Irish mine dump sale sparks prosecution threat

Environmental Protection Agency recommends court action against minerals firm

An Irish mining company has apparently broken national waste management laws by attempting to pass all liabilities for an old mine waste dump site to an untrained farmer, according to a report released this week by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report has exposed a serious local pollution threat resulting from the 60-hectare site in County Tipperary, which contains 9m tonnes of metal-contaminated tailing wastes.

The tailings come from a mine operated between 1967 and 1982 by Irish firm Mogul, which was purchased by another Irish company, Ennex, in 1984. Contaminated dust blowing from the site in the early to mid-1980s led to the evacuation of local residents, condemnation of local organic produce and detection of high levels of lead in local vegetation and livestock.

Little more was heard about the site until Ennex sold the dump to a local farmer last November. James O'Shea, put sheep onto the site to graze. He also constructed a new access ramp, cutting into the limestone wall surrounding the tailings waste, and "unsuccessfully attempted" some drainage works, according to the EPA report. This sparked renewed public concern, leading to the EPA's investigation.

The agency discovered that the site's condition was "far from what would be considered satisfactory or acceptable". "Numerous streams" of highly acidic water were emanating from the sides of the waste. The surrounding embankment had no vegetation or armour to prevent its erosion, and the farmer had "significantly undermined" it in one area. Nearly half the dump's surface had no or limited grass cover, and there were "large areas" where acidic water had killed all vegetation.

The agency concluded that it was "difficult to see the basis" for Ennex's claim to have satisfactorily remediated the site following the contamination problems in the early 1980s. It noted further that Mr O'Shea was "not an appropriate person" to have been given ownership of the dump under the terms of Ireland's 1996 waste management act. The transfer of control was "invalid," it concluded, and Ennex "thus remains the legal owners of the tailings waste".

Follow Up:
Irish EPA, tel: +353 53 47120; Ennex, tel: +353 1 833 2211.

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