An unthinkable threat to the source of Waterford city’s water supply remains the elephant in the room as far as local and national environmental policy is concerned.
That’s according to local Senator Paudie Coffey, who told the most recent meeting of the Oireachtas committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that, despite countless warnings, the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the hazardous nature of the former industrial complex in Portlaw.
Commenting on the legacy of landfills run by municipal authorities and private industrial sites, the Fine Gael Senator, who first raised the matter as a county councillor several years ago, said: “I live almost next door to one in Portlaw. There is a 3-acre contaminated site within 80m of the River Clodiagh where the water intake for Waterford city is located. That has been lying there for more than 30 years and nobody, neither the local authority nor the EPA, is addressing it. In effect people are turning a blind eye to it.”
Stressing that “this contamination leaches directly into our water courses,” Senator Coffey said: “The State needs to get its house in order, by giving the local authorities the resources to deal with those problems.”
A tributary of the Suir, it was the Clodiagh that attracted the Malcolmsons to Portlaw in the first place back in the 1800s. The river powering the cotton mills was connected to a complex canal network that ran under the plant.
In the 1930s the site was later turned into a leather factory. During its operation up until the mid-’80s the former Mill Pond was filled with hazardous waste; the Council having constant problems with the owners over the discharge of effluent even after its closure.
In 1995 the Environmental Protection Agency found all sorts of chemicals within the compound. EPA sampling points on the river and canal at the town bridge showed decreased pollution after the tannery shut, but the landfill is almost certainly still contaminated. It’s known that other toxic chemicals were used or stored on the site, including chemicals and dyes contained in barrels and vats.
The proximity of the untreated 3.65-acre dump to the main water intake for east Waterford, which includes the city supply scheme at Adamstown, Kilmeaden, should be a cause for obvious concern.
According to the EPA, “as the Pond is unlined, it is likely that these substances are contaminating the groundwater in the vicinity as well as seeping into the nearby canal”, which is adjacent to the river that flows along the southern and western perimeters of the site.
Ever before the recession hit, the huge cost of cleaning up the derelict Mayfield property proved prohibitive to rehabilitating the lands. Three years ago Mr Coffey called for a specific integrated area action plan to tackle what he describes as “one of the biggest environmental problems in this country”.
The Heritage Council-sponsored Portlaw Conservation Plan (2003) highlighted the need to finally confront the problem, citing a “lack of vision” by the authorities as to how to go about it.
Six years later the blinkers are still on it seems.