Asbestos Found in Material atop Illegal Landfill in Priorswood

Engineers have found evidence of asbestos-containing materials on top of a giant illegal landfill in Priorswood, their report says.

There’s an estimated 57,900 tonnes of waste on two patches of land near Belcamp Lane, made up mostly of gravelly clay, ceramics, bricks, wire, and plastics, says the report by engineering firm O’Connor Sutton Cronin (OCSC).

There is also evidence of burning throughout the site, says the report, released under the Freedom of Information Act.

For years, residents have asked Dublin City Council — which owns the land — to test what’s in and on top of the mounds near their homes and to clean up the site. They’ve been worried it’s making them sick.

“We get nothing back off them, we get no reply,” says Monica Fetherstone, a resident of Moatview.

The OCSC engineers, who drew up the report in February, were tasked with working out what waste is dumped there, as the council intends to clear the site and stop it happening again, the report says.

They also studied the soil, and looked at whether there were paths by which pollutants from the landfill could impact human health and the environment. Some of these pathways include ingestion of soil and dust, breathing in dust and vapours, or contaminants seeping into groundwater.

Their tests and analysis found that none of the pollutants present a significant human health risk, according to the report.

Residents say the council still hasn’t kept them updated as to its plans, a timeline, and whether the dump poses a health hazard to those living nearby.

Step One

Before the site can be cleaned up, it has to be subject to a risk assessment, under the Environmental Protection Agency’s code of practice.

Some clean-up work was done in 2018, but there was no evidence that Dublin City Council did a risk assessment that time.

Now, it has. The assessment looked at the type of waste, whether it’s contaminated the soil and any potential risks to human health.

OCSC engineers found that none of the soil samples they took contained concentrations of contamination in excess of acceptable levels of public health risk, although there was evidence of localised contamination in the soil in a part of the site where old vehicles were left.

They also found clear evidence of asbestos-containing material “in a number of locations” on the surface of the landfill. Trace asbestos-containing materials were observed in the soil samples.

The authors recommend, however, that an asbestos specialist be present while the site is cleaned in case there are “unknown isolated hotspots which contain potential contamination”.

There are also potential risks to human health due to “vapour migration to indoor and outdoor air” but these risks were negligible, the report says.

The report notes that there is an “acceptable” risk to human health via inhalation, dermal contact, the ingestion of the soil and dust for both residents onsite and in adjacent areas.

However, it classifies the potential contamination from the landfill from the imported made ground as an acceptable risk. In other words, the probability that it’s causing problems for human health is small.

While it does not classify the risk of burning materials on-site, it does make reference to it.

Living There

Fetherston, a local resident, says that burning waste at the landfill is having a noticeable impact on air quality.

“I’ve to wear a mask now leaving my front door,” says Fetherston, who has recently seen her cancer return and spread from her lungs to her kidney.

“I’m worn out cleaning the road all the time and they’re burning that over there,” she says.

“My grandchildren are out there playing and I’d bring them in if there’s fires. Their poor chests. You’d smell it off their clothes,” says Fetherstone.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that assessments have been carried out specifically to test asbestos fibres in the air. “All tests proved negative,” they said.

It’s not clear if any prolonged air quality tests were carried out in the area as a result of the burning of material on site.

What Next?

In March 2020, a spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that cleaning up the site was on the council’s agenda.

It “is one of a number of priority capital projects for the year 2020”, they said.

In September 2020, a spokesperson again said that Covid-19 had slowed down the works. But the council still hopes to begin remediating the site this year, they said.

The council is currently working out how much it might cost, they said. “The specific amount for the remediation of the site mentioned is currently being quantified.”

The council is drafting a proposal for what’ll go on the site instead and whether housing is feasible, they said.

Residents have yet to hear anything official from the council as to future plans for the site, says Marian Meehan, who lives in the area.

She’d like to see the site used for housing once it’s safe, she says. “That’s the thing we all wanted before this dumping started.”

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Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a freelance journalist. You can reach him at [email protected]

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