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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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'I suppose we're f****** stuck with it': The Poolbeg incinerator is starting production

After years of holdups, the controversial plant is set to start burning waste this month.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

We didn’t want it but I suppose we’re f****** stuck with it.

— RINGSEND LOCALS APPEAR resigned to the fact that the Poolbeg incinerator is about to fire up. “We’re stuck with it,” was a common response from residents unhappy with the presence of the controversial plant, which was originally proposed in 1997 and has had (to say the least) a troubled birth.

There are concerns about possible fires at the plant and about emissions and traffic volumes in the area. Many residents believe the decision to locate an incinerator so close to such a highly populated area was unfair.

Although the area where the plant will be located – near the iconic Pigeon House chimneys on the way to the South Bull Wall – is predominantly industrial, it’s right next to three coastal suburbs: Ringsend, Irishtown and Sandymount.

After years of hold-ups, construction of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) project began in late 2014 and the plant has become an imposing presence in the skyline of south Dublin Bay in recent years.

img2.thejournal.ie The new Covanta plant seen here to the right of the iconic Poolbeg towers. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

There’s been increased activity at the plant – officially known as ‘Dublin Waste to Energy’ – in recent weeks, and it’s scheduled to start burning waste this month. However, full production won’t begin for months yet. The Poolbeg plant will process up to 600,000 tonnes of waste annually once it is fully operational later this year.

120 trucks per day will drive to and from the plant over a six day week, according to Covanta, the US-based firm that will operate the plant. Deliveries – even ones from the south – will be via the M50 and the Port Tunnel, the company insists, although waste from the immediate local area will be brought straight to the facility.

Managing director of Covanta Ireland John Daly addressed questions about fire safety in a recent interview on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, saying they were a hazard of the business in the waste sector.

“Everybody who has ever lived near a landfill will know that there are landfill fires,” Daly said. “Waste is a product where people put things like barbecue coals, they put ashes from fires into their bins – that can cause fires.”

Heat and infra-red sensors have been installed, he said. Two tanks containing a million litres of water have also been installed less than five metres from the waste-intake area, Daly added, and there are also high-powered water hoses on hand.

Strict limits have been set for emissions at the plant, and in an update on Poolbeg issued in the last few days the Environmental Protection Agency said its inspectors had been visiting the site regularly in recent months.

It said:

The EPA will be closely monitoring both the start-up and subsequent operation of this facility to ensure that it is operated in compliance with the licence.

Daly said in his RTÉ interview that “in terms of major products people would be concerned about, the likes of the dioxins,” emissions would be well below European levels. Answering questions emailed by TheJournal.ie, he said data on emissions and furnace temperature would be displayed on the company’s website and updated every half hour.

Incinerator protest Protests against the planned project have been going on for years - like this one, from 2006. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Troubled launch

After years of delays and attempts to halt construction, the project has been gathering pace since May 2014 when the European Commission gave the go-ahead, after being asked to investigate Covanta’s contracts with local authorities.

An agreement was signed for work to begin in September of 2014 after the four Dublin local authorities made an executive decision. Dublin City Councillors had voted against the project just weeks earlier.

Dublin City’s Chief Executive Owen Keegan insisted the facility was needed and made commercial sense. Over €100 million had already been spent on the project by the four councils by 2014. The money would have been lost if it didn’t go ahead.

Locals have organised a number of public meetings recently as the plant prepares to fire up, and it’s expected more will take place in the coming months.

People living in Ringsend were keen to give their view, when TheJournal.ie called into the Bridge Café last Tuesday morning. The southside community – once a village on the outskirts of Dublin – has been slowly absorbed into the centre of the city in recent decades as development stepped up in the area.

Older residents in particular said they were concerned about the incinerator. Three elderly ladies, meeting for chat after 10 o’clock mass, said they were worried about the impact on locals’ health from the plant, and from increased traffic. Other café customers said the plant was being received with a mixture of anger, concern and resignation by the community.

“Everybody is terribly disappointed. We didn’t really want it here – we didn’t have any choice,” said Mary O’Toole Thompson, a longtime resident.

“A lot of people did protest as best we could but at the end of the day they won their case. It’s pretty much that we’re stuck with it now.

There was nothing you could do once they gave them planning permission.
I don’t know what we can do now, they’re already started.

20170328_112602 Mary O'Toole Thompson (right) outside Ringsend church.

Mixed response 

Around the shops and pubs nearby there were plenty of locals who said they didn’t mind the incinerator being built, or that they had no interest in it. Many others, however, said they didn’t want it.

One man, who owns one of the houses closest to the Covanta site, summed up the situation with the bluntly efficient: “We didn’t want it but I suppose we’re f****** stuck with it.”

The Social Democrats have been organising public meetings and collecting petitions from locals to improve emissions monitoring.

Meanwhile Greens leader Eamon Ryan, who represents Dublin Bay South, said his party’s first priority was to make sure there is proper management of air pollution relating to the incinerator.

Regarding traffic, “Covanta must live up to their planning conditions that stipulate all waste brought to the plant comes via the Port Tunnel and Eastern Bypass rather than through local roads,” Ryan said.

The one exception is for waste coming from the local area but if we start to see trucks from a wider area using local roads then we will raise an objection with the city council and have them stopped.

Irish incinerator protest A protest against the incinerator in 2010. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Money for local groups 

Several locals said the Covanta community fund had been a boon for groups in the area. As part of its contract the company has to make a donation to the locality “equivalent to 3% of the capital costs of the facility”. €4.8 million was distributed to 32 projects that applied last year. Another €5 million, it’s planned, will be distributed this year.

The latest newsletter for the scheme shows groups like local scout troops, sporting clubs and retirement groups will benefit from Covanta funds.

Dublin Views The view of the incinerator from the roof of St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin last month. Source: Sam Boal

Increased focus 

As production steps up at the incinerator, there’ll be renewed media and local attention on the plant in the coming months.

For people who live nearby, emissions and traffic are now the main concerns – and local politicians are promising to keep the company in check on both counts once the facility is operating.

Asked how Covanta would be policing traffic to and from the plant to make sure trucks stick to designated routes, Daly said drivers had been receiving health and safety training for the last month and had been given maps showing the designated route.

Additionally, they have been informed “that they/their employer will be ‘barred’ from the facility if they fail to follow the stated protocol”.

He added:

We would encourage any resident who believes that a vehicle is coming through the area and should not to get in touch with facility and we will follow it up and revert.

Information on the following will be displayed on the company website: Furnace Temperature; Total Dust; Total Organic Carbon (TOC); Hydrogen Chloride (HCL); Sulphur Dioxide (SO2); Nitrogen Oxide (NO2); Carbon Monoxide.

Test operations are taking place at the plant at the moment. Asked about a plume that was spotted above the incinerator in recent days Daly said:

To date no waste has been accepted onto the site and no combustion has taken place. All details of such items will be advised to the EPA and information placed on the website advising the public in advance of each stage.
Last Saturday, one of the boilers had oil burners within the boiler drying out the refractory brick lining of the boiler and that resulted in the plume that some people commented upon.

Read: Councillors receive official notice of Poolbeg incinerator contract – 3 days after it was signed >

Read: Here’s how much Poolbeg is worth now (and how much has been spent on it) >

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