Mystery of blue balls on Dublin beaches continues as radioactive threat ruled out

Small objects are thought to be taprogge balls, commonly used in heavy industry

The small objects, which have been washing up on Dublin beaches, are thought to be taprogge balls, commonly used in heavy industry. The EPA confirmed it had tested the balls and found them to be radiation free. Video: Mark Hilliard

Marine scientists are to begin investigating mysterious blue balls that have been washing up on Dublin beaches as efforts continue to find out where they are coming from.

The small objects are thought to be taprogge balls, commonly used in heavy industry, and while similar ones have been traced to the Hartlepool nuclear power plant in the UK, the origins of those in Dublin remain unknown.

Dublin City Council is searching for answers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has ruled out any radioactive threat in those found along the Bull Island nature reserve, said it has identified a number of industrial facilities that use such balls but has not confirmed a source.

The mystery has now attracted the attention of the School of Natural Sciences at NUI Galway where researchers will examine them to see if they can be linked to unexplained blue plastics found around the Irish coast during a recent survey.


Dr Liam Morrison has secured several of the balls from Dublin and his researchers are due to begin tests.

“These [other] bright fibres keep showing up in places. We have categorized them as plastic but in terms of putting a source on them we have no idea what they are,” he said.

His team will place the balls in a contamination free environment, study them under a laser and form a profile to help identify if they are a class of polymer. Dr Morrison is sceptical the balls are made of rubber, as suggested by scientific literature.

‘Nobody wants them’

Meanwhile, Dublin resident and volunteer beach-cleaner Brian Bolger, who initially discovered the balls and brought them to the attention of authorities, has found more.

He was visited at his home by an official from the EPA who conducted tests on the balls and declared them safe.

“They said there is no national depository [so] even if these were radioactive we couldn’t take them off you; there is nowhere to put them. Nobody wants them,” he said.

The EPA confirmed it had tested the balls and found them to be radiation free. A spokeswoman said its ongoing investigation had identified three licensed facilities in the Dublin Bay area that use taprogge balls - ESB Poolbeg, Dublin Waste to Energy, and Synergen Power Ltd.

“We have contacted each of these facilities and they have advised us that they have not had any release of them to the environment,” the spokeswoman said.

“Nonetheless the EPA requested each of the sites to carry out a detailed investigation including a review of the sites processes where they are used to determine whether there is the possibility of release of these into the environment. This report is due to be submitted to the EPA by 30th May. We will review this upon receipt and determine whether further investigations or actions are required.”

Such is the enduring mystery of the blue balls, Dublin Bay North TD Sean Haughey even raised them in the Dáil, asking the Minister for Local Government Darragh O'Brien if he was aware of their discovery, that they are "imbedded" in sand dunes, and if appropriate measures were being taken. Mr O'Brien said he was not aware of them but that the EPA was the correct authority to deal with the issue.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times