Tánaiste Simon Coveney has asked environmental campaigners “not to turn what is a hugely positive story in Cork harbour into something negative”, amid a row over the new park on Haulbowline Island.
The Tánaiste’s intervention comes as the Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) and Cork County Council (CCC) continue to exchange barbs over whether the soon-to-be-opened park on the remediated nine-hectare East Tip site is safe for public use given conditions on the rest of the 21-hectare island.
In a statement, FIE said it stands behind its legal call requiring the Council to warn the public “of ongoing dangers to their health and the environment arising from the failure to remediate more than half of the contaminated areas left by the steelworks on Haulbowline Island in Cork harbour".
It was responding to the Council which had said that FIE claims that conditions on the island pose a significant risk to human health “are inaccurate and misleading". The row was sparked by the release of a 2017 report prepared for Cork County Council by consultants Young White Green and released to FIE under Access to Information on the Environment.
Analyses of ground samples “identified elevated concentrations of arsenic, lead and PCBs in shallow soil with the potential to cause risks to any users of a potential future park and also commercial site users”, according to the report. It also recommends remediation to protect the health of the end users of the site from direct contact, ingestion and dust inhalation of harmful substances.
However the Council said the report was not commissioned to analyse the East Tip park site, due to open next month, but for the disused industrial site on a different part of the island: “The report does not specify any risk to future users of Haulbowline Island Recreational Park.
In addition, air quality monitoring undertaken on Haulbowline Island between March 2017 and December 2018, as required under the licence conditions for the East Tip remediation works, did not identify any risk to human health from the former steelworks site.
However, FIE said the report “identified mobile contaminants in dust, fibres and water on the 11-hectare site which are highly toxic”.
“The air-borne contaminants are present immediately adjacent to the East Tip park and Naval areas. Yet there appears to be no Risk Assessment undertaken which would rule out the possibility of airborne contamination affecting park or marine users, local authority staff or naval personnel using the naval facilities,” the group said.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Coveney said he ‘trusts the process’ used to remediate the park: “I would really ask people not to turn what is a hugely positive story in Cork harbour into something negative."
“We have worked for years now to try to turn what has been a scar, and an environmental problem, in the middle of Cork harbour, into something hugely positive. Of course, the State has to stand over the remediation, in terms of ensuring its safety. If people have information that they are concerned about, share it with us and we will look into it and if there are problems we will fix them.
"But I am not aware of any problems on the East Tip and we move on now to phase two of this project, to recondition the South Tip, and more importantly the Irish Ispat site, to make sure that the island as a whole becomes very, very proud off in the middle of Cork harbour," he said.