coveney to The Irish Times, warned that there were "high risks" from windblown dust and leaks of poisonous material into ground and surface waters.

Enviros Aspinwall was commissioned by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to carry out a risk assessment on the steelworks after it was closed by Ispat. In its report, it warned that windblown dust from the slag heaps at East Tip on the island could pose a high risk to the naval base and across the channel to Cobh residents.

Describing the chances of this happening as "likely", the Shrewsbury-based consultants wrote: "The tip is unvegetated. Dusts present on the tip may be mobilised and blown by the wind." There was also a "high likelihood" that poisonous sediments would accumulate in marine soil, damaging sea life and posing a "high risk" to it, the consultants' report said.


03 July 2008

Kean to meet Haulbowline workers over health fears

Irish Examiner 3/7/08

SOLICITOR to the stars Gerald Kean (pictured) has agreed to advise a number of men who are concerned for their health after working on the Haulbowline Island toxic waste clean-up.

Mr Kean, who represents several Premiership footballers and rock bands, will meet the men tonight to discuss their legal options.

The news emerged last night as Environment Minister John Gormley said he would recommend to cabinet a full baseline health study of residents in Cork Harbour after highly worrying cancer figures from the area were revealed.

The National Cancer Registry (NCR) data showed that Cobh town, which faces the former Irish Ispat steel plant, had cancer rates 44% above the national average from 1994 to 2005.

NCR researcher Dr Sandra Deady stressed, however, that there was nothing to link the findings to the former steel works. She said a wide range of cancers were diagnosed and the risk factors vary greatly depending on the type of cancer. She also said Cobh scored nine out of 10 on a "deprivation-index", the higher the score the higher the cancer risk.

But as the Irish Examiner revealed last week, traces of the carcinogen chromium 6, lead and mercury are among an estimated 500,000 tonnes of toxic waste buried on the island's East Tip site. It is breached by the tidal waters twice a day and winds blow dust across the harbour.

The men who worked on the stalled clean-up spoke out about their health concerns last night. One of the workers, who asked not to be named, said he has serious concerns about the health of up to 35 men, both Irish and non-national, after months of exposure to toxic materials.

He said contaminated soil was scooped up in a special bucket with holes and was riddled, or shaken vigorously, to separate rocks from fine dust. The dust was placed in trucks for shipment to Germany.

"This stuff, this dust, was airborne. It was being blown during the riddling, during transport and while it was stored," he said. "We want to know what we were exposed to, what was in the soil and what tests or screening we should get."

Mr Kean confirmed last night that he will meet a group of the concerned workers tonight at an undisclosed location in Cork. "They expressed their concerns and asked if could I meet them," he said. "They seemed quite upset and very genuine." Mr Kean's firm, Kean & Co, has been involved in several high-profile class-action lawsuits involving asbestos poisoning in the past. It is also involved in several MRSA cases.


Haulbowline clean-up workers to receive legal advice

Irish Examiner 3/7/08

A number of men who worked on the stalled clean-up of the former Irish Steel site in Cork Harbour have reportedly expressed serious concerns about possible risks to their health.

Reports this morning say the workers have spoken out about the methods used to remove contaminated soil from the Haulbowline site.

The soil was apparently scooped up in a special bucket and shaken vigorously to separate rocks from fine dust, which was then placed in trucks for shipment to Germany.

One worker is quoted this morning as saying the dust was airborne during the entire process.

Earlier this week, it emerged that the carcinogen Chromium 6 was discovered in the dust, along with traces of lead and mercury.

Environment Minister John Gormley has insisted that tests show there is no risk to public health in the area.

However, figures released yesterday showed a significant spike in cancer rates in nearby Cobh, though no link has been shown to the Hawlbowline site.

This morning's reports say the men who worked on the clean-up are set to receive legal advice from solicitor Gerald Kean this evening. His firm has been involved in several high-profile class-action lawsuits involving asbestos poisoning in the past.


02 July 2008

Residents fear costs may delay Haulbowline clean-up

The Independent 2/7/08

Residents in Cork Harbour say they fear the pressure on the public finances may delay the clean-up of toxic waste at the site of the former Irish Steel plant in Haulbowline.

Last night, the residents met Environment Minister John Gormley to discuss their concerns about reports that the Government has halted the removal of hazardous waste from the site.

Instead, it has asked contractors to seal off the "lagoons" which contain the waste.

Mr Gormley assured the residents last night that there is no threat to public health, but they say they are still concerned that the clean-up will be delayed due to massive cost involved. Mr Gormley says he will be open about the situation at al times.


Angry scenes in Dáil over toxic waste

By Paul O'Brien, Political Correspondent
Irish Examiner 2/7/08

THE Dáil is likely to witness further heated exchanges today when it debates the issue of the toxic waste at the former Irish Steel plant in Haulbowline, Co Cork.

There were angry scenes in the chamber yesterday when the opposition raised the issue. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said Junior Minister Maire Hoctor had informed the House last week that the site posed "no health risk" to the public. Yet the site contained a number of dangerous substances, he pointed out. "The dumped materials at Haulbowline include mercury, lead, chromium 6, zinc and PCBs."

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore called on Environment Minister John Gormley to publish all the reports in his department's possession on Haulbowline. "I understand an independent environmental report was prepared for Cork County Council as far back as 2005. This report was submitted to the Department of the Environment, but seems to have been buried," Mr Gilmore said, calling on Mr Gormley to "provide answers" for the people of Cork.

Labour TD Kathleen Lynch said there were three reports in total in the department's possession. "Will the minister release the three reports that are in his possession and have been at his department since 2004? I ask him to discuss the matter in this House with those elected to represent the people involved rather than continue with the stupid carry-on that has prevailed for the past two weeks," she said.

She claimed Mr Gormley was the "minister for smugness" because of his unsatisfactory responses to the issue to date. She also criticised backbench government TDs for laughing during yesterday's exchanges, saying they would not find the issue funny if they lived in Cork.

Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney similarly called on the Government to detail exactly what it knew about the contamination levels at the site. "This is potentially the most serious environmental disaster the Government has had to deal with. People are working only 200 to 300 yards from this site and must face the potential health consequences of dust blowing from it." His Fine Gael colleague David Stanton queried whether Defence Minister Willie O'Dea had a view on the issue, given the Naval Service had a base on Haulbowline. "This is an extremely serious issue. I live in the area and have had calls from residents who are very concerned about the high levels of chromium 6 and mercury that have been known for years but covered up," he said.

It was eventually agreed that a special debate on the issue would take place this morning.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Department of the Environment's remit was to "facilitate a thorough investigation of the site and to report to government thereon to allow for a government decision on the future use of the site".

"The minister will report the outcome of this exercise to government in the coming months," Mr Cowen added.


Cancer levels in Cobh 44% higher than national average

John Mulvihill, Councillor (Lab) 2/7/08

Mayor of Cobh Cllr John Mulvihill jnr has called for health study to be carried out in the lower harbour area following the shocking statistics that indicate Cobh has a cancer levels 44% above the national average.

Mayor of Cobh Cllr John Mulvihill jnr has called for health study to be carried out in the lower harbour area following the shocking statistics that indicate Cobh has a cancer levels 44% above the national average.

Quoting from figures optioned from the National Cancer Registry he stated that between 1994-2005, 478 people were diagnosed with cancer on the island of Cobh. When this is set against the national average it indicates that Cobh is 44% above the national average.

Following on from the recent find of chromium 6 that was deposited on the former Irish steel site it raise serious concerns for the people of Cobh.

The minister for the Environment must immediately publish all documents in relation to the site, he should also carry out a health survey in partnership with the department of health on the health risk that were faced in the past and the health risks that might be faced in the future.

The figure of 478 people represents people's father's mother's sons and daughters this is a very serious matter and when set against the national average it reveals the people of Cobh worst fears.

The people of Cobh need action and reassurance on this important matter we deserve nothing less from this government.


01 July 2008

O'Dea urged to move staff away from toxic waste

Irish Examiner 1/7/08

THE Defence Forces' representative body, PDFORRA, has written to Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, urging him to move navy personnel away from a toxic slag heap in Cork harbour.

PDFORRA general secretary Gerry Rooney said his members at the naval base in Haulbowline were very concerned about their health, following revelations that toxic waste, including the deadly carcinogenic chromium 6, is present in the slag heap.

"Some of our people are working within 10 metres of the slag heap and we want them moved away from it, towards the other side of the island," Mr Rooney said.

He said his organisation had also written to Minister for the Environment John Gormley, urging him to instruct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out air monitoring at the site.

"The EPA has been monitoring the old steel mill since around 2004 and have air monitors around it to collect data on toxic substances. But, seeing as the slag heap has been disturbed, it is potentially even more dangerous and there doesn't appear to be any air monitoring around it," said the PDFORRA general secretary.

The naval service has more than 1,000 members. At any one time there are around 700 personnel on the Haulbowline island and this is causing a lot of concern among their ranks.

"Our members were always aware of the risks associated with the steel mill, but they were never aware of the risks of the slag heap," Mr Rooney said. "We want a detailed risk assessment of the slag heap site carried out as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, Senator Jerry Buttimer (FG) is hoping to raise the issue in an adjournment debate at the Seanad tonight. "I will be asking Minister for the Environment John Gormley to tell us everything he knows about the situation and to make it public. If he refuses to do this then I will be seeking the establishment of an independent inquiry."

He said his constituents in the lower harbour had a right to know what was contained in the slag heap. "People have very genuine concerns and they don't want things hidden from them. This is the first big test of a Green minister and he will have to deliver," the senator said.

He added that he supported PDFORRA's call to move naval personnel away from the contaminated area. "We don't want to be scaremongering, but we have to be cautious. The health and safety of these people has to come first," Mr Buttimer said.