Report finds that EPA licence was granted to Aughinish prematurely

Norma Prendiville

Reporter:

Norma Prendiville

The Aughinish RusAL plant at Askeaton
THE European Commission has admitted there was no emergency plan in place and no waste management plan in place for Aughinish RusAL when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a reviewed licence to the company last October.

THE European Commission has admitted there was no emergency plan in place and no waste management plan in place for Aughinish RusAL when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a reviewed licence to the company last October.

These breaches were revealed in detail in a letter to Pat Geoghegan of the Cappagh Farmers Group from Jean Francois Blakeland, the director of compliance in the Commission’s environment directorate.

Mr Blakeland made it clear that the licence was issued in breach of two articles of the European Mining Waste Directive.

Aughinish is now due to submit its waste management plan to the EPA by next Wednesday, April 24, six months after the licence was issued.

And it was expected to submit its emergency plan by January 24 last, three months after the licence was issued.

However, it is still unclear when the external emergency plan to be drawn up by Limerick County Council as another of the conditions under the Directive, was or is due to be submitted.

The deadline for submissions from the public on the council’s plan was March 11 last, over three months after the licence was issued.

But, despite the fact that the Commission acknowledged there had not been full compliance, its environment directorate said in February this year that it was closing the file on the matter “on the basis of commitments from Ireland.”

In his letter to Pat Geoghegan, Jean Francois Brakeland said the file would be closed with the option of being re-opened if Ireland does not meet its commitments”.

Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy said this week that he found the whole situation a bit bizare.

The Commission listed out the breaches of the directive, he said, yet they were closing the file before the breaches were fully rectified. “I think it is insufficient,” he said. “The file was open since 2011. Why not leave it open a bit longer and see, on April 25, what has been done or not done?”

“The EPA has constantly defended this plant and its safety procedures,” he continued. “They must be very confident in it to justify the fact that they allowed it to operate withou a safety procedure in place in case of emergency. Laura Burke, the director general of the EPA has serious questions to answer.”

“The EPA cannot be trusted,” Pat Geoghegan of Cappagh Farmers Group said this Wednesday and he called for a re-opening of the investigation into animal and human health in the Askeaton area which was carried out almost 20 years ago. “This shows the EPA couldn’t be independent in how they deal with this industry and in protecting human health and the environment.”

In his letter, Mr Brakeland also addressed Mr Geoghegan’s claim that the red mud residue left over from the alumina refining process at Aughinish was or should be classed as hazardours.

“The licensee (Aughinish) has confirmed that the red mud waste contrains ‘corrosive’ and ‘irritant’ constituents,” Mr Brakeland said before adding: “In each case, the levels of the constituents in each phase were less than the applicable thresholds, which confirms that the red mud waste is a non-hazardous waste.”

The EPA has yet to respond to the report.