Poolbeg Incident: Waste treatment suspended after lime discharge

Waste treatment at the Poolbeg incinerator in Dublin has been suspended after an uncontrolled discharge occurred there on Wednesday night that saw 11 people hospitalised.

While nine were released, two were kept in hospital overnight.

The incident involved a discharge of lime which is used in the treatment of waste.

The plant may resume operation as early as this afternoon. A spokesman said: “The timing of resumption will depend on when we hear back from the HSA [Health & Safety Authority, which is investigating the incident].”

The spokesman for Dublin Waste to Energy plant, run by Covanta Ireland, said there were a number of workers inside the building when the incident occurred at about 10.45pm on Wednesday.

“Late on Wednesday night a small amount of lime was inadvertently released inside the flue gas treatment area during the commissioning and testing of the Dublin Waste to Energy plant at Ringsend.

“At the time, there were a number of workers in an adjacent area. As a precaution, 11 workers were sent to St Vincent’s Hospital nearby for medical evaluation. Two were detained overnight,” he said.

He said the lime was contained within the plant and had no effect on the outside environment. Some 500 workers were sent home yesterday as a result of the incident.

While the plant said it is investigating the incident “thoroughly”, it is understood to have occurred as a result of a problem with a door seal.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it is satisfied there was no danger to the public.

“The lime release was contained in the building and there was no loss of lime to the environment. The EPA is satisfied that there was no danger to the public or local community from this release,” it said.

The EPA said waste feed to the incinerator has stopped and incineration has been “suspended”.

The agency will furnish a full report after its investigation and said “further action may be considered”.

There was a strong political reaction when news broke of the incident.

Dublin City councillor Paul McAuliffe (FF) called on city manager Owen Keegan to hold an emergency information meeting for councillors to brief them on the incident.

“I am calling on the city manager to urgently arrange a briefing for councillors to ensure that the incident has no implication on the safety and health of residents, that workers are not under any further threat, and that there has not caused damage to the Dublin Bay biosphere,” he said.

Hildegarde Naughton (FG), chair of the Oireachtas committee on communications, climate action, and the environment, said the event is of concern.

“It is very worrying that such an event should have occurred so soon after the plant became operational. While my primary concern is with those injured in the incident, it also has ramifications for wider public safety.”

Safety fears after workers hospitalised

- Catherine Shanahan

Safety assurances given by incinerator operators have been called into question after an accident at the country’s newest facility led to the hospitalisation of 11 workers.

The incident, at Dublin’s Poolbeg incinerator, on Wednesday night, has heightened concerns among those opposed to plans for an incinerator on the Ringaskiddy peninsula, in Cork Harbour.

CHASE, the environmental group lobbying against Indaver Ireland’s proposals to build a €160m facility in the harbour area, said it is “time to put an end to the charade of safety touted by incinerator operators”.

Spokeswoman, Mary O’Leary, said to see workers hospitalised within weeks of the Poolbeg plant opening “rubbishes the safety assurances made by incinerator operators and the incinerator industry in general”. An Bord Pleanála is due to rule on the Indaver incinerator in August.

Green Party representative in Cork North Central, Oliver Moran, said safety has been “top of the list of concerns from the community in Ringaskiddy”, ever since Indaver proposed building an incinerator 17 years ago. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has called for all activities at the Poolbeg site to cease, while the incident is under investigation.

A statement from Covanta, operators of Poolbeg, said it appears lime was released through a faulty door seal.

Professor Paul Connett, a global environmental campaigner who is touring Ireland, said the safety record of incinerator operators in the US is lamentable. He said they have been “chased out of other countries”, while countries such as Ireland are welcoming them. “Incineration is a dead industry. It’s an outdated, 19th-century technology, a Rambo-style approach of ‘anything you can’t deal with, destroy’.”

Prof Connett will address a public meeting in Limerick’s Strand Hotel at 7.30pm this evening, and will speak in Cobh on June 16.


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