Irish Cement Ltd has apologised after a court heard a "dust leak" at its cement production plant in Mungret, Co Limerick, caused environmental pollution.
The company was convicted of two counts of breaching its industrial emissions licence when “fugitive dust” emitted from the plant “impaired” or “interfered” with the surrounding environment, Limerick District Court heard.
The "black, gritty" dust caused damage to cars and garden furniture in nearby housing estates, said Maeve Larkin, prosecuting solicitor representing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Irish Cement pleaded guilty to two charges prosecuted in court by the EPA. A third and fourth charge, relating to similar breaches of its emissions licence, were withdrawn.
Ms Larkin said the offences before the court satisfied the definition of environmental pollution under section four of the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992. The offences occurred on dates between April and May last year.
Deborah Spence, solicitor for Irish Cement, described the offences as “unfortunate”. She said Irish Cement was granted an emissions licence in 1996, and despite having one previous conviction for a similar offence in 2006, the company had an “impeccable record”.
Irish Cement argued in mitigation that dry and windy conditions which were present at the time could have played a part in “fugitive dust” leaving the boundary of the plant. Ms Spence said Irish Cement immediately reacted when notified of the dust leaks.
She said the company also offered free car washes to local residents, after the dust had “covered” their cars and garden furniture. It was agreed that Irish Cement engaged afterwards with the EPA in a full risk analysis and carried out upgrade works to rectify infrastructural issues at the plant.
Maria Lenihan, an EPA environment enforcement inspector, said local residents had concerns about breathing in the dust. However, after consulting the Health Service Executive and local GPs no evidence was found that the dust had negatively impacted human health.
Irish Cement had faced a maximum €4,000 fine for each count. Judge Marian O’Leary imposed fines totalling €1,250 for both counts.
Irish Cement communications manager Brian Gilmore apologised to residents again afterwards, adding: “The company has put in place a number of additional mitigation measures at the factory.”
Speaking outside the court, Mungret resident Claire Keating, whose property was covered in the dust, said she was “disappointed” with the fines imposed, describing them as “minimalistic”.
Mayor of Limerick James Collins, who has been a strong voice of opposition to plans by Irish Cement to begin burning used tyres to make cement, said the fines imposed were not enough of a deterrent for big companies who make “millions in profits every year”.