THE government faces a multi-million euro bill to reduce the pollution risk from 300 dumps and 100 abandoned mines.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified 300 "historic" dumps scattered across the country that it says need attention, some of which may harbour toxic or hazardous waste which poses a risk to groundwater. On Wednesday, the EPA will outline to the Dail Environment Committee the work that needs to be done.
The agency is also carrying out an urgent review of disused mines which may pose a health risk to local residents. The question of who will foot the bill for the work is still to be resolved and could delay the clean-ups for years. It has also emerged that lands with a low commercial value could be the last to be restored to full health.
Mining involves use of dangerous chemicals, which can contaminate the land and water sources. And many landfills contain leachate, or water contaminated with decomposing rubbish, and methane gas which can ignite. "There was indiscriminate illegal dumping for years when any old hole in the ground would do," Labour's Emmet Stagg said last night. "The leachate going into water is the biggest issue."
Details of the audit come after traces of a highly toxic cancer-causing chemical were discovered at the site of the former Irish Steel works on Haulbowline island in Co Cork.
The Department of the Environment is solely responsible for the clean-up of Haulbowline, but local authorities and the EPA are responsible for landfills. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources takes responsibility for old mines, including Avoca in Co Wicklow and Silvermines in Co Tipperary.
Among the 100 mines under investigation are Tynagh in Galway, Gortdrum in Tipperary, and old mine sites in the Allihies in West Cork.
In a 2006 report, the EPA estimated there were 50-80 "brownfield" sites in Ireland where there was a risk of pollution, but when former petrol stations, tanneries, dockyards, old municipal waste landfills, and railway depots are taken into account there could be up to 2,500 sites that pose a risk.