Environmental campaigners are to initiate High Court proceedings to try and force State authorities to raise public awareness about what they claim is the threat posed to public health by contaminated material on part of the former Irish Steel plant on Haulbowline.
Friends of the Irish Environment has notified Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as minister for defence, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, and Cork County Council that it intends to seek a judicial review of the failure to meet their obligation to disseminate information about contamination on the island in Cork Harbour.
It follows the recent release of details contained in a 2017 report commissioned by Cork County Council, which highlighted dangerous substances on part of the former Irish Steel plant on Haulbowline.
The consultant’s report warned about dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, and PCBs, a highly toxic industrial compound, which it said had “the potential to cause risks to any users of a potential future park and also commercial site users”.
A separate part of Haulbowline, known as the East Tip, which was used to dump waste and by-products from the steelworks, has been fully cleared up over recent years and is scheduled to open as a public park in the near future. Cork County Council has said the East Tip had been fully remediated, while the remaining 11-acre site of the former Irish Steel plant was “fully secured” and “not accessible to the public”.
A council spokeswoman maintained that air quality monitoring on Haulbowline between March 2017 and December 2018 did not identify any risk to human health.
In a letter sent by its solicitors, Friends of the Environment said it intends to seek a judicial review of the failure to alert the public to the potential danger posed by the site. FIE director Tony Lowes said it had no option but to proceed to seek a judicial remedy for breaches of Access to Information on the Environment and national regulations over a lack of active dissemination of information about threats to human health and the environment from air and waterborne contamination. Mr Lowes has called on the authorities to erect warning signs on Haulbowline, which he claimed was required under environmental law.
Mr Creed acknowledged recently it had been “no secret” that parts of Haulbowline, which is also the headquarters of the Irish Naval Service, had not been suitable for public access, which was linked to its “industrial legacy”.
He stressed that the report did not specify any risks to future users of the remediated East Tip, which has been converted into a recreational area. A spokesman for Mr Creed yesterday said work was being advanced on the next stage of the remediation project, with preparation for an application for planning consent.
He said the council had been asked to refresh warning signs on the perimeter of the former steelworks “to underpin the prohibition on public access”. “The references contained within the report relate to potential risks to users of the site, including future recreational end users. It should be noted that there are currently no active users of the site, which is fully secured.”