Toxic mine clean up enters next stage

A multi-million pound project to clean up a toxic mining waste dump which left neighbours fearing for their health has entered its second phase.

Irish minister for natural resources, Conor Lenihan, has officially launched phase two of remediation works at the Gortmore Tailings Management Facility in the Silvermines area of County Tipperary.

He said: “The government is committed to working with the community in addressing the environmental problems associated with the long history of mining in the area.”

The Silvermines region was mined for minerals, including lead, zinc, copper and silver, for around 1,000 years.

From the 1960s until 1982 the 150-acre Gortmore pond site was used to dump toxic leftovers from lead and zinc mining.

Nearby residents feared toxic dust from the dump, containing large amounts of poisonous heavy metals, endangered human and animal health.

Phase one of the €10.6m (£9m) government-funded clean-up was finished in December last year (2008).

It involved placing protective layers over some 50 acres of uncovered surface area on the site.

In phase two soil will be placed on top, along with other work including to surface drainage, ponds and wetlands.

The work is due to be finished by the end of 2009 with final topsoil laying and grass seeding in early 2010.

Conservationist network Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) welcomed the phase two announcement.

But it called on the government to publish a national risk assessment of mines around the country (Historic Mine Site – Inventory and Risk Characterisation), which it says lists mines requiring urgent remediation.

A spokesman said: “A recent study of 52 countries showed Ireland to be second only to the UK in emissions of the potentially toxic lead on a per capita basis.

“Yet this risk assessment, completed in January 2008 to meet an EU 2004 Directive, remains unavailable.”

FIE director Tony Lowes says the organisation finds ‘increased resistance’ to the publication of environmental reports ‘when the possibility of financial obligations might arise’.

Máire Hoctor, North Tipperary parliamentary representative, accompanied Mr Lenihan on the site two weeks ago (Thursday, July 23).

She described the work as ‘an historic breakthrough to solve the pollution problem which had affected the local community for nearly 30 years’.

David Gibbs

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