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Irish Examiner - 23-02-05
Incinerator’s impact on public health must be assessed, says expert
By Mary Dundon

THE country’s first toxic waste incinerator must not be built before a proper Health Impact Assessment is carried out, a leading public health specialist warned yesterday.

Dr Anthony Staines said the health information contained in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) carried out on the proposed Ringaskiddy toxic waste incinerator falls short of any reasonable estimate of what is required.

"I still don't know what the health impact will be after reading the EIS. There is no obvious indication that any formal process for human health assessment was used," Dr Staines told the seventh day of an oral hearing into the proposed development.

Dr Staines, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at University College Dublin's Department of Public Health Medicine, said: "It is impossible to determine the damage to public health unless it is monitored and a baseline health study is undertaken."

The assessment should focus on the possible health effects of: particulate emissions, noise, dust, odour, vermin, bottom ash, fly ash, waste transfer, waste spills, flooding and ground water contamination, Dr Staines added.

He is one of the co-authors of a Health Research Board's report which found that Irish health information systems cannot support routine monitoring of the health of people living near waste sites.

"Neither the EPA nor local authorities have the capacity to adequately monitor and police human health," Dr Staines said, adding that the Department of Health has failed to produce an EU mandated National Environmental Health Action Plan.

While a new Health Information Quality Agency board has just been set up to monitor health statistics, Dr Staines said it will be a long time before they get around to carrying out a Health Impact Assessment on the Cork Harbour area because they have to focus on gathering information first.

Indaver, the company proposing to build the €93 million toxic waste incinerator, pointed out that only 1% of national dioxins come from incinerators.

The EPA has stated the proposed development will not have any adverse health impact provided the EU Directive on emissions standards are met, Indaver spokesman Paul Gardiner said.

But Dr Staines said there is a high level of scientific questioning about the current method of devising these standards. "There is a great deal of concern among the epidemiology and toxicology community about what happens if people are exposed to a multiple of agents," Dr Staines added.

Indaver is seeking to increase the levels of mercury, nickle and other products it can burn in the incinerator. And Dr Staines said that several of these elements are very toxic and harmful to babies in the uterus.

The European Commission revealed yesterday that air pollution kills more than 310,000 people annually and the problem is worst in Belgium, the home base of Indaver.

Dr Staines said he was "astounded" to see that air pollution was having such an impact on death levels.

     

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