Simon Coveney, the marine minister, made the pledge yesterday as he addressed Cork County Council members ahead of the clean-up, which will get under way at Haulbowline island in the middle of April.
Contractors will move into the site adjacent to the former Irish Steel/Irish Ispat plant to drill 21 bore holes in the illegal dump, which will allow them test for the presence of hazardous waste.
They will also test for gases and for permeability to determine if hazardous material — such as the highly carcinogenic chromium 6 — could have leaked into the harbour.
Mr Coveney said: “Before an application for a waste licence is made to the EPA, we need to know exactly what is buried there and we will compare these results with previous reviews of the site to make sure we can stand over what is dangerous and what isn’t and what may have to be removed.”
Almost four years after the Irish Examiner revealed the existence of the site, the minister said people were impatient to have it made safe.
He pointed out that the Government was just six months in to its term when it set aside the money and was committed to making the site safe.
Cllr John Mulvihill (Lab), who previously worked with Irish Steel, said he believed there were potentially more pockets of hazardous waste dotted around the island apart from the designated target area known as the East Tip.
The minister said his remit was to concentrate on that site, but if there were further areas that needed attention they would be addressed.
Cllr Mulvihill said he was very disappointed that the Government had not decided to press ahead with a health study in the lower harbour, especially as cancer rates in Cobh were far higher than the national average.
Mr Coveney said he had “no difficulty” with Cllr Mulvihill pressing Health Minister James Reilly to reconsider such a study.
However, Cllr Mulvihill urged the minister to take it to the Cabinet.
He said the study was necessary to see if the East Tip site was responsible for the cancers.