Environmental expert Dr Paul Connett with Tim Hourigan, Limerick Against Pollution, at the hearing Picture: Adrian Butler
IRISH Cement's plans to burn alternative fuels at its plant in Limerick could threaten the sustainability of the region's industries, a planning hearing has heard, while the firm has also come under attack from an anti-pollution lobby group.
Speaking at the South Court Hotel, Dr Connett, who was flown in from New York as lobby group Limerick Against Pollution's ‘star witness’, also criticised Irish Cement’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for “displaying a lack of candour” over infomation on its reforms.
Irish Cement is planning to switch away from using petroleum coke in favour of used tyres and solid recovered waste, in a move which has proven unpopular, and paved the way for this oral hearing.
“The Golden Vale is very special. It epitomises the physical and cultural beauty of Ireland. It is one of the most fertile agricultural area in Europe. But the tourist, agricultural and knowledge based industries are easily threatened,” Dr Connett said.
“We have such a strong agricultural product. But as soon as we start building incinerators, it is going to threaten Ireland and it will lose its competitive advantage.”
Dr Connett, a retired professor of chemistry who has been involved in research into waste management for 32 years, also highlighted the number of foreign direct investment firms here, and suggested these could be threatened if Irish Cement’s controversial plans get the green light.
“All of these knowledge-based industries need to attract the brightest people to live in the area,” he said. “What a shock it must be for a leading software provider to see a big cement kiln near where their kids go to school and then know waste is burning there.”
Speaking of Irish Cement’s EIS, Dr Connett claimed it did not provide an “adequate assessment” of dioxin emissions both for routine and upset conditions, no information on the dioxin exposure to farmers, residents and their children, and fails to provide accident analysis.
“For Irish Cement to describe this as sustainable development is an Orwellian way of thinking,” he said. “Instead of Irish Cement using a dirty and risky fuel like waste – Irish Cement should join-up to the natural gas supply line which is very close the facility.
“This will be more expensive but bearing in mind the fragile environment as far as where people live, children go to school and where cows graze) this would be a very wise planning decision,” he added.
Jarlath Fitzsimons, senior counsel for Irish Cement, said it would formally respond to Dr Connett after the lunch break.
The firm said in evidence on Monday that cement was the second most used substance on the planet after water, with over 200 cement factories in Europe using over 10m tonnes of residual waste each year.
Brian Gilmore of Irish Cement said Limerick was now the only cement factory in Ireland that did not have permission to use alternative fuels and that replacing fossil fuels at Mungret would not change the manufacturing process.
“The existing cement factory in Limerick is not being altered in any way to become an incinerator,” Mr Gilmore said and he went on to outline the differences between a cement factory and an incinerator.
In earlier testimony this Tuesday, Kevin Feeney, a resident of Ard Aulin in Mungret, and a member of Limerick Against Pollution, said various dust blow-outs allegedly emanating from the Irish Cement plant have stopped his children enjoying the fruit they grow in their back garden.
“Our children enjoy foraging for and eating this fruit. Because of the dust emissions this year, I kept our children in the house so they would not eat them. We left the blackberries too rot in the garden. These dust emissions are impacting on the enjoyment of our home,” he told the hearing.
He also claimed that the plans by Irish Cement would represent a threat to the flora and fauna of a surrounding special area of conservation.
Three new schools have opened in Mungret this week to cater for the growing population in the area.
In a written statement, Mr Feeney read: “This proposed development will potentially make these new schools unsafe. Parents should not be forced to choose between their health and education. The introduction of an unsafe process will impact on the safe environment.”
A big crowd was once again present at the South Court Hotel, including for the second day in a row, philanthropist JP McManus who expressed his “concern” over the plans on Monday.
Ahead of the lunchtime break, a number of campaigners took to the stand to speak against the firm's €10m proposals to burn used tyres and solid recovered waste.
Dr Angus Mitchell, a lecturer in Corporate Social Responsibility at the University of Limerick, claimed Irish Cement through its reforms are "party to creating an eco-system of toxicity from Aughinish and Moneypoint to Mungret."
And, he added, "they want to do everything they can possibly do to reduce the visual impact."
"It is our duty to preserve the quality of that air for future generations. What gives a single company the right to take control of that shared resource system," he asked.
Dr Mitchell also argued that Irish Cement's proposed reforms amount to a "cynical exercise of green-washing".
Colin Moran, who spoke on behalf of his father Kenneth Moran, of Gouldavoher, added: "Irish Cement should withdraw this dangerous proposal and work with the community for a win-win alternative.. There are much better alternatives which need to be considered. Good planning and proposals may involve more investment up front, but will be better in the long term."
Derek O'Dwyer, whose father and grandfather worked at Irish Cement, urged An Bord Pleanala to reject the company's plans.
"As a citizen, I have no choice but to fight for the well-being and safety of my family and to object vociferously to Irish Cement's proposals. I'm pleading sincerely with An Bord Pleanala to overturn [Limerick Council's] planning approval, recognising the unsustainable nature of the proposals and the flawed due diligence of other statutory bodies in reviewing this application,"b the Fr Russell Road man said.
Trish Talty, of Gouldavoher, added: "The Castlemungret facility should be leading by example, but instead they are snubbing their noses at Limerick and making an application which benefits only Irish Cement. All businesses have to change with the times and make decisions to remain in profit. However, the choices Irish Cement are proposing do not take into consideration the environment, the health of local residents, pursuing clean energy options or working on building trust with the public and striving to be a good neighbour."
Margaret McMahon also questioned whether Mary Immaculate College will continue to be successful if Irish Cemment's plans go ahead.
"Will students continue to enrol if they are subjected to emissions and dioxins on a daily basis. I doubt this also," she said.
The second day of the hearing is expected to last until around 9pm this Wednesday, to allow people who cannot attend in the daytime the opportunity to present testimony.
The oral hearing, chaired by An Bord Pleanala inspector Michael Dillon, continues.