Since the news broke last week the media has been full of stories about the toxic slag heap on and beside the former Irish Steel / Irish Ispat site on Haulbowline - a few hundred metres from the town of Cobh and close to many other harbour towns and villages.
Photo shows former furnace hall which was demolished in 2006 causing a huge dust cloud which spread over much of Cobh and the lower harbour. Below is a video of the demolition
It has emerged that a company employed to remove the slag heap has been sacked by the government and has leaked a report which shows that the situation is much worse than thought and there are dangerous levels of lethal toxins such as Chromium 6 and mercury on the site. It was not news the government wanted to hear and now the lawyers are being called in to sort out the legal wrangle. Meanwhile the people of the lower harbour and the 1,300 members of the Irish Naval Service continue to live, work and play beside the site.
On July 1st local resident's and environmental group's representatives met with the Minister for the Environment John Gormley in his Dublin office. The usual press releases were issued by both sides, the most embellished being that of the Minister which was aimed at allaying people's concerns and dampening down the furore. It's called public relations and people like John Gormley are good at it.
The furore should not end, the anger of the people of Cobh and the lower harbour needs to become even more obvious. We want action, we want answers and we want them now!
Tonight even more bad news, the Evening Echo (02/07/08) reports that statistics from the National Cancer Registry show that cancer levels in the town of Cobh are 44% above the national average. We didn't need a statistical analysis to tell us that is very high, but the extent of it is a shock. Higher cancer rates are also found in Carrigaline, Ringaskiddy and Passage/Monkstown - but Cobh Urban is by far the worst.
Irish Steel - or Irish Ispat as it became known when it was sold off for the princely sum of one old pound (IR£1) by the Fine Gael / Labour / Democratic Left government - it finally closed in 2001 - that was seven years ago. High levels of toxicity at the site were first reported ten years before that in 1991. This is half way through 2008 and it's still there. Deadly carcinogens in pools, on the ground on Haulbowline and in the air we breath - and of course also leaching into the waters of Cork Harbour where many of us swim, paddle or travel by boat for work or pleasure.
What has occurred in Haulbowline is a crime. Criminal negligence has put the lives of Irish Steel workers, clean-up contract workers, naval service, port workers and the local people at serious risk. There was also a criminal attempt to hide the extent of the situation. Will we see anyone go to jail? - Highly unlikely. Will any senior official or government minister be disciplined ? - Very unlikely. Will any of those who have suffered death or serious illness as a result of thes toxins (or their families) ever receive compensation? Don't hold your breath. Will the site ever be properly cleared? We will wait and see - but let's not wait too long. In fact we now need to ensure that the issue stays on the national agenda. Don't be silent!
Photo shows Le Ciara passing the slag heap on Haulbowline