THE toxic waste dump on the former Irish Steel plant in Haulbowline, Co Cork, poses no identifiable threat to local residents, Government-appointed consultants have found.
The main finding of their report, seen by the Irish Examiner, states: “Based on the monitoring works completed, it is concluded that there are no identified risks to the residential inhabitants of Cork harbour associated with the presence of waste materials at the East Tip on Haulbowline Island.”
The consultants, White Young Green, found toxins such as chromium in and around the waste dump, known as the East Tip, but not at levels considered dangerous to humans.
However, they said that chromium in mussels found around Haulbowline exceeded recommended limits, but the cause could not be identified. They recommended that this issue be further investigated.
The consultants also warned 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.
Although fenced off, the excavations posed a health and safety risk and the consultants recommended that they be backfilled.
The consultants found potentially dangerous levels of toxins in the harbour which they did not believe emanated from the East Tip of the former Irish Steel plant.
Elevated concentrations of mercury, arsenic and nickel were found in water samples taken from the harbour, while high levels of lead were found in mussels.
Slightly elevated concentrations of heavy metals were also detected “intermittently” on a section of the naval base, which forms part of Haulbowline Island, but again, the East Tip was not considered the source.
The consultants recommended that further assessment be carried out in the harbour to assess the scale of both these problems.
They also recommended that the entire steel plant site be investigated, as they had been commissioned only to examine the East Tip.
“This environmental investigation... did not include or address the rest of the former Irish Steel site,” the report says.
“The remaining areas of the steelworks site will need to be investigated and assessed as a separate investigation to quantify the potential for contamination from historic site operations and underground structures.”
Environment Minister John Gormley appointed White Young Green in June to carry out a risk assessment of the site after the Irish Examiner revealed the amount of toxic waste on the East Tip was much higher than previously believed. The report, and a peer review of it conducted by British experts, will be published today.
Mr Gormley is expected to bring a paper to cabinet early in the new year outlining the options for dealing with the site. He has pledged to consult with the community on the issue.