Limerick City & County Council unanimously passed Cllr James Collins’ motion to lodge a four-page formal submission to the Environmental Protection Agency objecting to Irish Cement’s licence application to begin industrial incineration at its Mungret plant.
The EPA is currently considering Irish Cement’s licence application and must now consider a formal, unanimous objection by Limerick councillors, before issuing its decision after the September deadline.
Cllr Collins gathered the full support of his fellow councillors in a move which pits them against the Executive of Limerick Council, which had controversially approved the incineration proposals at the initial planning stage.
Cllr Collins’ motion warns of the potential public health dangers posed by incineration. “The potential adverse impact on public health of incineration of toxic substances in our community cannot be accurately assessed. The detrimental effects of toxic waste incineration on public health are not and will not be measured or monitored. The risk to this generation’s health and that of future generations is unknown.”
“We are concerned that the HSE, by its own admission, does not have the expertise to assess the risk of industrial incineration on public health. It does not have the data or the resources to understand or investigate the clusters of cancer and pulmonary ailments that have been described in the vicinity of the plant over many decades, even using existing raw materials and fuels.
“Irish Cement insist that their intended process for incinerating waste is ‘safe’. They have repeatedly stated: there are no health risks, even before An Bord Pleanala (ABP) disallowed a significant amount of substances, included in the original application coded list of 117, as hazardous materials. Supporting this position, An Bord Pleanála (ABP) assured the people of Limerick that burning industrial waste ‘would not be prejudicial to public health’.
“But by what authority can ABP make such an emphatic assurance? How do they know? What process of deduction allows them to give this guarantee?
Where is the data supporting such an unfaltering position?”
“The Cement Plant in Mungret is currently before the courts due to poor environmental performance and fugitive dust emissions. This prosecution was due to public pressure, and publicly funded laboratory tests, not through routine enforcement by the EPA.
“The recent advent of deeper research into air quality has shown that very small nanoparticles and particulate matter (PM2.5 and lower) can be the most damaging to inhale, and often escapes filtration and monitoring. Research into air quality is entering a new phase, but regulation has yet to catch up. In Ireland, monitoring has yet to catch up.
“Poor air quality is now related to infertility, mental health, and increasingly is a factor in determining property values.
“What the Mid-West is faced with in this current standoff between concerned citizens of Limerick versus Irish Cement is a governance gap. In a recent question to the Dáil, Niall Collins T.D. asked what action ‘the HSE will take to measure and manage the increased health risks to the population in the vicinity of the planned incinerator.”
A reply was referred by Minister of Health to Dr. Kevin Kelleher, Assistant National Director – Public Health/Childcare Strategic Planning and Transformation.
Dr. Kelleher’s response, dated 9 May 2018, set down the shortfalls and insufficiencies of the HSE in protecting the public. In several ways, this position was a climbdown from the emphatic confidence of the HSE Environmental Officers who had rubber stamped Irish Cement’s Environmental Impact Statement back in June 2016. In their submission report, they admitted that ‘no risk assessment for Tolerable Daily Intake of dioxins, furans and dioxin-like PCBs has been undertaken’. In other words, they have no idea if our daily dose of dioxins will impact our wellbeing?”
“If Dr. Kelleher’s statement demonstrated that there has been no assessment of the health hazard to date, it revealed too that the HSE are not obliged to monitor future risk. He stated: ‘There is no environmental or planning legislation which obliges the HSE to assess and undertake the ongoing long-term monitoring of a potential risk to human health from a particular site- specific development following the granting of planning permission.’
“By their own admission, the HSE only responds to acute enquiries/concerns about health issues in a community as they arise, e.g. dust blows. Currently in Ireland, routine surveillance of disease is limited to that of infectious disease and on a delayed time scale, Cancer and Suicide. So, when Irish Cement, ABP or the HSE assure the people of Limerick that there is nothing ‘prejudicial to public health’, we must be wary. After all, they are not making this claim on a disease registry or context-specific research: there has been no independent collection of data and no one else knows any better.
How can we know the effects on public health if there is no specific baseline data to refer back to?” Mr. Collins concluded.
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