Some 50 residents of the new Mills estate on Lismore’s Mayfield Road are back in their homes following an alarming evacuation early on Monday morning, though they’ve been advised to keep their doors and windows closed for the coming days.
Amidst fears that a massive blaze at the nearby disused Sam Shire recycling unit was releasing asbestos fibers from the roof into the air, the families had been given just minutes to pack their essential belongings before they moved to alternative accommodation – some to relatives and friends, others to the Lismore House Hotel.
Air quality tests carried out at six locations in the surrounding area on Monday night on behalf of Waterford County Council have found no asbestos threat, though locals are nonetheless furious that the potential risk to their health arose in the first place.
Initial investigations suggest the inferno, which began around 10pm on Sunday, was started maliciously and gardai are querying whether it was connected to a smaller fire at the plant early last week. Firefighters from Lismore, Tallow, Cappoquin, Dungarvan and Waterford spent the early hours of Monday morning bringing the situation under control although the building was still smouldering in the afternoon, delaying technical examinations of the scene until later in the week. An inquiries is now underway by gardaí.
Locals are understood to be ‘palpably’ angry that up to 4,000 tonnes of rubbish collected from households, shops and businesses across the county were left at the redundant plant when it closed three years ago, with many describing it as an ‘accident waiting to happen’. Throughout Monday, people living in nearby streets were urged by gardai to stay indoors if possible and to keep their windows closed, as fumes from burning plastic filled the air. Roads into the Mayfield Industrial Estate, where the building is located, remained closed all day and other businesses in the estate were told by gardai not to open.
Deputy Mayor of Lismore, Councillor Bernard Leddy, echoed the health fears of many locals, commenting that nearby residents could have been affected by toxic fumes after the roof collapsed into the fire. “The council unanimously has been saying for years, and collectively, that this site presents a very significant risk. It was an accident waiting to happen. I sincerely hope that somebody is going to take responsibility for this now.”
Following a protracted legal process, the owner of the plant was actually due in the High Court on Monday to formally agree a proposed clean-up operation of the plant within the next six months. As a result of the fire, however, the case has been adjourned, pending advice from the HSA and the EPA on an acceptable timeframe for the clean-up process.
County Council discussion
A meeting of the County Council on Monday heard that the fire at the Shamshire recycling plant came at the point when agreement had been reached in the long running saga between Waterford County Council and the operators of the site over the removal of material from the site.
Manager Ray O’Dwyer said the fire had complicated the issue in no small way. But the Council would have to resolve the matter and they would do so.
The Shamshire Group operated under licence from the Council and pioneered recycling in Co. Waterford over fur years ago.
Cllr. Declan Doocey (FG) said the fire in the recycling plant caused a crisis in Lismore at the weekend. For years Lismore had been in the news for all the right reasons but on this occasion the town made international headlines for the wrong reason.
Over the past four years he tried to speed up the clearance of the site. The Council had to take the legal route and he supported that but he was critical of the legal system. The Council management was frustrated by this entire issue. The fire was a disaster in Lismore. The Council had the matter resolved but they were now back to square one.
Director of Services Frank Curran said the case was listed for the High Court to finalise the removal of the recycling material from the site. As a result of the fire the Council had notified the EPA and they were expected to carry out an independent assessment of the site.
Cllr. Nora Flynn (FG) said the Council went the legal route instead of cleaning up the site on day one and they were now left with legal fees and bills for the fire service and tidying up the site and making it safe. Who would reimburse the Council for this in these times of cut backs, she asked.
Cllr. Jim Tobin (FF) said the Samshire issue was a saga. But nobody was hurt in the fire and at the end of the day people were important.
Cllr. Damian Geoghegan (FG) asked if the Council could clean up the site and claim the cost from the Samshire Group.
Cllr. Billy Kyne (Lab) said he represented some of the Samshie workers in his role as trade union official. Those workers lost their jobs at very short notice without any real compensation. When a final deal was done those workers should be given an ex-gratia payment apart from the fees paid to solicitor and barristers
Director of services Denis McCarty said the operator had to be given the opportunity to remove the material from the site and the Council had to go the legal route.