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EU commission to investigate 'red waste ponds' in Limerick

The ponds at the Aughinish Alumina plant are under investigation by the commission after an MEP raised concerns about their environmental impact.

The plant in the distance at West Aughinish
The plant in the distance at West Aughinish
Image: Google Street View

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION is to investigate ‘red mud ponds’ at Aughinish Alumina plant in Co Limerick.

Socialist MEP Paul Murphy raised the issue in the European Parliament, saying that he feared a major environmental disaster could take place due to the waste that is stored at the site.

The Cappagh Farmers Support Group has said they believe the contents of the red ponds, which is waste left over from the processes at the plant, is material that is hazardous to their health and the health of their animals.

“It seems that there are health and environmental risks significant enough [to warrant an investigation],” said Murphy.

He said that he is worried that the material can seep into the nearby Shannon estuary, and said that the powdery dry waste was blowing into nearby lands in wind.

The plant is owned by Rusal Alumina, a multinational company.

Murphy said he believed the commission should test the waste see if it is hazardous and that if it is hazardous it should do something in conjunction with the Irish government about this.

He said that the ponds should be fully lined to prevent seepage, especially as they are right beside the estuary. He said that 150 acres of the 250 acre site is not lined.

If waters were to rise, potentially they could go into the estuary.

Farmers

Pat Geoghegan of the Cappagh Farmers Support Group said that local farmers have been campaigning about the waste since the late 1990s. The waste has been classified as non-hazardous following a State-led investigation, but the support group members refute this.

A 2007 EPA residue management sustainability review of Auginish Alumina Limited describes the red mud and process sand, which are part of the bauxite residue at the plant, as non-hazardous.

In 2010, a facility in Hungary that also extracts alumina from bauxite caused an environment disaster after the waste product spilled out. At the time, Aughinish Alumina told the Limerick Post that the bauxite waste in that country is stored differently to the waste at the Limerick plant.

Geoghegan welcomed the new investigation here, saying “we are looking for answers after 22 years”.

We are not going to go away, and we are going to keep going until we get answers and we want to get answers.

“We can’t farm anymore there,” said Geoghegan of his family. “We had to leave our farm in 2007 because the pollution was so bad.”

A European Environmental Agency study in 2009 found that the plant was one of 622 European plants contributing to air pollution in Europe.

The European Commission’s latest update on the plant was:

The Commission is not yet in a position to determine whether the contents of the red mud waste pond at the Aughinish Alumina plant in Askeaton, County Limerick, should be considered hazardous. An investigation is currently ongoing on the nature and classification of the waste in this red mud pond. The Commission has yet to complete its assessment of the information received from the complainant and from the Irish authorities.

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