THE Government has been given three months to take action to clean up the toxic waste site in Haulbowline or be taken to court by the European Commission.
The site, blamed for the area having one of the highest incidences of cancers in the country, has been the subject of five reports, has cost the state €50 million — mostly in legal costs — over the past 15 years, but has not been cleaned up.
A senior commission official said he agreed with local action groups, which took their case to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels.
“We fully agree with the petitioners that this is a mess, a dangerous mess — a toxic landfill site without any permit,” said Jean-Francoise Brakland of the commission’s environment department.
“I share their frustration with the delay of the Irish authorities to move on this — we have had lots of promises but no follow up.”
But, he said, he had been impressed by the attitude of Environment Minister Phil Hogan. “It seems he has understood the difficulties and the challenges of environmental implementation in Ireland, and we see that things are moving.”
Ireland, he said, has the highest number of court cases in the EU over environmental issues.
“We have a pattern of delays and promises and nothing happening. But we are not going to wait for the next 10 years.”
He promised that if after three months there was no real action to be seen in Haulbowline they would go straight to the courts to seek a judgment against Ireland over the issue.
Earlier, Mary O’Leary of the Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment said that about 500,000 tonnes of toxic waste are stored, some of it cancer causing and other dangerous heavy metals.
They were deposited there by the steel plant which was bought by the Indian company ISPAT in 1996 and it operated the waste site without a permit for six years. The Government took over when ISPAT left in 2001.
“All the state authorities for the last 16 years know the full extent of the toxicity, that it leeches into the harbour daily but nobody is taking responsibility for us or our environment,” Ms O’Leary told the committee.
She said Cobh has a cancer rate 37% higher than the national average but all that has been done is the commissioning of a series of reports. One was based on the emission levels permitted for an industrial rather than a residential area and did not test for significant toxic materials in the landfill site, ignoring the dangers to the health of local people.
Ms O’Leary said that action needed to be taken on the recommendations that have been made.
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