In a Seanad debate, Senator Tony Mulcahy claimed that locally based company Enva is behind the severe smells in Shannon, while he was very critical of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Enva were approached for comment but their only response was to rebut separate comments made by another senator about their Portlaoise facility. The EPA defended itself against Mr Mulcahy’s allegations and claimed it is proactive in seeking to prevent pollution.
Speaking in the Seanad, Senator Mulcahy said, “Last year, I attended a meeting at which the horrendous smell that caused a serious problem in Shannon for the last couple of years was discussed. The smell was coming from the treatment plant, but I have always asked what was going into the treatment plant to cause the problem. There are 350 inadequate treatment plants around the country, but they do not all cause such a smell. We received figures from Enva in Shannon last year. These figures are on the public record. In 2005, Enva dumped 10,000 liquid tonnes of leachate, which is the run-off from Gortadroma dump and a dump in South Galway, into the Shannon treatment system. That figures was 6,000 tonnes in 2008, but by 2012 it had increased to 25,000 tonnes. The figure was 17,000 tonnes last year.
“The EPA will try to tell us the leachate is not the cause of the problem because it is treated in the plant. The problem with this kind of self-monitoring system is that when one calls to give two weeks notice of one’s intention to call out, one can be sure the boys will have the figures well doctored by the time one gets there.”
He said he has no doubt why the smell in Shannon arose. “I absolutely believe the dumping of this leachate into the treatment plant in Shannon was the cause of our smell. I have no doubt in the wide earthly world that this is the case. I have asked Irish Water to investigate the matter. The problem is that this thick black liquid substance-one can imagine the run off from a septic tank or a silage pit-stays in the system.”
Senator Mulcahy also told the Seanad that there was an absence of trust between county council officials and the EPA. “I attended a meeting last year at the invitation of the local town council. An EPA official, Mr Peter Cunningham, was in attendance. I do not mind putting his name on the record because he wrote this letter. One of the three council officials in attendance was the council chemist who is a super lady. This top-class woman has tried her best over the years to break down the walls of the EPA and many other groups. During the course of the meeting, approximately ten minutes into the presentation, I asked a simple question. I wanted to know whether the council officials were happy that the EPA was telling us the truth. There are two answers one could give in response to that question-yes or no. There was stunned silence before the Council official in fairness to her, said ‘No, I am not happy that we are being told the truth’.”
He criticised the EPA’s decision to allow more waste to be dumped into the Shannon treatment plant.
“The same EPA that licensed the Shannon treatment plant in 2006, and said it could not take any more effluent, subsequently licensed Enva to dump extra material into the system. In fact, some 200,000 tonnes have gone into the system since that time. I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, gave us €4 million for the upgrade of the Shannon treatment plant. While I thank him for that money, he might as well throw it out into the car park as long as those boys are putting that volume of stuff into the system because it cannot work in such circumstances.
“Other towns around the country that have treatment plants which take in normal domestic effluent – some of them have industrial stuff going in as well – do not smell like the town of Shannon smelled when it was reeking for months on end. The problem was particularly bad in the summer, when the stuff in the system heated up. The smell traversed the whole town because the Smithstown industrial estate is on the north side of the town and the treatment plant is 5km away on the south side of the town.”
Senator Mulcahy claimed that the EPA puts too much faith in the companies it monitors.
“The EPA says it trusts the companies that are self monitoring, but I do not trust them at all. Having seen the EPA in action, I know what it has done. It constantly uses phrases like ‘we did it right’ and ‘we got it right’ as a defence. When I asked EPA officials whether it is possible that the leachate could be contributing to the smell, they said it could be but they could not say for definite. Surely the tonnage of stuff that is going through a normal treatment system- this is not happening in any other town-must be contributing to the smell.”
He called for an investigation into what has happened in Shannon and a similar issue in Portlaoise. “Four years ago some 300m of the pipe network was wiped out when nitric acid was put into the system. This is the kind of dodgy stuff that is going on. There is a lot of stuff on these sites. I would say we have had six or seven issues with two companies in Shannon; Enva and Chemifloc. There was an explosion two years ago. This goes far beyond this great agency, which is very arrogant when it is questioned. Its officials do not like having to answer questions. Senator (John) Whelan found that out directly when he asked certain questions. I would like investigations to be carried out in Portlaoise and Shannon. The common denominators here are Enva and the EPA. The same company and the same agency are involved. Nobody is going to tell me there is no problem. I am living in the problem.”
In its statement in response to Senator Mulcahy’s claims, the EPA said, “The EPA puts the environment first and encourages individuals and businesses to integrate good environmental practices into normal working methods, thereby preventing environmental pollution before it has a chance to occur. The EPA provides information and advice via published guidance to those it regulates to secure environmental improvements while ensuring value for money.”
It also stated that “The EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement (OEE) works with local authorities and other regulators to ensure efficient use of resources and coherent enforcement of environmental law.
“Underlying the enforcement policy of the OEE are the principles of proportionality in the application of environmental law and in securing compliance, consistency of approach, transparency about how the OEE operates, targeting of enforcement action and implementation of the polluter pays principle.”