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.


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