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29 July 1999 Edition

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Kilcock community protests Hazardous Waste Incinerator


A BOLT from the blue hit the people in Kilcock, County Kildare, in April. A company called Thermal Waste Management had hatched a notion to build a 150,000-ton hazardous waste incinerator just metres away from their village.

Kilcock is heaven for commuters who have moved into this quiet and beautiful village in the Rye Valley. It is situated right beside the canal, where the children play canoe football admidst the swans and ducks, and visitors lounge outside the pubs. There are fewer than 2,000 people in the village, which lies in the best of farming land, close to some of the most famous stud farms in Ireland. This is Bord Fáilte's Ireland, of green meadows and sleepy cows, with traffic rumbling away in the distance along the bypass and the M4. Kildare County Council has proposed the Rye Valley as a special area of conservation.

And this is the spot that Thermal Waste Management (Ireland) Ltd (TWM) have selected for Ireland's national hazardous waste incinerator: a 50-acre site on the Meath/Kildare border; in blowing distance of Clane on the Liffey, Celbridge, Maynooth to the East, Trim to the North, and Dublin only 18 miles away at the end of the valley.

Who dreamt this up?

Christopher Bennett, a developer from Tyrell's Pass, of Moydale Holdings Ltd, who owns the 19.5-hectare Boycetown site and rents it out for farming, applied in March last year for planning permission for industrial development. The land was not zoned in the county plan for anything other than agricultural use. On 27 April 1998, Kildare County Council agreed to a material contravention of the plan, and gave Bennett permission for `light industrial usage'.

Boycetown residents Patrick O'Brien, Eilish O'Brien, Deirdre O'Reilly and Fintan Hurley, who live right beside the site, immediately appealed to An Bord Pleanála against this scheduling of the land. The appeal took nearly a year. The residents lost their appeal, though An Bord Pleanála specified that the site was only to be used for `light industry'. Two days after An Bord Pleanála's announcement of its appeal decision, TWM's notice of a planning application for a toxic waste incinerator was published in The Irish Times. TWM lodged an application to Kildare County Council for a toxic waste incinerator, submitting along with it a very detailed Environmental Impact Study (EIS), which had been commissioned months previously.

It transpires that Bennett had already been in talks with TWM and that TWM itself had already (on 2 June 1998) begun a series of talks with Kildare County Council officials to discuss an incinerator (these officials included including County Manager Niall Bradley). No one, of course, said anything about it to the people living in the area - no one mentioned a toxic waste incinerator.

Taking the mickey?

TWM met with Clane's area councillors in February of this year and talked about the idea, but none of the councillors publicly mentioned the scheme either, except Councillor Liam Doyle (Fianna Fáil). Councillor Doyle told the local Liffey Champion newspaper that he told a Fianna Fáil meeting in O'Keefe's pub about it. ``There were about 30 people at the meeting. They thought I was taking the mickey out of them,'' he says.

Residents in Kilcock don't find this altogether surprising. ``Who could have thought of locating a toxic waste incinerator right here beside Kilcock?'' Deirdre O'Reilly says.

TWM's Nuala Maclin says that Charlie McCreevy, the Minister for Finance and Fianna Fáil TD for the area, who lives in Clane, supports the proposal. McCreevy's press officer, Mandy Johnson, says that McCreevy never gave any commitment to the developers, although the Fianna Fáil press office confirms that Minister McCreevy had a meeting with company representatives back in April 1988.

Nuala Macklin is also reported as claiming that the Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey, TD for the Meath side, is `interested' in the project. If Nuala Mackin is correct, did this give TWM the confidence to commission a one hundred thousand pound Environmental Impact Study for a toxic incinerator back in mid-1998, even when An Bord Pleanála was still considering an appeal against reclassification of the site for light industrial use (which was only decided in April 1999).

Who is TWM?

Nor is it clear what assets TWM brings to the proposal. TWM first registered as a company in 1997. Its managing director is Martin Blake, from Navan, County Meath. A former dairy farmer who was national treasurer of the Irish Farmers' Association in the 1980s, he was chairperson of Premier Dairies when it was sold to Waterford Foods. Martin and his brothers subsequently built Honeyclover meat processing plant in Navan, which has since been sold to Glanbia.

TWM has not filed any company details with the Registrar of Companies even though it is required to do so a year after first registering. The company has no experience whatsoever of waste management. And according to the anti-incinerator campaign, the North Kildare/South Meath Anti-Incinerator Alliance, TWM refuses to state where the funding is coming from for the proposed £65 million incinerator project.

Despite its lack of experience, TWM claims in a press statement to ``specialise in innovative solutions'' for waste management and that the company was established by a ``number of professionals with diverse backgrounds from engineering to accounting''.

Short on the technical end, TWM has an association with a US research and development company called Vortec Corporation, from Collegeville, Pennsylvania. With US Department of Energy sponsorship, Vortec specialises in developing a vitrification system which can incorporate burnt waste and residual ash into a glass (vitrified) product. They claim that they have been operating a ``pilot-scale facility'' processing non-hazardous industrial waste since 1988, and that they have designed, but never built or operated, a ``preliminary system''.

`Innovative' is the word. Vortec is not involved in any waste management operating process anywhere. Vortec is involved in a 13,000-ton per annum nuclear waste vitrification plant in Kentucky which is scheduled to open this year. It's also involved in a plant for spent aluminium potliners in Ohio. and it plans more potliner recycling in the future for aluminium.

It has plans (with Welko in Italy) to make waste-to-ceramic tiles (tread your dioxins into the tiles as you step across the patio). Vortec also claims two US Navy research and development contracts to develop use of its nano (very small) technology for small businesses.

Plans and more plans. A bit short on substance, it could be argued, by Kilcock people who worry about the real credentials of these `developers' and how it came to be that these companies landed this project into the midst of their quiet little town. Is it any wonder that residents see themselves as guinea pigs for Vortec and TWM's `innovations'.

What is the proposal?

TWM wants to build a national toxic waste incinerator to burn 100,000 tons of hazardous waste a year and 50,000 tons of municipal garbage. It would be a windowless metal structure 35 metres high with a smokestack as high as Dublin's Liberty Hall.

What will go in is 100,000 tons per annum of hazardous waste - one hundred thousand tons! This includes 10,000 tons of medical waste, 10,000 tons of agricultural waste, and nearly 60,000 tons of pharmaceutical and other organic solvents. The attraction of the Boycetown site is a railhead, proximity to the M4 motorway and feeder roads like the R407 via Sallins, Clane and Prosperous, the R158 from Trim through Summerhill and the R157 from Dunboyne and Clonee.

TWM's 300-page EIS does not detail which companies will provide this waste and why they are not now dealing with the waste themselves according to the principle of `polluter pays'.

What will come out, apart from the vitrified ash, are emissions from the smoke stack which the EIS report, promoting the project, states will be a cocktail of toxic chemicals, including dioxins, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen chloride, mercury, cadmium and thallium, arsenic, chromium and other heavy metals. In addition, there will be more than 400 tons of highly toxic solid waste to deal with. And, remember, this comes from a report promoting the project!

These are lethal substances.

Mercury causes permanent brain damage. Lead, like mercury, accumulates over time and also affects the brain and nervous system. Cadmium not only causes heart disease and emphysema, but the US Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a probable carcinogen. Arsenic causes cancer, and can damage the central nervous system. Dioxins are widely described as the most toxic of chemicals ever known. They are known to be potent cancer causing agents, which also affect the immune system, the central nervous system and sexual development. They accumulate in the food chain through crops and livestock.

The EIS published by the proponents for the incinerator does not deny these emissions. It admits that the incinerator will release carcinogenic dioxins, and it admits that children under six will be particularly at risk. The site proposed is only yards from a crêche which cares for 30 children each day, and is less than a mile from five schools in the vicinity.

The Irish Environmental Protection Agency's last report on `The State of the Environment in Ireland' stated: ``The government has decided that a national hazardous waste incinerator will not be developed in Ireland.''

The EPA is due to publish a national waste management plan later this year, yet TWM's plan would apparently pre-empt this, as it would contravene the previous commitment. UH????

As it is, there is a 14-year binding contract for the disposal of medical waste. Over 90 per cent of reported hazardous waste is already treated in Ireland, 78 per cent of which is treated on site in already existing hazardous waste disposal facilities, which includes the five on-site integrated pollution control (IPC) EPA-licensed incinerators.

It means that companies in Ireland are already dealing with their own hazardous waste, consistently with the principle that the `polluter pays', or, where the company can't afford it, must change the technology to avoid generating hazardous waste in the first place.

Council refuses planning permission

So where should TWM's proposed national toxic incinerator go? Local people think it should go nowhere.

People from Meath and Kildare - residents' associations, the Kilcock traders, the Community Council, sporting organisations, and many other groups, including farmers and people from the local horse-breeding industry, a local vet, a local doctor, a parish priest - have all come together to form the North Kildare/South Meath Anti-Incinerator Alliance, (NKSMAIA) to fight the incinerator.

Last week they had their first victory. Kildare county councillors refused planning permission for the incinerator. TWM immediately announced that it will appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

Kilcock people are very worried, but they are also very angry that this campaign has been forced on them, at considerable expense in time and money. ``It has inevitably disrupted all our lives,'' says Deirdre O'Reilly.

The people of Kilcock did not invite TWM, still less Martin Blake, to suggest a toxic incinerator for their town. To them, the very idea is preposterous. Yet it is down to them to bear the costs of opposing the development, irrespective of the outcome.

And to them it is a matter of life and death - the death of their way of life, if not their children. As Chris Morash, a spokeperson for the campaign, puts it:

``The incinerator means the death of our town.''

`Changing Our Ways', the Department of the Environment's Policy Statement on Waste Management, declares that local authorities must ``remain responsible for the supervision and control of waste management activities and for the enforcement of waste management legislation''.

It is an interesting idea, but one which is far from the planning practice in Ireland, where An Bord Pleanála is well able to overturn the democratic decisions of a council and dismiss the appeals of local people. It has done so in the past, often claiming national interests and economic development to be over-riding concerns.

Do Ministers McCreevy's and Dempsey's reported interests in the TWM proposal indicate a national interest in the cause of an incinerator at Kilcock?

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1