County Limerick farmers raise concerns over ‘mystery’ animal diseases

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Reporter:

Gerard Fitzgibbon

FARMERS in West Limerick have raised concerns over several reports of ‘mystery’ diseases affecting livestock, which they fear may be linked to environmental pollutants in the Shannon Estuary.

FARMERS in West Limerick have raised concerns over several reports of ‘mystery’ diseases affecting livestock, which they fear may be linked to environmental pollutants in the Shannon Estuary.

The Cappagh Farmers Support Group has said that in recent months, more and more farmers have approached them with evidence of animals being struck by unusual conditions, including one horse in Askeaton with a ‘flesh eating’ condition.

One farmer near Newcastle West, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that over the past three years her cattle have experienced “high levels of infertility” and pneumonia-like illnesses.

She also claims to have found samples of chemical residue in the soil and water on her land, and that some sections of hedgerow on the property have suffered “quite visible” burn damage.

“I do think there’s a problem. I haven’t spoken to any of my neighbours, but down the mart and in other places there’s a lot of ‘shop talk’. A lot of farmers appear to have had the same problem with this the last couple of years”, she said.

She said that three times in the last five years she has noticed significant numbers of her herd developing strange illnesses – in 2007, 2010 and 2011. This was typified by the cattle having “a heavy, chesty cough” with excess fluid coming out of their nostrils, coupled with a “listless” demeanour.

“We had the vet around, and he said it was some sort of virus. Some of the cattle got pneumonia after that. It appeared as if their immune systems were under attack”. The problem was particularly acute after the animals had calved, she said, and lasted for up to two months.

Infertility amongst her herd became pronounced last year, she said, with a total of 40% of her herd failing to calf. The herd “are doing a little better this year”, she added.

She said that on occasions when council officials have been present on her farm carrying out routine inspections, she has raised the issue about apparent chemical contamination on the land.

The potential impact of heavy industry in County Limerick on humans, animals and wildlife is an issue which has rumbled on inconclusively for decades.

Last April, the Cappagh Farmers called for a full independent survey of the effect of pollutants in the Shannon basin, following the publication of a similar study by the Mercy University Hospital Foundation in Cork.

That report, which was published following a 13-year study of cancer rates by the National Cancer Registry and Cork University Hospital, pointed to “industrial pollutants” in Cork harbour and the surrounding area as a possible factor in Cork having higher rates of testicular cancer per head of population than any other part of the country.

The report found that one in every seven of the 1,731 cases of testicular cancer diagnosed between 1994 and 2007 were in Cork.

Previous studies on the impact of industry in the Shannon region by the HSE and independent bodies did not find there to be any danger to human life.

The Cappagh Farmers have similarly lobbied politicians on a national and European level to draw attention to their campaign.

Most recently, they were in contact with the office of Health Minister Dr James Reilly regarding a European Environment Agency (EAA) report, published last November, which ranked Moneypoint and Aughinish Alumina amongst Europe’s “most damaging” industrial plants in terms of emissions.