AN BORD SNIP: CUTS TO ENVIRONMENT FACE DANGER OF FINES
Ireland will inevitably face daily fines from the European Court of Justice if cuts are imposed on environmental funding.
The stark warning came from Friends of the Irish Environment, an environmental lobby group that specialises in European environmental law. The group has provided the Commission with a number of dossiers since 1997.
Director Tony Lowes said that ‘Ireland now faces 8 cases in which the original court judgment has not been addressed and the European Commission has notified Ireland that it is returning to Court to seek fines for non-compliance.'
Cuts to major infrastructure projects for urban waste water. Capital investment is required for new and improved infrastructure, its operation, and for its monitoring and enforcement. The judgment was given by the Court in June 2005.
Quality of drinking water issues dating from a 2002 ruling against Ireland. Yet some schemes still have not been upgraded to meet the new water standards, particularly in Galway. Hundreds of schemes still have no chlorine monitors, particularly in Cork.
Backlogs in appeals against designations under the Birds Directive. The failure here has frozen the issue of permits for aquaculture installations for many years, adding an extra burden to that industry as well as jeopardising the environment.
In the area of natural habitats, appropriate levels of funding have not even to date have not been made available to the Department of the Environment. Vacancies unfilled and shortages in technical staff are unaddressed in both the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the National Geological Survey of Ireland.
Ireland is required under recent judgment to put in place an effective and national monitoring programme for flora and fauna both on land and sea. Specialist ecologist staff must be recruited in areas like invertebrates and birds to avoid a return to Court.
The organisation said that it would be a ‘false economy not to meet the requirements of the European Court of Justice and provide the relevant authorities with sufficient funds to avoid fines which can run to many millions of euro.'
Verification and further information: Tony Lowes 027 74771 / 087 2176316
As the Minister for the Environment confirms that the European Commission has sent Ireland a Letter of Formal Notice over the unlicensed storage of waste at the site of the former steelworks at Haulbowline Island, County Cork, we publish statistics that show the Minister has not made good on his promise to ensure improved compliance with European Law.
Ireland's record before the EU Court has shown no improvement in the period 2008 - 2009. Ireland is currently subject to 28 environmental infringement proceedings, including 5 which are returning to Court after a Judgment against the State to seek penalties for non-compliance with that Judgment.
Nowhere is the Government's failure more clear than in their handling of the 9 hectares of waste assigned to the Minsiter for the Environment in 2003.
If this waste was being held by any other party than the State, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Local Authority would be the first in Court to require the holder to apply for a license. Instead, nothing has been done, month after month, year after year. Six years of reports and delays - as the toxic residue seeps into the harbour and blows in the wind.
EU MOVE ON HAULBOWLINE
The Minister for the Environment has confirmed that the European Commission has sent Ireland a Letter of Formal Notice over the unlicensed storage of waste at the site of the former steelworks at Haulbowline Island, County Cork.
The confirmation came in a written parliamentary reply to Deputy Simon Coveney.
The environmental group FIE made a formal complaint to the Commission last year alleging that potentially hazardous waste was being held without a license.
In a statement, the group said that ‘national and European law require the licensing of waste, both to protect the environment and any residents exposed to potential toxic effects.'
‘The licensing procedure requires an Environmental Impact Statement that will determine the conditions that should be imposed to ensure that this site is properly cleaned up.'
‘If this waste was being held by any other party than the State, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Local Authority would be the first in Court to require the holder to apply for a license. The State's failure to do this has now led to this Letter of Formal Notice from the European Commission, the first stage in legal proceedings against a member state.
If not addressed by the Government proceedings will be instituted before the European Court of Justice that can ultimately lead to daily fines for every extra day the waste is held without a license.
Ireland is currently subject to 28 environmental infringement proceedings, including 5 which are returning to Court after a Judgment against the State to seek penalties for non-compliance with the Judgment.
Tony Lowes 027 74771 / 087 2176316
Julio GARCIA BURGUES
Directorate A: Communication, Legal Affairs & Civil Protection
200 Rue de La Loi,
Re: Waste Directive 75/442 Infringement: Haulbowline Island County Cork, Ireland
Dear Mr Burgues;
We write to you because of the absence of a waste permit for waste deposited at the site of the former steel works at Haubowline Island, County Cork under European Directive 75/442. This lack of a licence was confirmed by way of a written Parliamentary Question answered by the Minister for the Environment on 17 February 2009.
Successive reports from 1996 - 2008 have confirmed that significant quantities of hazardous waste remains at this site and that they are the cause of ongoing environmental pollution.
We attach a Report entitled ‘Toxic Island' which includes historic and contemporary photographs. We also attach a Briefing Document which contains substantial records of supporting documentation, including the scientific studies undertaken from 1995 - 2008. We are able to provide specific written documentation for any of the statements in this submission.
Friends of the Irish Environment are a registered Irish non-Governmental organisation, a member of the Irish Environmental Network and the European Environmental Bureau. We have no objection to the publication of this infringement complaint, which has been expressed to all the relevant national authorities.
Tony Lowes, Director
Located ¾ of a kilometre from the historic town of Cobh in Cork Harbour, part of which is a Natura 2000 site, Haulbowline Island's 23 hectares houses not only a historic steel works site but is a unique Irish example of a predominantly 19th century purpose-built naval dockyard complex established during 1806 - 1822. The Irish Government acquired ownership in 1923.
The island has an intrinsic relationship with Spike Island, Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle, all nearby historic structures in Cork harbour. While currently unzoned, it is an Architectural Conservation Area and contains Protected Structures. It houses the Navy's 1100 personnel and part of University College Cork's Marine Institute. There is a 2007 proposal by the Heritage Council and the Navy to create a €20m maritime museum in one the island's six great warehouses, the earliest integrated cast iron framed buildings in Ireland.
The steel production plant and allied activities, including a galvanized steel production unit, occupied 11.3 hectares of the island. 9 hectares of this area is known as the East Tip. This is reclaimed lands/made land/landfill/disposal dump encroaching into the harbour and formed from the deposit of slag, heavy metals, PCBs, hydrocarbons, and other by products of the steel making process.
The Irish State began steel production at this location after the Second World War, trading as Irish Steel Limited. In 1996 Irish Steel was sold to Ispat Mexicana S.A. de C.V. and renamed Irish Ispat.
Irish Ispat Limited went into liquidation in June 2001. The IPC Licence, which was a condition of the 1996 lease, was issued by the Environmental Protection Agency two weeks after the liquidation.
In early 2003 the liquidator exercised a break clause in the lease to allow him to vacate the lands. A Government decision of June 17, 2003 followed which gave a mandate requiring the Department of the Environment to ‘coordinate all legal actions in relation to the site, to carry out a suitable site investigation to determine the levels of contamination and remediation/development options at the site, and to report back to Government when such an investigation was complete'.
The Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Defence and Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and Enterprise Trade and Employment issued proceedings against the liquidator seeking clean-up which sought to oblige the company to
‘discontinue engaging in the holding, recovery or disposal of waste on the lands comprised in the lease, to carry out remediation works to mitigate or remedy any effects of the holding, recovery or disposal of waste and to put in place an effective ongoing monitoring and inspection system, following remediation.'
The Judgement on 29 July 2004 found as a matter of fact that the IPC licence was granted after the company had ceased production of steel and that the conditions of the licence could not be applied retrospectively.
At the time of the sale, the 1995 Due Diligence Report [RPS Cairns Ltd., 1995] advised that the 1983 Foreshore License had been exceeded by over 1 hectare, and that the operation contravened the planning permission for the type of waste dumped on the East Tip where only inert material was authorised. Irish Steel Ltd. had also failed to build a required sea wall to retain the waste from erosion.
The sale agreement to Ispat included a contribution of £2.36 million from the Minister for Finance towards identified environmental works, including the retaining wall to prevent further erosion into Cork harbour.
Ispat greatly intensified production. There was a record of uncontrolled fugitive emissions, mainly of dust, from the facility which had been the cause of regular complaints from both the Naval Service and the residents in Cobh. In 1996 the Navy had the stains on their base's flag which adjoins the site analyzed by Forbairt, the State Agency. It reported major levels of iron and zinc, followed by lower amounts of chlorine, calcium, manganese, lead, silicon, potassium, chromium, and possibly copper. Forbaith advised the Navy that ‘the presence of lead as an airborne contaminate raises a serious health and safety risk to persons using your premises'.
In February 1999 Cork County Council successfully prosecuted the facility for the failure to notify the Council of air pollution incident in March 1998.
Ispat admitted to the EPA in 2000 that increased production requirements resulted in an ‘overload of the emission control systems and that their dust collection canopy is unable to cope'. The EPA recorded 19 separate pollution incidents in the last two years of ISPAT's production.
The East Tip grew a further [unauthorized] 1.4 ha in the 3 years Ispat operated and at least 80,000 - 90,000 tons of waste were deposited. The waste was composed of 75% - 90% inert slag but mill scale and bag house furnace dust (mainly iron oxide with other toxic heavy metals and metalloids, including up to 30% zinc and lead) refractory bricks and discarded electrodes including PCBs have been identified intermingled in the waste.
For many years waste from the steel plant operations was bagged and buried in ‘cells' on the large East Tip and in two smaller historic tip during the annual summer shut down. [See Toxic Island cover photo.] Legislative changes in the UK during the plant's operation led to UK landfills no longer accepting the most toxic dust cake from the dust extraction system, which was then also mixed with waste refractory materials and disposed on in the East Tip.
The site is at 6m AOD with 19 direct discharges to the estuary. While tipped material is present to a level of 6 AOD, some materials have sunk into the soft marine sediments and EPA reports confirm adjacent sediment contamination. Groundwater contour figures infer a strong tidal influence on groundwater with radial saline intrusion during high tide and subsequent outflow at low tide. A 1995 report calculated that ‘The volume of seawater flushing is at a minimum of 16,700m3/day - several hundred times greater than the volume of precipitation infiltrating the waste' [Cullen, 1995].
This Report concluded that ‘there is potential for the generation of a leachate with a high metal content.' These finding were confirmed in successive Reports prepared for the Minister for Communications Marine, and Natural Resources [Enviros Asprinwall 2002] and KPMG Corporate Recovery [O'Callahan Moran & Associates, 2002] and the Minister for the Environment [White Young Green, 2005].
In spite of assurances published by the Department of the Environment in June 2008 assuring the public of their safety, two 2008 sets of analysis of surface soil contamination show levels far above Dutch Intervention Values.
One set of results were obtained through the digging of 15 trial pits to take surface samples in April and May 2008 with an agreed purpose between the contractor and the Department of the Environment to quantify the amount and level of contamination remaining in the East Tip. These show heavy metals levels at a magnitude greater than those provided by the Department of the Environment's consultants. [White Young Green, 2008].
The second results are the analysis by the Hamburg Hazardous Waste landfill's laboratory of the 112,000 tons of surface waste shipped during the clean up. This showed solid waste levels far in excess of intervention values. Chromium VI was at levels so high in one shipment that it was unacceptable to the landfill. These documents are sections 4 and 6 respectively of the Safety Report delivered by the contractor to the Department of the Environment on 22 August 2008.
This Safety Report containing these two set of scientific results confirming the high level of contaminates present has not been made publicly available by the Department of the Environment in spite of repeated requests. Our copies were obtained independently.
Over 100,000 tons of surface hazardous waste had been shipped when a disagreement over the treatment of lagoons of hazardous waste exposed by the surface cleanup arose. The Department instructed that the lagoon be backfilled untreated. The differing interpretation of surface waste and of the remaining work required under environmental legislation led inter allia to the Minister terminating the contract on May 30, 2008 on the grounds that the contractor was ‘Guilty of an act which brings the Minister in disrepute or which in the Minister's opinion is prejudicial to his interests'.
An examination of the files of the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that suggestions from the Department of the Environment that the EPA should issue ‘further' enforcement directions were resisted, the grounds being in one email the ‘nature of the licence being disclaimed' and in another the fact that Cork County Council was the ‘Reg. body' who should ‘do an assessment and use their enforcement powers where necessary'.
In June 2008 the controversy over the alleged breach of the cleanup contract became public and the Director of the EPA sought to determine the agency's position. The consensus amongst Environmental Protection Agency's Regional Team Leaders was that ‘no further involvement should be provided without full regularisation of the interaction, starting with the issuing of a waste licence for remedial work'.
The Local Authority has refused to release its files to us on the grounds that as the Department of the Environment's agent in reporting to the cabinet it may avail of ‘cabinet confidentiality' as grounds for refusal. We have appealed this decision to the Information Commissioner.
The Minister for the Environment states in his Written Parliamentary Response of 17 February, 2009, that his agents have completed an ‘extensive site investigation to determine the extent of environmental damage and to guide further Government consideration of the future development/use of the site' and that the Minister ‘will shortly bring a Memorandum to Government with proposals in that regard'.
Significant adverse impacts to the environment have already occurred through the surface clean-up operations. The extraction of the waste and its international shipment for treatment was undertaken without the contractors being aware of the highly hazardous nature of the material or being provided with any of the reports cited in this submission. This may have exposed workers and residents of the island and the mainland to potential airborne carcinogenic pollution.
To continue to proceed on the basis of political considerations without the issue of any license at this location and without its appropriate assessment and would further support the Judgement of the European Court of Justice against Ireland on waste in Case C-494/01 of 26 April 2005.
This Judgment stated that Ireland had failed ‘to meet the obligations to take the requisite measures to ensure that waste is disposed of without endangering human health and without harming the environment' and that this situation ‘has persisted and has led to a significant deterioration in the environment over a protracted period without any action being taken by the competent authorities'.
The subject of this infringement complaint is a further demonstration of the systemic avoidance by the Irish authorities of the obligations under the Waste Directive.
Friends of the Irish Environment,
20 February, 2009
Friends of the Irish Environment are seeking to have Ireland brought before the European Court of Justice for the unlicensed storage of hazardous waste at Haulbowline Ireland. Having written without success to four Ministers, FIE is bringing an Infringement Complaint under the terms of the EU Court Judgment of 2005 [Case C-494/01]. This Judgment established a systemic failure of Ireland ‘to meet the obligations to take the requisite measures to ensure that waste is disposed of without endangering human health and without harming the environment’.
‘Because of the nature of this Judgment against Ireland, we understand that the Commission will be able to act rapidly to ensure that the holders of the waste at Haulbowline Island will confirm with the European Directive and be subject to the required licensing procedures.'
Haulbowline Waste goes to EU
Friends of the Irish Environment have sought to have Ireland brought before the European Court of Justice for the unlicensed storage of hazardous waste at Haulbowline Ireland.
The environmental group have written without success to the four Ministers involved and to the Taoiseach seeking to have the Government apply for a waste licence.
A spokesman said that their position was supported by the Environmental Protection Agency.
‘The Environmental Protection Agency's Regional Team leaders have advised the EPA that ‘no further involvement should be provided without full regularization of the interaction, starting with the issuing of a waste license for remedial work'.
After consultations with the European Commission, we are bringing an Infringement Complaint under the terms of the Judgment of the European Court of Justice against Ireland on waste in Case C-494/01 of 26 April 2005.
This Judgment stated that Ireland had failed ‘to meet the obligations to take the requisite measures to ensure that waste is disposed of without endangering human health and without harming the environment'. It said further that this situation ‘has persisted and has led to a significant deterioration in the environment over a protracted period without any action being taken by the competent authorities'.
A spokesman for the organization said that ‘Because of the nature of this Judgment against Ireland, we understand that the Commission will be able to act rapidly to ensure that the holders of the waste at Haulbowline Island will confirm with the European Directive and be subject to the required licensing procedures.
Verification: Tony Lowes 027 73131 / 087 2176316
EU Infringement Complaint
Toxic Island: The Story of Haulbowline Island
In a swinging judgment today, the European Court of Justice has today ruled that Ireland's uniform thresholds for environmental impact assessment of rural projects ‘exceeds member state's discretion'.
The Judgment said that ‘The use of uniform thresholds means that no examination at all is carried out in respect of the environmental effects of projects which are, however, likely to have significant effects.'
The effect of the judgment will be to greatly strengthen the requirements for Environmental Impact Assessments to be carried out by land owners or occupiers on any developments that may impact on the environment, regardless of the scale.
The judgment also rejected the Irish threshold for EIAs of 20 hectares for water management projects for agriculture, including wetlands, irrigation and land drainage projects, and the threshold for fish farms. Read our Press Release.