EPA under fire over second caustic spill

THE Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must review its response procedures to industrial accidents after the revelation of a second caustic soda spill in the past six weeks, environmentalists and politicians said yesterday.

Aughinish Alumina confirmed yesterday that, on June 22, up to 50 tonnes of caustic soda leaked at their plant on the River Shannon in Co Limerick during a loading operation.

Earlier this month, 252 tonnes of caustic soda leaked into Cork Harbour following an accident at ADM Ringaskiddy. The EPA made details of neither incident public.

Aughinish Alumina said there “was no environmental damage” or injury to workers as a result of the Shannon spillage.

“No caustic soda got into the water course or the Shannon Estuary as the incident happened within the site and the spillage was contained in a special bund around the tanks which is made with a special lining and acts like a saucer if a tank overflows,” Aughinish Alumina spokesman Pat Lynch said.

Mr Lynch said the incident was reported immediately to the EPA, but he refused to take any further questions as to the exact time it was reported.

The EPA also refused to confirm if it had been informed of the spillage on June 22 or if it was classified as an “urgent” or “non-urgent” accident.

The EPA spokeswoman said she could not respond to this query because the inspector who dealt with the Aughinish Alumina spillage “was not available.”

She said both spillages are being investigated by the EPA.

On Wednesday, the EPA admitted that no one from its agency spoke to the company which leaked 252 tonnes of caustic waste into Cork Harbour on the day of the accident, July 3.

In an embarrassing U-turn, the company said “nobody from the EPA” spoke to ADM Ringaskiddy until Monday, July 4, when two people went to inspect the plant.

The admission by the State environmental watchdog was contrary to its earlier explanations which said a public health warning was not issued because a senior official assessed the situation over the phone on the morning of the spillage. It later emerged that the official who was reported to have made the call was on annual leave.

Green Party councillor Dominick Daly said the revelation of this second spillage highlights the inadequacies of the EPA’s emergency response procedure.

“The EPA must provide 24-7 emergency response cover and if their resources are inadequate to provide this then they must demand more from the Government,” Mr Daly said.

Cork Harbour for a Safe Environment (CHASE) supported this call and demanded the resignation of the EPA board of directors.

CHASE spokeswoman Mary Hurley said an independent inquiry is needed into how the EPA handled the Cork Harbour spillage.

Independent MEP Kathy Sinnott said she has sought a meeting with Environment Minister Dick Roche to discuss both spillages.

“There is a continued failure on the part of the EPA to police and control spillage under their remit,” Ms Sinnott said.

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