Gormley denies steelworks cover up claims

The Irish government has denied claims that it is involved in a cover up involving hazardous waste at a former steel production site.

Environment Minister John Gormley said he was “appalled” by accusations against members of his department over the Irish Ispat site at Haulbowline, Cork.

The department took on responsibility for investigating and cleaning up contamination on the site, assisted by Cork County Council, in summer 2003.

Campaign group Friends of the Irish Environment claimed officials in the Environment Department and Cork County Council had attempted to conceal the extent of the toxic waste at the site, which they say includes mercury, chromium 6, which causes cancer, and radioactive material.

It said it had been refused council documents about a contractor working on the site, and that documents from the Environmental Protection Agency showed the contractor had no knowledge of some of the hazards of the site, such as oil sludge pits.

“Accusations of a cover up are entirely false,” Mr Gormley said in an official statement.

“The source of these allegations seems to be a sub-contractor who was involved in surface clearance works on behalf of the main contractor, Hammond Lane.

“Following the inadvertent discovery of a sub-surface sludge pit of hazardous waste a series of unauthorised works were undertaken by the contractor as a consequence of the find.

“These unauthorised works potentially compromised the safety of the site and as result the contract for the surface works was terminated.”

He added: “My principal concern is for the people of Cork Harbour and I want to reassure them that the Government is fully committed to transforming what is currently an environmental liability into an asset for the people of Cork.

“I hope to bring proposals to Government as soon as possible.”

Friends of the Irish Environment said they believed it was “largest and most extensive pollution incident in the history of the state”.

They added: “The public has the right to know the full extent of the contamination at the site and the ongoing danger to the public and the environment.”

Kate Martin

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