Solicitor for Irish Cement, Deborah Spence, and Brian Gilmore, of Irish Cement, leaving Limerick Courthouse PICTURE: MICHAEL COWHEY
IRISH CEMENT Limited have apologised after being convicted and fined in connection to “fugitive dust emissions” in a residential area in County Limerick.
The company that runs the Mungret-based plant appeared before Judge Marian O’Leary at Limerick District Court this Friday morning, and pleaded guilty to two counts of dust interfering with the Sli na Manach neighbourhood in April and May, under Section 4 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act.
In her evidence, the EPA’s environmental enforcement officer Insp Maria Lenihan said she inspected the dust emissions in April and May Bank Holiday weekend in 2017 following eight complaints from residents on both occasions.
She described the dust as “a gritty material that is not easily-washed off”. Solicitor for the EPA, Maeve Larkin asked Insp Lenihan if the substance was “caustic” to which she replied it was.
In their complaints to the EPA, residents expressed concern over dust on cars, garden furniture and solar panels. Ms Larkin said that residents were also worried about their health.
“It was very distressing and stressful and [they] wanted to move on with their lives,” Ms Larkin told the court this Friday morning.
Insp Lenihan took photos and samples of the dust and sent them to a centre at Trinity College Dublin for analysis. She told the court that the dust samples found at homes matched the dust samples at the Irish Cement plant, on both occasions.
When asked about the causes of the dust emissions, Ms Lenihan explained that on the day in April, there were dry conditions with a north-easterly wind.
She said that there was also a dust leak as a result of a missing bolt from one of the shoots in a clinker silo. Insp Lenihan said that there were a number of infrastructural issues.
She told the court that Irish Cement Limited were putting in mitigating measures in relation to ongoing issues at the site, and that the timelines were met.
Irish Cement solicitor Deborah Spence did not ask Insp Lenihan any questions during the hearing.
The company was convicted of a similar offence in October 2006, the court heard.
Ms Larkin said that, if convicted, the penalty constituted a class-B fine of up to €4,000.
Ms Spence told the court that the dust emissions “unfortunately occurred twice in April and May last year” and the weather conditions were “favourable for the dispersal of emissions”.
Ms Spence said that Irish Cement immediately apologised and “did whatever they could to make amends”. This included power-washing affected residents’ properties, she said.
She told the court that they recognised the inconvenience caused by the dust emissions.
The defence solicitor said that the missing bolt could have been a reason for the “fugitive dust”.
Irish Cement Limited engaged in a number of other additional measures, she explained, such as removing acres of gravel and replacing it with grass or concrete. The company also carried out a “complete risk-assessment of the whole site”, the court was told.
“They ensured to put in additional measures so that this doesn’t happen again,” she said.
Judge Marian O’Leary convicted and fined Irish Cement Limited €1,250 with two months to pay.
Mayor of Limerick City and County, Cllr James Collins was present with a number of complainants during the hearing this Friday.
Resident Clare Keating, who is a spokesperson for the lobby group Limerick Against Pollution, said that the fines were “minimalistic”.
In a statement after the proceedings, Irish Cement’s communications manager Brian Gilmore said that it “is committed to being a good neighbour in the local communities in which it operates.
“Irish Cement accepts the judgement today in the District Court relating to dust emissions which took place last year.
“Irish Cement reiterates the apology it expressed at the time and regrets the inconvenience caused to its neighbours. The company has put in place a number of additional mitigation measures at the factory.”