Thursday, 19 June 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise plans by Rentokil and South Dublin County Council to destroy seven cylinders of hydrogen cyanide in the Manor Kilbride area of west Wicklow. I condemn the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for not being here for this important debate. West Wicklow must not be allowed to become a new dumping ground for such dangerous and potentially lethal chemical waste. There has been too much illegal dumping in that area in the past.
I am calling on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to halt this crazy plan and to introduce legislation to deal properly with this issue. It is astounding that the transport and disposal of such dangerous material has been kept secret from the public. No licence has been issued by the EPA, no risk assessment has been published and there has been no public consultation with residents or local public representatives. Hydrogen cyanide is a particularly dangerous chemical, once used as an agricultural poison. Concentration of 300 mg of the gas in air would kill a person within a few minutes. It is commonly listed among chemical warfare agents that cause general poisoning and it is listed under schedule 3 of the Chemical Weapons Convention as a potential weapon. It was reportedly used in death camps in Nazi Germany and, more recently, in the genocide of the Kurds. Rentokil approached South Dublin County Council about the destruction of its stock of hydrogen cyanide which is now decades old. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government then got involved and asked the Army to identify sites for the controlled burn or explosion of the chemicals. Manor Kilbride in west Wicklow was chosen. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is the responsible for that choice.
This plan is all the more surprising because according to South Dublin County Council “the advice from chemical experts and manufacturers is that the cylinders are safe to remain in the building in their current condition and position”. If that is the case, why then embark on a risky procedure of burning the chemical and exposing people to potential risk and the area to potential pollution? Army personnel have been told to vacate the Kilbride army camp for four days. A 1 km wide exclusion zone is planned, although families living within that zone have not been properly informed.
The lack of information and consultation has fuelled anxiety among local people and generated considerable alarm. No risk assessment has been published. That is simply unacceptable. No environmental impact study has been published in accordance with EU directives covering the destruction of explosive substances which is probably illegal. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has the power to halt this plan and he should use it.
Yesterday, I travelled the road from the Army’s camp at Manor Kilbride. It is a small country road with poor surfacing and potholes. These conditions give rise to new concerns. The transport of these cylinders carries great risk. No such journey should take more than two hours. If cylinders are disturbed in transit, they are prone to explosion. I was contacted reluctantly by an expert in the risks attached to the transport of hydrogen cyanide. If an explosion were to occur, he said he would not be able to forgive himself. He was that conscientious but what about the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government?
If he were in the Chamber, I would say to him that the illegal dumping in west Wicklow did not happen on his watch but this disposal of highly toxic material by explosion will. I urge the Minister to stop this madness and leave the material in situ for the time being where it will be safe. He must prepare legislation to protect and inform the public instead of riding roughshod over the concerns of people in west Wicklow.
Deputy Billy Timmins: I thank Deputy McManus for sharing time. The substance is stored in the constituency of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, at Ballymount industrial estate. While I am not a chemicals expert, concerns have been raised over this disposal process. This concern has been fuelled by the lack of information available and the disdain shown by the authorities for the population in west Wicklow. It brings home the inefficiencies and remoteness of local government from the people it purports to serve. People already have a mistrust of the authorities involved in the operation because they refused to engage with them at an earlier stage. The operation was going to be carried out covertly, unknown to anyone. Fortunately, information came to light. Deputy McManus has covered the technical aspects of this operation. I agree the disposal of such waste must be put on a statutory footing.
Deputy Conor Lenihan: The Deputies’ concerns have also been raised with me as a representative of the Brittas area. Councillor John Hannon has taken the matter up directly with South Dublin County Council.
Less than 1% of waste generated in Ireland in 2006 was hazardous but I accept this waste presents a significant threat to the environment and human health if it is not properly managed. The necessary legislation concerning the management of waste, including hazardous waste, already exists. Under the Waste Management Acts 1996 to 2008, a seamless chain of control exists covering general duties on producers or holders of waste, persons who collect or transport waste and concerning the disposal or recovery of waste.
Under section 32, a person shall not hold, transport, recover or dispose of waste in a manner that causes or is likely to cause environmental pollution. Where the holder carries out any transport, recovery or disposal, the relevant provisions of the Act for such activities apply with supervision or overall management of the activity being a matter for the relevant local authority, or the Environmental Protection Agency, as appropriate. Local authorities have substantial powers to enable them to tackle problems associated with the disposal of hazardous waste. Under section 55 of the Waste Management Act, a local authority has the power to order measures to be taken in the disposal of waste as they see fit. Section 56 also empowers local authorities to directly take appropriate actions to prevent or limit environmental pollution caused by waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency has statutory responsibility for the preparation and review of the national hazardous waste management plan. As part of the current review, a proposed plan, covering 2008 to 2012, has been through a public consultation process and is due to be published shortly.
Under section 26 of the Waste Management Act, Ministers, local authorities and relevant public authorities are required to have regard to the plan and, when they consider it appropriate to do so, to take measures to implement or otherwise give effect to recommendations contained in it.
Some 48% of the 284,000 tonnes of Irish hazardous waste generated is exported for treatment and disposal abroad, mostly for thermal treatment. The balance is treated on-site at industrial facilities or in a network of 15 authorised hazardous waste treatment facilities in Ireland. The primary objectives of the proposed national hazardous waste management plan are to prevent and minimise hazardous waste and to manage in an environmentally sound manner the hazardous waste which cannot be prevented.
I presume the Deputies’ interest in this matter is prompted by recent media reports concerning the management of hazardous material being held by a private company, Rentokil. The company, as holder of the material, has the statutory responsibility to resolve this matter not only under the Waste Management Act 1996, but also under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Acts 1989 and 2005, the Dangerous Substances Act 1972, the Protection of the Environment Act 2003 and accompanying regulations and licensing regimes. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has no function in this regard.
Deputy Conor Lenihan: In April 2007, Rentokil made the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government aware of the existence of seven cylinders of hydrogen cyanide at its premises at Ballymount. This followed a series of meetings held by Rentokil with South Dublin County Council, the Defence Forces, the fire services and An Garda Síochána to develop a solution for the disposal of the cylinders. South Dublin County Council has taken the lead agency responsibility in this matter and has maintained appropriate contact with the relevant statutory authorities, including the Health and Safety Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has written to the council requesting that it considers the steps it can take to ensure an appropriate resolution of this matter by Rentokil within the relevant regulatory requirements for waste management and disposal having regard to the hazard involved.
On 10 June 2008, the council issued a press statement detailing the steps it would take as the lead agency in the disposal of the cylinders. The council continues to work closely with all relevant agencies in dealing with this matter.
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