WHEN the extent and the virulent toxicity of the dump used for industrial waste at the former Irish Steel mill in Cork Harbour were first realised more than a decade ago, alarm bells rang loudly and for some considerable time.
Those who lived or worked in the area, and even those who had worked in the defunct mill, were concerned that they might have been exposed to materials that might damage their health. These concerns were exacerbated by the fact that the mill’s former owners, who had bought the struggling plant from the State for £1, had little or no enthusiasm for getting involved in a multimillion-euro clean up.
It looked for some time that it would be very difficult to make the site safe to the point where the idea of a health threat could be discounted. That point was reached yesterday when a consortium was appointed to turn the seafront site into a tourist attraction. That is a welcome development but it should not obscure the lessons offered by this sorry saga.
Strict environmental regulation and policing are absolute obligations which the State must accept on our behalf, especially those who will inherit any problems we create today. Of course there will be those, invariably business interests, who will dismiss this supervision as needless red tape but the reality is that cleaning up this mess, the bill is north of €100m, cost far more than any imaginable system of regulation. We were penny wise but pound foolish once again.
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