Engineers begin clean-up at Irish Steel factory

ENVIRONMENTAL engineers moved onto the site of the former Irish Steel factory on Haulbowline Island in Cobh, Co Cork, yesterday to begin the largest industrial clean-up in the history of the State.

Consultants working for Cork County Council removed over 80,000 tonnes of hazardous and radioactive materials from the site last year. However, thousands of tonnes of waste material still has to be removed.

More than 60 trial pits and bore holes will be sunk on the island site by staff from White Young Green consultants over the coming weeks to test the ground for contamination. Four holes will be drilled offshore to test the seabed to establish what levels of toxic material from the plant’s east tip head have leached into Cork harbour. Air quality monitoring stations have been set up on Haulbowline in Cobh and south of the Haulbowline bridge to monitor dust levels during testing.

“The survey, which is expected to take up to two months, will give us an idea of what work needs to be done to make the 20-acre plus site safe,” said Donal Hogan, project manager with White Young Green.

His team will carry out a comprehensive chemical analysis on all their samples later in the year to check for contaminants. The findings will be analysed and a final report will be presented to Cork County Council around November.

“It will suggest a range of possible future uses for the entire steelworks site,” Mr Hogan said.

The taxpayer will have to foot the clean-up bill, which could top €30 million. But the Green Party said it fears the bill could rise close to €70m.

The team spent yesterday afternoon touring the crumbling steelworks buildings and tip head where thousands of tonnes of slag material, some piled over 50 feet high, are dumped. The derelict factory, which at its peak in 1971 employed more than 1,200 people, will be their base for the next three months.

Mr Hogan said work on the major ground surveys will begin on Monday. The former steelworks has been exposed to a wide range of raw materials and waste products associated with the steel-making process over the last 60 years.

Consultants working for Cork County Council removed over 80,000 tonnes of hazardous and radioactive materials from the site last year. It included over 300 one-tonne bags of toxic furnace dust and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The plant closed in 2001 after more than 50 years of production with the loss of more than 440 jobs. Three council staff monitor the site on a day-to-day basis.

Tarnished steel - Irish Steel history:

1939: Founded as a private company.

1946: Went into receivership.

1947: Company was nationalised and went on to become the prince of Irish heavy industry.

1980s and 90s: The State was repeatedly forced to bail the company out, pumping over £200 million into the flagging operation.

1995: The Rainbow Coalition government offloaded Irish Steel to Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal for £1. He promised significant investment and a turnaround in the plant’s fortunes. Irish Steel became Irish Ispat but the losses continued.

June 2001: Mittal shut the plant down, leaving 450 people without jobs and an estimated €30m environmental clean-up bill.

July 2004: The State failed in a court bid to have the Irish Ispat liquidator meet the clean-up costs, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill.

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