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.


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