RESIDENTS living close to Ireland’s biggest environmental disaster site have criticised Environment Minister John Gormley for not meeting them yesterday.
The Ringaskiddy Residents’ Association said Mr Gormley should have made time during his visit to Cork to meet them to discuss the Haulbowline toxic waste dump.
The earliest meeting is pencilled in for next Tuesday in Dublin.
Spokeswoman Audrey Hogan said the minister, who was in Ballincollig to address a conference on local government, should have made time to address harbour residents directly.
“He was only 20 minutes away. And the earliest meeting we have been offered is in Dublin next Tuesday, but only if three resident representatives can make it.”
Ms Hogan said local residents are shocked by the sheer scale of the dumping on the former steelworks site, as revealed in the Irish Examiner.
She said revelations that chromium 6 is among the dumped toxins is particularly disturbing.
“We now want full access to all documents and reports on the site. We are preparing our own Freedom of Information request for the department, and the other agencies,” she said.
The Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (CHASE) said the situation shows that “responsible authorities” are unable to protect the community and unwilling to take action “because they are too busy protecting their own backs”.
“With detailed investigations from six years ago finding a ‘high likelihood’ of ‘severe health risks’ to the community, disgraceful efforts to cap highly toxic waste with more waste show complete contempt for the communities nearby,” a spokeswoman said.
She called on Mr Gormley to implement his promised reform of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The current remit, where the EPA has dual responsibility, means that the community is sacrificed because the EPA must look after its customers, industry,” she said.
“We also call for an immediate baseline study to establish the health of the surrounding populations in Cork Harbour, to assess what the health impact has been, and to set this as a marker for future damage assessment.”
Ms Hogan said there is anecdotal evidence from the Ringaskiddy area of higher levels of eye infections and skin rashes.
“People are always going to the doctor with these complaints and all they are ever told is ‘it’s a virus’,” she said.
The Cobh and Harbour Chamber said the disclosures seem to show a paralysis or uncertainty in agencies charged with clearing the site.
“To give the public confidence in ongoing clearance work the Department of the Environment, EPA and Cork County Council should publish all documents pertaining to the site and outline future plans and a timescale,” a spokesperson said.
“The problem will not go away until the site is cleared to the highest standards.
“Haulbowline is important to the development of the lower harbour and any clearance short of the highest standards will come back and delay future projects.”
Fine Gael Cllr Tim Lombard said the Government should not take short cuts when dealing with the issue.
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