Skibbereen residents fearful of plastic factory impact on everyday life

Published by Shamim Malekmian on

March 21st, 2018

Simon Lockwood and his two children live in a blue-painted house in one of the greenest, most secluded parts of Poundlick, Skibbereen.

Except for the occasional bark of a neighbour’s dog or the chirping of birds nothing interrupts the sound of silence that surrounds his home.

Lockwood, a songwriter from London, moved to Skibbereen 16 years ago with his wife, who passed away nearly nine years ago.

“There is a lot of emotional investment in this house,” says Lockwood, who most enjoys Poundlick for its beauty, seclusion and quiet nature.

However, this may be set to change with the recent decision by Cork County Council to give the go-ahead for a 4,800 square metre plastic factory adjacent to Lockwood’s home.

Cork County Council granted permission for the facility to Daly Products Ltd, an Irish division of Minnesota-based company, RTP Company, in December 2017.

Simon Lockwood in his garden Photo: Shamim Malekmian

A group of concerned Skibbereen residents has appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála (ABP), with a decision due in May.

The residents argue that they were not adequately informed about the potential environmental and health implications of living nearby a plastic factory.

They are also concerned about emissions from the plant and any possible chemical runoff to the town’s sewage treatment system.

The residents have created a Facebook group, and an online petition opposing the purposed factory has drawn nearly 3,500 signatories to date.

RTP invited locals to a public consultation last December to address their concerns and has responded to all the County Council’s requests for further information in relation to its planning application.

Residents, however, are still not convinced that the processes taking place in a plastic factory would be completely harmless.

They want ABP to insist that an Environmental Impact Assessment is carried out to determine if there is any potential impact on the town’s air quality and wastewater treatment system.

Plastics Manufacturing Process

Chemicals added to plastics in the manufacturing process are believed to be readily absorbed by the human body, with some plastic compounds found to cause cancer or have other potential health impacts.

For example, Phthalate, a chemical added to plastic to make it softer, is known to cause infertility, congenital disabilities, and other health issues.

Proposed factory site. Poundlick was part of Skibbereen’s green belt until it was rezoned to an industrial area in early 2016 Photo: Shamim Malekmian

Phthalates can quickly evaporate into the air and the new plastic smell in some products is actually the smell of Phthalates off-gassing.

Last year, the European Chemicals Agency listed Bisphenol A (BPA), another chemical commonly used in manufacturing plastics, on its Candidate List of substances of very high concern due to its endocrine disrupting properties which may have a serious human health impact.

Noise and Light Pollution

Noise and light pollution is another concern for Poundlick residents, and for Lockwood, in particular.

His daughter suffers from hemiplegic migraines which can cause paralysis or severe weakness on one side of their body in times of migraine attacks.

Those who suffer from the condition are extremely sensitive to light, smell, and sound, with the smell of chemicals a key trigger for Lockwood’s daughter.

“My daughter is very sick and very fragile emotionally,” he said. “She gets one or two migraine attacks a day and when they happen she can’t do anything except for waiting for them to pass.”

According to Lockwood, he wrote several detailed letters to the owners of RTP in which he has explained his daughter’s illness. He says he hasn’t received more than a formal statement sent to a news outlet in response.

In a statement to The Green News, Danny Miles, vice-president and managing director of RTP’s Europe division, said that the company will not make any public comments until after ABP makes its decision.

Job Creation

Poundlick was part of Skibbereen’s green belt until it was rezoned to an industrial area in early 2016 after members of the West Cork Municipal District voted to amend the Skibbereen Local Area Plan.

According to a report in the Irish Examiner, county councillors were asked by the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to rezone the land for industrial purposes in a bid to increase employment opportunities in the area.

Ludgate, Skibbereen’ s digital hub founded by local entrepreneur John Field, for example, has brought up to 400 job opportunities to the area in recent years.

However, according to Brendan McCarthy, one of Lockwood’s neighbours, the employment opportunities from the proposed plastics factory are unrealistic.

McCarthy, who served on the town’s council for ten years, was among the group of locals who initially appealed against the Council’s decision.  “I was never that kind of person who protests against things. I even paid my water charges.”

Brendan McCarthy shows the space set to be occupied by the purposed factory next to his house Photo: Shamim Malekmian

‘Won’t let go without a fight’

The principle of a local school, McCarthy lives just 30 metres away from where the factory site is proposed. His upstairs window opens to a green field with views of Mount Gabriel in the distance.

“I lived here all my life, the scenery is beautiful, it is quiet, it is very lovely during the summer and we’re three or four miles off a beautiful coast,” says McCarthy.

He warns that if ABP gives the go-ahead for the plastic factory, he will take his challenge to the courts, regardless of the costs.

“A lot of people in our own group say that we can’t stop this, but I won’t let it go without a fight,” McCarthy says.

Both Lockwood and McCarthy say that they rather sell their properties and move than live adjacent to a plastic production unit.

“If you lived in paradise and it is no longer, what is the point of staying?” says Lockwood.

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Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.