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Retied Clare County Council CEO, Tom Coughlan.

Council admits ‘improper’ asbestos disposal

THE improper disposal of asbestos at a number of locations in West Clare was unacceptable, it has been acknowledged by Clare County Council.

Commenting on the independent report released this week, compiled by two former county managers in Cork and Tipperary following an investigation into the council’s disposal of waste asbestos cement pipes, chief executive, Tom Coughlan said, “The confirmation that the disposed material does not pose a public health risk is an important finding but does not negate the fact that the operational practices that led to the improper disposal of asbestos were unacceptable”.

“These practices fell short of the standards, policies and procedures that were in place within Clare County Council at the time and which remain in place in order to comply with a changing regulatory environment and enhanced guidance documents,” he added.

The council has yet to put a figure on what the asbestos disposal will cost. Earlier this year, Councillor PJ Kelly told a then West Clare Electoral Area meeting that it would cost the council €2.9m but this was disputed by the council at the time. In a statement, the council said, “The overall costs are as yet undetermined and will be guided by the outcome of the site investigations taking place in phase two”.

Mr Coughlan accepted that the report unearthed issues with how the council dealt with the situation.

“This report finds there were clear shortcomings in compliance with established council policies and procedures regarding the handling, transportation, storage and disposal of waste asbestos cement pipes,” he said.

Mr Coughlan noted the seven recommendations would be implemented.

“While acknowledging these shortcomings, the council is committed to fully implementing the recommendations set out in the investigation report. Indeed, a comprehensive remediation programme has been prepared and is being implemented. The appropriate training and guidance was provided and availed of by staff, prior to the report being presented to the council. I have also referred the findings of the report to the council’s HR department for consideration,” he confirmed.

The removal of the disposed waste material commenced early this year and is being carried out in three phases. Phase one, which has been completed in accordance with the advice of a specialist asbestos removal consultant, involved the removal of pieces of broken asbestos pipe on the surface at all sites. Phase two, which is expected to be completed during early 2015, involves a specialist consultant carrying out soil testing on the sites, to establish the extent of asbestos material that may be buried at the sites. Phase three involves the removal of any asbestos material buried at any of the sites.

Edmond Flynn and Edmond O’Connor submitted their report to the council last week. They were investigating a complaint received in June 2013 from Kilkee man, PJ Linnane, into the handling and disposal of waste asbestos at nine sites in West Clare.

The report concluded that the incidents arose because the policies and procedures that Clare County Council had put in place, in relation to such work, were not fully complied with. The local authority commissioned the external independent investigation in March 2014, coinciding with the commencement of a process involving the removal of the waste material from several private and Clare County Council-owned sites in the vicinity of Kilrush and Kilkee.

While confirming there was no evidence to suggest asbestos pipes had been crushed, investigators said the majority of the waste materials disposed at the sites originated from Clare County Council water services mains replacement and mains repair works over a number of years, up to June 2013.

The report also concluded that proper health and safety policies relating to the handling, transportation, storage and disposal of waste asbestos cement pipes were in place within Clare County Council in June 2013, when the local authority received the complaint from Mr Linnane. It notes, however, that there were “shortcomings” in the area of communications and that the appropriate health and safety training required to implement the various procedures was not always provided.

“This in turn led to a lack of a full appreciation and awareness of the need to comply, at all times, with the policies as set out for dealing with asbestos. We are satisfied that the failures were not due to any negative attitude towards health and safety, any blatant disregard for the policies in place or any unwillingness to implement such policies. Instead, it is our view that the failures more likely occurred because of a perception in some areas that the handling of lengths of asbestos pipes presented minimal risk,” the extensive report noted.

Meanwhile, medical advice, received in the aftermath of the final report being made available to Clare County Council, has concluded there is “no evidence of risk” to the general public.

“Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral fibre and is present in the outdoor air around us and in some naturally-occurring water sources. It has been used for many years in construction, until more recent years. Today, many farm buildings and commercial units safely contain asbestos material that does not pose a health risk to the individuals entering such buildings. Asbestos, in good condition, does not pose a risk to an individual’s health,” Dr David Madden, occupational health therapist, stated.

“I note from the report that asbestos was stored in a number of privately-owned and council sites. It is my opinion, having reviewed the investigation report, there was no evidence of risk to the public. I note the report confirms no evidence of asbestos pipes crushing, again suggesting no risk to the general public. I am aware that a number of asbestos products were removed from a farmer’s private land at the farmer’s request. There was no evidence to suggest risk to the general public in this situation either. It is important to realise that, generally, asbestos in good condition left undisturbed does not pose a risk to the general public,” Dr Madden concluded.

Peter O’Connell

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