Tuesday, 7 February 1989
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Shatter: asked the Minister for the Environment whether the consultancy study into the provision of a toxic waste disposal facility in this country has yet been completed; and if so, the results of same.
Mr. Shatter: asked the Minister for the Environment the steps he intends to take to provide a facility for the disposal of toxic waste which is currently disposed of by export to other countries; the nature and amount of such waste which is generated here each year; and the countries to which it is exported.
Mr. Sherlock: asked the Minister for the Environment the estimated total tonnage of hazardous and toxic waste produced in this country each year; if he will give a breakdown of the main type of waste; the way in which these wastes are disposed of at present; if he will outline his proposals for the future safe disposal of such waste; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Spring: asked the Minister for the Environment, in respect of the consultancy study relating to the provision of a toxic waste disposal facility currently being undertaken on behalf of his Department, if he will give the following information: (a) the cost of the study, (b) the name of the consultant (s) carrying out the survey, (c) the terms of reference, (d) the duration within which the study is to be completed, and (e) if any interim  report has been submitted by the consultant(s); and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The estimated total volume of waste coming within the EC definition of toxic and dangerous waste which was produced in this country in 1985, the latest year for which such information is available in my Department, is 52,000 tonnes. Of this total, 66 per cent was disposed of by the producers at their own sites or treatment facilities, a further 6 per cent was disposed of by landfill and the remainder was exported for disposal overseas. Most of the exports go to the United Kingdom but small quantities are shipped to France and Finland.
To assist in considering the development of facilities for the disposal of toxic waste, I commissioned Byrne O Cleirigh Engineering to undertake a feasibility study into the need for and commercial viability of contract incineration facilities here. The study has now been completed and the findings have been considered by the Government. The cost of the study was £30,000, plus VAT and approved vouched expenses.
The study concludes that there is no immediate threat to overseas incineration outlets for Irish hazardous wastes but that they could be at risk in the medium to longer term due to a variety of factors. The study finds that demand on a central incineration facility would be unlikely to go higher than 5,000 tonnes per annum in the medium term and estimates that the capital costs of such a facility would be in the £6 million to £8 million range. In addition, the consultants made recommendations about possible legal and organisational arrangements, including the role of the Government and public authorities.
I am anxious that this country should  achieve the maximum degree of self- sufficiency in hazardous waste disposal as soon as possible. However, the provision of a satisfactory national incineration capability is dependant on effective inter-locking of a range of factors and circumstances, serveral of which need to be examined further. This process is under-way. I intend also that copies of the consultants' report will be made available to interests concerned and I will be inviting them to develop proposals for the provision of suitable incineration facilities. I should make it clear, however that the Government do not intend to become involved in the provision of such facilities, either directly or on a joint venture basis.
I have arranged for copies of the consultants report to be placed in the Library. A shorter version of the report, outlining the main conclusions and recommendations, is being made available for general information.
Mr. Shatter: Does the Minister accept that EC regulations will within a relatively short period prohibit the transhipment of toxic waste and that that will render even more urgent the need for such a facility here? Will the Minister accept that there is considerable environmental concern about the dumping of dangerous toxic wastes off our coast and that that is another reason why it is necessary to have a domestic facility here?
Mr. Flynn: There is always concern about the matters raised by the Deputy, and I share them. From the information available to me there is no danger in the immediate future that we will be denied facilities for incineration of certain types of wastes abroad. That does not seem to be on at the moment but from my experience at environmental council meetings over the last year or two I can see that there is an indication that countries will be asked to dispose of their own waste. It was for that reason that I took the initiative to find out how much waste we have, the type of waste and where it is going to.
Mr. Shatter: Is the Minister concerned about the fact that 66 per cent of toxic waste is disposed of by producers here at their own sites? Will the Minister indicate to what extent those sites are inspected to ensure that the disposal techniques guarantee that the public safety will be protected? Will the Minister confirm that the method of disposal of asbestos waste by the ESB and which was discovered in the last few days, is something that must be avoided? Will the Minister indicate the steps his Department intend to take to ensure that there is no repetition of such an incident?
Mr. Flynn: The amount of waste discovered, and the method of disposal of it, is a matter of great concern to me, the Department and the local authority who are the monitoring authority for such disposals.
Mr. Flynn: Yes. There is also a need to have a closer examination of the facilities that will be put in use for the disposal of similar type of waste that exists in that area. The amount found is not the limit of such waste that is in that plant. It will be carefully watched so as to ensure that it is disposed of in the proper manner.
Mr. Quinn: I should like to compliment the Minister on the detail of his reply and request him to ask the civil servant who prepared it to answer the other questions put to the Minister on the Order Paper. If he does so we will have a less fractious Question Time.
Mr. Flynn: I take every comfort from what the Deputy says. He will be delighted to know that it is because of the close proximity of the ERU staff that the Minister is in a position to make such detailed replies.
Mr. Keating: The Minister quoted a number of statistics. May I ask him two questions: first, in relation to the 66 per cent of toxic wastes which producers dispose of themselves, could he let the House have a list, or does he have available a list of the sites at which such disposal takes place? Second, can he give some indication of the systems in place for monitoring the management of such disposal?
Mr. Flynn: I might request that the Deputy would take notice of what is stated in the report I am lodging in the Library. Perhaps we can have this discussion at a later date because we are all concerned that this matter be adequately dealt with.
Mr. Barry: Would the Minister agree that there is a number of inter-related problems here? One problem is that we do not know precisely where this waste is going? Would he agree that perhaps a solution would be that every local authority be given increased monitoring powers within their areas as to who is producing such waste and what happens it? Furthermore, would he agree that the incinerator constitutes the perfect answer but that, in the meantime, what we want to ensure is a Government controlled central collecting point for all of this toxic waste with the Government assuming responsibility as to whether it is exported or disposed of here?
Mr. Flynn: In all the circumstances, I do not think the last action referred to by the Deputy is necessary. I agree that some waste here is disposed of in a manner which is not acceptable to me, the Government or the House. There was an instance of that within the last few days; I accept that. It was with a view to endeavouring to devise a better arrangement — which I am pleased to hear Deputy Barry accept as being reasonable — so that we would be in a position to deal with our own waste in our own time that I commissioned the feasibility study.
Mr. Flynn: It need not be but, of course, there are certain difficulties attached to its provision. The Deputy will find they are expounded on in the relevant report. This is a matter that will be the subject of considerable discussion for some time. I would invite all sides of the House to participate in that debate.
Mr. Flanagan: In view of what the Minister has just said in regard to the incident in County Laois within the past few days perhaps he could indicate to the House what he intends doing about it and when he expects the ESB's report to come to hand?
Mr. Flynn: The matter of the waste referred to is being pursued as a matter of urgent priority by my Department. The important aspect is that there are further amounts of similar waste to be disposed of from that location. I am absolutely resolved that I will give it particular attention until it is suitably disposed of and in a manner over which we can all stand.
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