THE Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) has accused the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of failing in its duty to compel the Government to get a licence for the storage of hazardous waste at the former Irish Steel site at Haulbowline in Cork harbour.
FIE spokesman Tony Lowes said yesterday that the EPA had the power to force the Government’s hand on the future of the site but had failed to do so.
The FIE is now to take legal action itself over the continued holding of waste without a licence at the site. The FIE is seeking an urgent high court injunction to compel Environment Minister John Gormley to either apply for a licence for the site or remove the waste.
"The EPA has been running for cover on this," said Mr Lowes. "They are supposed to be the ones who licence waste facilities. The minister has consistently refused to apply for a licence and no doubt the EPA is aware of this yet they have done nothing about it. We are taking this high court action as a last resort to show that the Government, any more than an individual, cannot be exempt from our environment laws.
"The owner of the site is the Government and that means they have legal responsibility. You would have thought the EPA would have stepped in and done something, but they haven’t. The EPA has remained silent on this issue. Its office of environmental enforcement has not fulfilled its rule and there has been no explanation for this."
The EPA did not respond to a request to address the FIE’s complaint.
Mr Lowes added that his organisation believes the reason for the minister’s failure to apply for a licence is because this would trigger an environment impact assessment which would reveal the full extent of the hazardous waste at Haulbowline.
Already 112,000 tons of hazardous waste has been removed and transported to Germany for treatment but 280,000 tons of material remains. Tests conducted in Germany show levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury among the surface waste taken from the site.
Last week Minister Gormley announced that the Government is to establish a new working group to develop detailed proposals on the future of the site. Mr Gormley said that the group, which is to be chaired by the Office of Public Works, will be asked to determine the optimum use for the site.
However, Mr Lowes described this as a "fudge".
"This is the second working group in the past three years. What we need is a hazardous waste disposal facility established here."