Brockovich backs Cork residents over waste fears

 

Erin Brockovich, the renowned environment alactivist whose life story was turned into an Oscar-winning film, has given her support to residents of Cork's lower harbour who are fearful of the presence of the carcinogenic material, chromium six, at the former Irish Steel site.

Last week the Department of the Environment was accused of a cover-up concerning the extent of highly hazardous waste buried at the site. People living near Haulbowline, Co Cork, expressed concern after it was disclosed an estimated 500,000 tonnes of waste are buried at the former Irish Steel/Ispat site.

However, Minister for the Environment John Gormley immediately moved to assure residents in the Cork Harbour area that the former Irish Steel site on Haulbowline island is safe despite claims that larger than expected amounts of hazardous material have been found there.

In an interview with Cork radio station Red FM yesterday, Ms Brockovich urged residents to find out the truth of the situation at the local steel plant.

"Don't be afraid to ask questions if you see something alarming. Don't be afraid to report it. Be vigilant. I would certainly hope that environmental groups will rally to come out there to get some testing done. I would clearly take a look at any water contamination that is occurring.

"I would encourage the community out there to stay after the Government or the company to give them some answers about how much chromium six there is. Is it airborne? How far has it gone? And force some answers out of them. And a community can do that."

Ms Brockovich said it was normal for residents of the lower harbour to feel anger about the situation, adding that it was time for them now to exercise their voices on the issue.

Ms Brockovich is an American legal clerk who, despite the lack of a formal law school education, was instrumental in constructing a case against the $28 billion California-based Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PGE) in 1993.

The case alleged contamination of drinking water with hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium six, in the southern California town of Hinkley.

Her story is the topic of a feature film, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts in the title role.

Roberts won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich. Working with California-based lawyer Edward L Masry, Ms Brockovich has gone on to participate in other anti-pollution lawsuits.

Ms Brockovich is due to visit Dublin next September. It is hoped she might add Cork to her itinerary in order to meet local community activists worried about the harbour situation.

Cork Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney said yesterday that the people of the harbour area had no idea of the extent of the environmental problem on their doorstep until last week's newspaper reports.

Mr Coveney said it was irresponsible and misleading of Minister for the Environment John Gormley to insist there was no risk to public health from the site.

He said he had test results showing mercury levels on the shoreline outside the site which were 20 times higher than what should be an intervention level.

"Let's work as quickly as possible now to make this site safe. What people want to know from the Minister of the Environment is what is he going to do now as an emergency response to make sure the site is made safe?"