Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter. I thank the relevant Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, for coming in. I raised this previously and on that occasion it was dealt with by the Minister for Education and Skills who was standing in for him. I am glad he is here that I can bring it to his personal attention.
Irish Cement Limited has plans to burn initially 90,000 tonnes of toxic waste at its plant in Castlemungret, Mungret, County Limerick. There are 25,000 living in the immediate vicinity of that plant on the south side of Limerick city. This particular plant has an appalling safety record. There have been regular malfunctions and blow outs over several years and especially in recent months. In that context, my constituents are naturally very reluctant to accept any assurances coming from Irish Cement Limited.
I have had meetings with Irish Cement Limited on this matter. We have listened to what its spokesman have had to say. Its argument is that there are four cement plants on the island of Ireland - one is across the Border - three have moved from burning fossil fuel to burning industrial and toxic waste, so what is the problem with a fourth one doing so? It also argues that this process is wide spread throughout Europe and other parts of the world and that it has worked well, particularly in Germany. That argument leaves out a number of factors. First, it leaves out the extra filtration and mitigating equipment used in Germany, which is not proposed to be used here. More crucially, it also leaves out that fact that since various countries allowed this process, in accordance with rules formulated to cover it, science has moved on. In several European countries where this process takes place, particularly Spain, they have realised the danger it constitutes to public health and there has been a storm of protest. We cannot just swallow the argument that because they are there and they operate in accordance with the rules in operation when they applied. That does not mean they are not killing people or damaging them.
There is a wealth of scientific evidence that shows a very close connection between various forms of cancer and respiratory diseases and proximity to this type of operation. I am advised by people who know a lot more about this than I do, that the burning of toxic waste in a cement plant is infinitely more dangerous to the environment than a traditional incinerator. Irish Cement Limited have also claimed that burning this so-called alternative fuel, namely industrial waste, will reduce the carbon footprint. It will do nothing of the sort. I do not have time to illustrate why this statement is another sham but even if it did reduce the carbon footprint it would still be counterproductive because it results in an increase in the toxins and fluorines released into the atmosphere.
Limerick City & County Council, in its wisdom, has given planning permission for this plant to go ahead. The case is on appeal to An Bord Pleanána. Then it will be a matter for the EPA. I know my time has run out, but what I am asking the Minister is whether we cannot get this delayed until we review at least how the EPA is operating. He will be aware that there are numerous complaints about the EPA. It needs additional resources, additional ground rules and additional expertise. Seeing that science has shown us the dangers to public health of these operations elsewhere in the world, why should we allow one to go ahead here? The usual practice of the EPA is to give the go-ahead, the licence, if planning permission is granted, which calls into question, incidentally, what the EPA is for in the first place.