Thursday, July 28, 2005


In these days of *big* news stories, plenty of others are slipping through the net. However, in these times of increased NIMBY-ism in Ireland (protests about gas pipelines, electric pylons, mobile phone masts, landfill sites, incinerators, Traveller halting sites) this incident caught my eye: ADM, a chemicals company manufacturing here in Cork, managed to spill about 250 tons of Sodium Hydroxide (caustic soda) into Ringaskiddy harbour on the night of July 2nd. Now that sounds like a lot but, because it was spilled in the sea, the dilution factor is enormous.

The company notified the Irish EPA by 6am the following morning and they, in turn, made the assessment that the spillage posed no threat. 36 hours after the spillage the EPA inspectors arrived and found no trace of the spill - the tides had carried it away. So no issue, right? Well a local councillor heard about the spill from a "concerned constituent", which, to my cynical eye, means "acquaintance working in the factory regaling the pub with tales" and obviously said councillor decided to try and make hay with the issue. So first he, and then Cork County Council, has publicly admonished the EPA for not alerting the local population to the potential risk.

So what was the risk? Well, in the time it takes to dissolve and dissipate, it is possible (but unlikely) that localised marine life could be killed and people swimming could suffer burns. Despite the quantities we're talking about any risk would be very short term and very localised - a couple of hundred square meters at most - until all of the caustic is dissolved and dissipated by the tide.

Ignoring the fact that you'd need to be some clown to go swimming in a busy shipping lane in the middle of the night, it can be reaonably assumed that any risk, such as it might have existed, would be gone by the time the tides had changed - a matter of hours. Amazingly Cork County Council have claimed that "there can be no independent verification that the spill did not pose a risk, as most of the spill had been washed away by the time the EPA inspector arrived 36 hours later".

In other words "Peoples' health was put at risk because we have no way of knowing if there was a risk or not, because there was no trace of a risk when the risk assessor arrived". Fantastic logic!
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