ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley will be unable to say how the former Irish Steel plant will be dealt with until a Government decision is made on the issue.
A spokesman for Mr Gormley reiterated last night that the minister would be bringing an “options paper” to cabinet “early in the new year”.
But the spokesman said the minister could not indicate in advance what actions the Government might take, as a formal cabinet decision would have to be made on the matter.
“The minister is committed to bringing a formal memorandum to Government outlining possible ways forward. It will then be subject of a Government decision. The outcome of the Government decision cannot be pre-empted at this stage,” the spokesman said.
Consultants hired by Mr Gormley to carry out a risk assessment of the East Tip of the steel plant found it posed no identifiable risk to the health of local residents.
However, they found that recent excavations on the East Tip had exposed sludge material which could form dust in dry weather periods and therefore pose a future airborne threat. The consultants therefore recommended that these excavations be backfilled. The consultants made no recommendations on the remediation of the wider Irish Steel site because they had been commissioned only to examine the East Tip.
It is believed that removing the estimated 500,000 tonnes of waste on the site, and dealing with the toxic substances they contain, could cost up to €300 million. Given the poor state of the public finances, it is thought likely the Government will move to backfill the excavations in line with the consultants’ report, but defer the remediation of the overall site.
Green party senator Dan Boyle yesterday suggested it may be unwise to attempt remediation of the overall site in any case. He said this was because the consultants’ report appeared to indicate that the environmental risk increased when efforts were made to remove material.
“I think there have to be questions raised about it, because some of the additional risks that have come about through this report seem to indicate that the compiling of new slag heaps and the creation of open pools of water on Haulbowline were themselves environmental risks.”
He denied, however, that this meant leaving the site in its current state.
“No, I think what you’re talking about is a range of measures: the removal of all material, the removal of the most dangerous part of the material, [or] some sort of containment measures. You’re either talking about topping, capping, some kind of sheeting or some wall around the perimeter of the East [Tip] in particular that would stop any potential seepage — all of which will have cost implications.”