Concern over focus of investigation into Haulbowline site


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.