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Coming from the Clayton Hotel in Clonshaugh and driving down the N32 toward Clare Hall, lies a greenfield site owned by IDA Ireland.
It’s currently home to a group of grazing horses and around 40,000 tonnes of illegal waste – which was buried there in 1983, a 2006 Dublin City Council report estimated.
Underground, there is “commercial waste from factories, food waste, construction waste, demolition waste, waste engine oil, and vials/test tubes containing blood”.
Under the Waste Management Acts 1996 to 2003, “the oil and blood waste is considered to hazardous”, the report says.
Above ground, peeking through the fencing, there’s no hint of the waste buried here. But some are worried it could cause environmental damage.
“There was grave concern because the main river just runs there beside it,” says Tommy Broughan, an independent TD for Dublin Bay North, who asked questions about the dump years back.
“There was medical waste and all that types of stuff in it,” he says. “But I always remember being dissatisfied with some of the answers I got.”
He expected it to be dealt with quickly, he says. “But as far as I’m aware, it’s sat there down through the years.”
But there may at last be some movement on dealing with it: just before Christmas, IDA Ireland tendered for consultancy on removing the waste.
Meanwhile, outside the Costcutters on Clonshaugh Road near the St Francis of Assisi Church, many said they didn’t even know about the hazardous waste down the road.
“I’ve no idea,” says one woman with a buggy, carrying her shopping. She turned to her friend.
“Never heard anything about it,” says her friend, trailing out of the shop behind her.
History of the Site
The land was bought by the IDA in 1998 for industrial development, and the waste was discovered in 2001 when a sewage pipe was being laid.
In the mid-2000s, the IDA – the semi-state in charge of attracting foreign investment to the country – twice submitted planning applications to have the waste contained. Once in 2004, and again in 2006.
The land straddles the boundary between the Dublin City Council area and the Fingal County Council area. So both local authorities had to be contacted.
The IDA withdrew its applications on both occasions, though, before the local authorities made decisions, the planning database shows.
Dublin City Council planners had on 12 April 2006 sought 28 points of further information before making a final decision. However on 28 July 2006, the IDA withdrew their planning application.
In July 2007, the IDA submitted an application to Fingal County Council, this time for the waste to be removed. By that time, the land near the N32 had been absorbed into Fingal.
According to an environmental impact statement (EIS) submitted in October 2008, a ruling by the European Court of Justice against Ireland meant that what was now required was removal of the waste, rather than just containment.
The EIS read: “The application of the regulations to the Belcamp site, if the waste were to remain in-situ, would require IDA Ireland to submit an application to the EPA for a Waste Licence. The situation is further complicated because of the hazardous classification of the waste.”
In 2009, Fingal County Council approved IDA Ireland’s plan to clean up the site. But the IDA still haven’t cleaned up the waste.
“IDA Ireland is conducting an ongoing evaluation of the Belcamp/Clonshaugh site in advance of any works taking place to remediate the site for industrial development,” says an IDA Ireland spokesperson.
“While initial examination suggests the waste materials found on site do not pose any risk to the environment the site will continue to be closely monitored until such time as the evaluation has been completed and all possible future risks have been fully assessed,” the spokesperson said.
Rivers and Streams
Sabrina Joyce says she’s worried about the lack of investigation into the waste in the site, and how close it is to the Mayne River.
The river goes right into the Baldoyle Estuary, says Joyce, who lives in Portmarnock, and learnt of the waste from talk at a consultation by Irish Water on the proposed wastewater treatment plant that may go on nearby land in Clonshaugh.
The Baldoyle Estuary “is a protected area and it should have been dealt with at the time and not left for ten years”, says Joyce.
Some of the waste seemed to be aeronautical parts, she says. “So somebody in the airport was giving an unauthorised crowd their waste and it was being dumped there. As far as I can see nobody was ever taken to task for it.”
In IDA Ireland’s tender documents for consultancy work, the “scope of services” breaks down the waste as: 20 percent industrial waste, including aeronautical parts and packaging; 40 percent commercial and municipal waste, including food waste packaging; 36 percent construction and miscellaneous waste; and 4 percent hazardous material, including clinical waste from hospitals.
According to the EIS, the waste is contained and isolated from “key environmental receptors”.
The clay on top of the waste is not very permeable, so groundwater is unlikely to seep into it from the surface, it says.
The Mayne River is culverted “and therefore protected from any potential contaminant migrating from the waste”.
The only risk from the environmental waste remaining there is the impact on the soil from leachate, a liquid that has absorbed environmentally harmful material that can potentially cause further damage to the environment, the EIS says.
The IDA applied in 2014 for an extension to the planning permission to clear the waste, which the council granted. That ran out on 7 May 2017, with no work done still.
Sometimes, cost might stop agencies from acting in cases such as this, says Owen McIntyre, an expert in environmental law at University College Cork.
Is there not an onus on the landowner to remove potentially hazardous waste? Not, it turns out, retrospectively.
“This is a real problem that we have in our law,” says McIntyre. “In most other systems you have a responsibility, a liability for the remediation of historically contaminated land, biowastes or otherwise.”
He points to part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act, which created two levels of responsibility, says McIntyre. If the polluter was found, the onus would be on them to remediate historical land contamination. If not, it would be on the current owner.
That can’t happen here however, says McIntyre. Irish legislation prohibits creating retrospective liability, he says.
Assessing the Danger
McIntyre also says that, for such a site, local planning authorities “would have almost certainly sent their engineers in there … or they may have consulted with the EPA and had the EPA send inspectors or engineers in there”.
In this case, though, it was left to the IDA to assess the danger posed to the environment by leaving the waste where it is.
A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the site at Belcamp Lane is on a register of historic waste sites it compiles.
But Fingal County Council are the correct place to talk to about assessments, they said. Local authorities “have the primary responsibility for dealing with unauthorised waste sites in their areas”.
A spokesperson for Fingal County Council said that: “Consulting engineers engaged by the IDA have assessed the site and have concluded that there is only a low risk of environmental impact from this site.”
According to the IDA’s tendering documents from last year, there has been no thorough investigation of the site since 2008.
A new planning application has not yet been received from Fingal County Council in relation to the removal of the waste, says a Fingal County Council spokesperson.
Sabrina Joyce still has concerns. “There is a danger of contamination of the Mayne River, which flows directly into the Baldoyle Special Area of Conservation,” she says.