An Taisce and local groups raise concern over plans for aluminium plant in Limerick

Published by Niall Sargent on

September 8th, 2017

Limerick City and County Council would be “playing with fire” by allowing a company to blast for rock close to a storage facility for millions of tonnes of industrial waste, a local campaign group has warned.

Aughinish Alumina Limited is seeking planning permission to blast for over 670,000 tonnes of rock beside the Shannon Estuary. The rock is set to be used for the perimeter containment of a large open-air deposition site for bauxite waste from the company’s alumina refinery.

Alumina is extracted from bauxite and then exported for processing to aluminium metal. The left-over bauxite waste, which looks like red mud, is highly alkaline.

Over the past decade, the EPA has received numerous complaints from locals alleging that dust from the deposition sites has led to health problems for both animals and humans.

Playing with Fire

Local campaign group Save the Shannon River said in a statement that allowing for blasting in “very close proximity to millions of tonnes of highly alkaline industrial waste” would be akin to “playing with fire”.

The group warned that a breach could contaminate the Shannon Estuary, a Special Areas of Conservation that provides a habitat to the likes of Bottlenose Dolphins, Lampray Eel, and Basking Shark.

“The detrimental damage that would be caused should part of the rock embankments that they have put around the red mud ponds to contain them broke. It would be a disaster of the highest proportions for the entire Estuary,” the statement reads.

Environmental groups have also raised concerns about the plans, with An Taisce making a submission to Limerick City and County Council on the planning application.

EIA ‘undesirably limited’

In its submission, An Taisce said that the environmental impact assessment is “undesirably limited” to the impact of blasting in the extraction area only, failing to assess the potential impact on the bauxite waste site.

The group also said that the potential impact of blasting on the stability and integrity of the containment site has not been adequately assessed and called for the Council to seek further information to address these concerns.

The group argue that, as the original development was permitted in the 1980s, updated risk models are necessary for the likes of sea level rise, Atlantic storm surges and flooding in line with recent climate science data.

An Taisce’s Heritage Office, Ian Lumley, told The Green News said that there needs to be a review of the management of the large bauxite residue deposition site “to ensure the adequacy of the perimeter protection of the site.”

He added that this is especially necessary based on climate change projections that occurrences like the recent Donegal floods will “become more frequent and more severe” in the coming decades.

“It needs to be demonstrated that any future high rainfall events, particularly in combination with Atlantic storm and tidal surges, does not pose a risk of any containment breach,” he said.

“It needs to be demonstrated that any future high rainfall events, particularly in combination with Atlantic storm and tidal surges, does not pose a risk of any containment breach,” he said.

Research from the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that Ireland faces sea level rise, more intense storms and rainfall events, and an increased likelihood of river and coastal flooding.

A 2016 paper in the journal Climate Risk Management in 2016 by Dr Conor Murphy of Maynooth University predicts that extreme weather is more likely.

In 2010, a major leak occurred at an alumina plant in Ajka, Hungary when a corner of the sludge reservoir collapsed after weeks of heavy rain. Around one million cubic metres of waste flooded nearby towns, killing ten and injuring around 150 more.

The Cappagh Farmers Support Group, environmental NGO An Claiomh Glas, and Peter Sweetman and Associates also submitted observations on the planning application. A decision is due from the Council on 19 September 2017.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London