ALONG, I am sure, with most other GPs I applaud Health Minister Micheál Martin’s smoking ban. Our collective health as a nation can only benefit.Also, as a GP who practised in Kilkee before moving to Cobh, I know the types of emergencies that can develop in a summer resort far from the nearest casualty service.
The minister's decision to keep the Ennis hospital casualty service open as a 24-hour rather than a 9 to 5 service also deserves praise and recognition for the difficult political decision it must have been.
However, it strikes me as deeply ironic that, in or near his own constituency, he has not taken any interest that I am aware of in protecting public health around Cork harbour and further afield from two serious but largely ignored threats.
The first is the rusting hulk of the defunct ISPAT Irish Steel site. With open tip-head slag heaps still bare of any greenery after several years' exposure, this is an environmental catastrophe in slow motion, contaminating marine life in the harbour and surrounding seas.
ISPAT's contamination of the environment is still very real in terms of toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury and whatever else was smelted over its working lifetime leaking into the tides.
The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in the US warned recently about heavy metal contamination (by mercury in particular) of predatory fish such as tuna and the implications for breast-feeding mothers, pregnant women and young children.
Migrating mackerel caught in the harbour and local seas would have to be included in this group of predatory fish, at the top of their food chain, which we consume in relatively large amounts.
And all of this at a time when Indaver Ireland proposes to build a toxic waste incinerator at Ringaskiddy.
Indaver conceded at the Bord Pleanála hearing last September that the 'scrubbers' used to clean the emissions from the proposed incinerator would not be able to remove mercury gases and vapours.
These could escape into the local fish and dairy food chains and hence enter us through fish and dairy products.
Contrary to Environment Minister Martin Cullen's assertion, the incinerator is not going to protect jobs.
Only approximately 50 jobs will be created by the incinerator itself and it will probably threaten farming and marine as well as tourist jobs.
Mr Cullen has adopted bullyboy tactics, threatening local authorities that their regions would suffer due to lack of ability to attract new industry. One wonders what sort of dirty industry Mr Cullen would like to attract and what short- and long-term health risks they might pose.
We know where he stands firmly with big business and Indaver.
Mr Martin's position is not so clear. Is he with his electorate on hazardous waste incineration, or is he with his party colleague (safely far away in Waterford) and heavy industry at the expense of public health in the Cork harbour area and economic health in environs further afield?
Dr George FitzGerald,
Irish Examiner - 15th April 2004
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment