Irish EPA mulls difficult pollution licence

Agency prepares integrated pollution control licence for controversial site

The Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is facing difficult decisions over an application for a pollution licence by Ireland's largest industrial installation. The Agency has received objections from all sides to a draft integrated pollution control (IPC) for Auginish Alumina, and faces demands for a public hearing. The issue is further complicated by long-standing allegations that pollution from Auginish has caused cattle deaths on local farms.

Situated on the Shannon estuary in the south west of Ireland, Auginish Alumina processes imported bauxite into aluminium. The plant produces over 1 million tonnes of aluminium annually, which is re-exported for smelting. Its main environmental impacts are emissions of sulphur dioxide from boilers and calciners, and dust emissions.

In a draft IPC licence issued in February, the EPA proposed requiring the company to cut sulphur dioxide emissions by two-thirds by 2000. Auginish objected, saying that the requirement would "seriously jeopardise" its economic viability. The cut could technically be achieved by switching to 1% sulphur fuel oil, but the company said that this would cost an extra US$6.3 million, which "would not be acceptable to Alcan", its parent company.

"It is not a question of not being environmentally aware", a company spokesman told ENDS Daily. Pat Lynch said that fuel oil sulphur levels had already been reduced from 4 to 3%, that low pollution boilers were in the process of being fitted, and that sprinklers had been fitted to reduce dust in the red mud area. "Our [environmental impacts] do not merit the kinds of restrictions being proposed", he said.

The EPA has now to decide whether to organise a public hearing on the issue. Both Auginish and third-party objectors have called for one, hoping it will enable them to present their views more forcefully. Only one hearing has been held previously in the three years since IPC was introduced in Ireland.

A further complication in the case is a long-running debate over health problems on local farms, which environmental and farmers' groups in the area suspect to have been caused by emissions from Auginish. Cattle deaths in the area have led to a two-year investigation by the EPA and other agencies to determine the cause. Auginish protests its innocence, and a study shortly to be completed confirms earlier findings that no link to pollution can be detected. But, equally, the studies have failed to pinpoint the cause of the farmers' problems.

Follow Up:
Irish Environmental Protection Agency, tel: +353 53 47120; Auginish Alumina, tel: +353 61 604 000.

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