Limerick Council gives green light for rock blasting at aluminium plant

Published by Niall Sargent on

Limerick City and County Council has granted permission for the blasting of 670,000 tonnes of rock on the premises of the Aughinish Alumina plant beside the Shannon Estuary.

Permission has been granted to Rusal – the Russian company that owns the plant – subject to 10 conditions, including the need to seek a review of their EPA licence to include the planned rock blasting.

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.

Local Concerns Ignored

Local campaign group Save the Shannon River said in a statement that the Council has let the public down with their decision, adding that local Adare and Rathkeale Councillors are “simply not fit for purpose”.

“They have a God-given right to play with your kids’ lives to appease big business it seems,” the group said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“More time is spent discussing planning for a footpath from Kildimo village to a local pub on the outskirts, than about local people’s fears about their environment, quality of life and 50 million tonnes of Caustic, Alkaline shit dumped on their doorstep.”

In a submission opposing Rusal’s initial request for planning permission, 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.

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

Photo: Graham Horn

Photo: Graham Horn

EIA ‘undesirably limited’

In a submission from September 2017, 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 argued 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.

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.

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 meters 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.

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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