Questions remain over delay in warning about safety of Haulbowline site

An artist's impression of the Haulbowline park.

Both the Government and Cork County Council have refused to say why they did not publish warnings they received about the safety of Haulbowline Island over two years ago.

The details of a two-year-old report, detailed by the Irish Examiner earlier this week, revealed that Cork County Council was warned that the pollution on Haulbowline has “the potential to cause risks to any users of a potential future park” on the site.

The report found analyses of ground samples “identified elevated concentrations of arsenic, lead and PCBs in shallow soil with the potential to cause risks to any users of a potential future park and also commercial site users”.

The former Ispat/Irish Steel site has seen remedial works carried out on the nine-hectare waste site on Haulbowline known as the East Tip, which was a dumping ground between 1996 and 2001. Cork County Council plans to open a park on this section of the island this year.

However, work has yet to be carried out on decontaminating the remaining 11 hectares on the island outside the East Tip. The report was released following a request by Friends of the Irish Environment.

It has written to the Minister for Agriculture and to the Chief Executive of Cork County Council to highlight that Access to Information on the Environment Regulations require that: "In the event of an imminent threat to human health or the environment, whether caused by human activities or due to natural causes, a public authority shall ensure that all information held by or for it, which could enable the public likely to be affected to take measures to prevent or mitigate harm, is disseminated immediately and without delay."

“In this case, the Minister has done exactly the opposite,” FIE said in a statement. "He and the Council have been in possession of this report, which demonstrates the ongoing dangers to public health and the environment, for two years."

An artist's impression of the Haulbowline park.
An artist's impression of the Haulbowline park.

The Irish Examiner asked both Cork County Council and the Department of Agriculture why neither body published the findings of the 2017 report sooner.

Both bodies issued subsequent statements to this newspaper, but neither answered this question.

Cork County Council said the 2017 study was a risk assessment of the former steelworks site, which "is separate to, and at a remove from, the former East Tip", and directed further queries to the Department.

In its statement, the Department summarised the remediation efforts on the island to date.

“While the priority has been remediation of the East Tip, work on assessing a suitable solution for the former steelworks factory site has also been advanced in preparation for the next phase of the remediation project,” it said.

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