Irish Cement hearing in Limerick: Heated atmosphere as evidence is disputed

Nick Rabbitts at the South Court


Nick Rabbitts at the South Court

A picture from the first day of the oral planning hearing at the South Court Hotel Picture: Adrian Butler

A picture from the first day of the oral planning hearing at the South Court Hotel Picture: Adrian Butler

THERE were robust exchanges between Irish Cement representatives and the anti-pollution group’s ‘star witness’ at a planning hearing this Wednesday.

American environmental expert Dr Paul Connett took Irish Cement representatives to task over their monitoring of dioxins and other materials at its plant in Mungret.

With the second day of proceedings at the South Court Hotel dominated largely by submissions from members of the public who are opposed to the €10m plans, it was not until the latter stages when counsel representing the company was given a right of reply.

Irish Cement is planning to switch away from using fossil fuels and instead use solid recovered waste and used tyres, in a move which the company says offers a lower carbon, more cost-effective alternative.

But the proposals are deeply unpopular with the public, bringing 100 objections with local planners and paving the way for this An Bord Pleanala hearing, which is set to last until Friday.

Residents’ main concerns are an increase in toxic emissions into the environment. But the company has always maintained that as burning of alternative fuel will take place at such a high temperature, there will be no increase.

Earlier in the day, Dr Connett, who had flown in from America to give testimony on behalf of Limerick Against Pollution (LAP), expressed concern at the level of dioxins, warning Ireland’s “unique position with respect to the dairy industry could be lost”.

He criticised Irish Cement’s Environmental Impact Statement, which he said did not provide an “adequate assessment of dioxin emissions for routine operation,” as well as not providing assessment of dioxin emissions under various conditions.

But Dr Don Menzies, representing Irish Cement, outlined a comprehensive programme of testing for the material around the plant in Mungret, pointing out its methods employ a model advocated by the American Environmental Protection Agency.

The testing model was, he added, one which the firm was asked to use by Limerick City and County Council.

“Our tests were not showing up [dioxins] in milk, soil and the air to any extent. All the information we have is that would at least be maintained,” he added, referring to the possibility of the firm switching to alternative fuels.

Director of communications with Irish Cement, Brian Gilmore, also pointed to dioxin levels in milk fat at a cement factory in Kinnegad in Co Westmeath which switched to alternative methods 11 years ago, pointing out its dioxin levels were in line with studies from across Ireland.

But Dr Connett claimed he did not believe the measurement methods used by Irish Cement were “sound”.

“It’s nothing personal, but in science, you do not use data provided by a consultant employed by a company without getting it verified,” he said.

Representatives for Irish Cement pointed out the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had verified the testing, with Jarlath Fitzsimons, counsel for the firm, pointing out the regulator is still deliberating on the award of an operational licence for the Mungret plant.

Dr Connett asked why data on dioxin levels had not been provided for various aspects of the food chain, including beef, pork, eggs and grass, rather than an overall figure.

He was told the company had not been requested to provide this data.

In response, Dr Connett said: “If you give me the data I can use my skills of 32 years of experience to decide whether you have provided a sound calculation or not. I cannot accept you cannot give me the numbers of every aspect [of the food chain].”

The American environmental expert asked this question of Irish Cement representatives on a number of other occasions, but was repeatedly told that the data was not available as the firm had not been asked to provide it.

Amid a heated atmosphere, this prompted the An Bord Pleanala inspector Michael Dillon to appeal for no interruptions from the crowd.

The second day of the hearing is expected to last until 9pm tonight to allow people who cannot attend in the daytime the opportunity to present testimony.