State failing to tackle toxic dump, locals tell MEPs


THE STATE’s failure to deal with a toxic dump in Cork harbour that contains an estimated 500,000 tonnes of waste from decades of steel production at Haulbowline was highlighted in Brussels yesterday.

A presentation to the European Parliament’s petitions committee followed delivery of two petitions with a total of 5,500 signatures by Ireland South MEP Seán Kelly and the Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment.

In a bid to force action, the alliance’s chairwoman Mary O’Leary outlined details of the dump at the former Irish Steel (later Ispat) plant, which had been in operation for 60 years until its closure in 2001.

She said the site was toxic, yet the State had failed to regulate or remediate it despite knowledge of the contamination. Four reports compiled between 1998 and 2005 had shown the waste from Haulbowline was contaminating the harbour, she added.

The reports highlighted the potential risk from materials dumped and spilled on the site, including potential heavy metal contamination from waste slag and furnace dust, waste oils, organic solvents and radioactive material.

In July 2008, Ms O’Leary told the committee it was discovered that the toxic waste included the highly carcinogenic heavy metal chromium 6, raising concerns that it could be responsible for Cobh having a 37 per cent higher rate of cancer than the national average.

“The degree of contamination is serious. The fear of the community now is that the issue will be put on the back boiler for another 10 years and we will have to live with the consequences,” she said. She added that local people were concerned about toxins in the food chain.

“When contacted...the Food Safety Authority...stated that fish caught in Cork harbour are not sampled to determine if suitable for human consumption even though the authorities know about the toxic waste,” she said.

Ms O’Leary said Haulbowline’s central location in Cork harbour was also inhibiting the development of tourism and leisure activities.

“Cork harbour communities have waited too long for the relevant authorities to act. We ask that the petitions committee give their attention to it through all channels available to them.”

Mr Kelly said the previous government, the Environmental Protection Agency and Cork County Council had “passed the buck on Haulbowline in a disgraceful way” and it was time for this “reckless circus of inaction” to end by implementing environmental rules.

Speaking in Cobh yesterday, Cllr John Mulvihill (Labour) said: “I would hope the new Government will take this issue seriously now, it has gone on far too long. Various governments have tried to sweep this under the carpet. I hope the EU will come up with some concrete ideas to get this mess cleared.”