Dáil Éireann - Volume 404 - 07 February, 1991
Adjournment Debate. - Cork Cement Site Discharges.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Jim Tunney
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Allen has been given permission to raise the matter of the circumstances and consequences of the cement blow out at Iarnród Éireann's site at Lower Glanmire Road, Cork, on 6 February 1991 and asks whether a full independent departmental investigation will be carried out into this most serious of a number of accidents at that site.
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
Mr. Allen: This was a very serious incident which has alarmed and frightened the residents in Lower Glanmire Road, Cork, as well as those in St. Luke's, Cork, and surrounding areas.
Yesterday's latest blow-out of cement, which left cars, houses and pedestrians covered in a blanket of cement dust, was the sixth blow-out in the last two years. However, the latest incident was the most serious.
The explosion occurred at 11.30 a.m. yesterday when there was a collision between two cement filled rail wagons with the resultant blow-out of two tonnes of cement dust across a residential area of Cork city.
Last evening I spent a considerable time on the telephone speaking to an elderly lady who was worried and afraid that the same kind of incident might happen again. I tried to reassure her that things were being taken care of and that she was safe. However, she said that people like her did not count and that  if those in authority had to suffer the consequences — and lived down there — they would take action fairly fast. There was very little answer I could give to that comment.
The lady was right. The incident was highlighted in The Cork Examiner this morning and I am raising it here today but my fear is that, in a week or two, the incident will be forgotten by the media, the authorities and me. That lady, who is frightened and worried, will think of the incident every day and night until the matter is put right. It will not go away for the residents of that area. I want to reassure that lady that it will not happen again but I am unable to do so until I get an assurance from the Minister that the cement silo will be moved from that area to a less built up location. If I do not get that commitment, the people of Lower Glanmire Road and surrounding areas will have been let down by the authorities who are there to protect them. The silo must be removed.
Another issue I must raise is the manner in which the silo is managed. There must be extreme carelessness in the management of the silo and it is obvious that management is sloppy and haphazard. This whole operation must be investigated and I am asking for a departmental inquiry into the handling of the cement complex in Cork. The local authority, Cork Corporation, were very fast and effective in their response to the incident and their cleaning staff were on site within a short period. I commend the effectiveness of Cork Corporation. However, legal proceedings should be taken against the responsible company in accordance with the pollution and litter Acts. There have been incidents of this kind before and it is only by penalising companies that lessons will be learned. Unfortunately, penalties are insignificant compared with the enormity of the incident.
I wish to state — in a non-alarmist fashion — that cement dust is toxic. Therefore, there is a responsibility on the Departments to carry out a full and comprehensive survey of the people  affected by the dust yesterday. It is a responsibility, not only for the Minister present but for the Minister for Health and the Minister for the Environment. I hope that the Departments of Health, Transport and the Environment will get their act together to deal with this real problem. It may be insignificant to people in Dublin but it is a constant worry for the people who live with it day in day out in Cork.
Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce (Mr. Leyden) Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce (Mr. Leyden)
Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce (Mr. Leyden): I wish to respond on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Communications, Deputy Séamus Brennan, to this Adjournment debate. I understand from Iarnród Éireann that bulk cement is discharged, under air pressure, from rail tanks into the cement silos which are located away from the main passenger platforms and from tracks carrying passenger trains. The silos are located in the best possible positions in the rail yards so as to limit the amount of damage that could occur in the event of any accident that might arise during a discharge.
Yesterday morning a line of three rail tankers was being discharged at Cork's Kent Station in the vicinity of Lower Glanmire Road. When two tankers had been discharged a locomotive was brought up to the end of the line of tankers with the intention of hauling away the two empty tankers. It would appear that the locomotive struck against the tankers, moving them some short distance. This movement broke the hose pipe carrying cement into the silo. Unfortunately the air pump continued to operate and consequently cement was blown into the surrounding atmosphere. Within seconds of this happening the air supply was cut off and no further discharge occurred.
I would like to stress that there was no health hazard involved in the discharge and that there were no injuries as a result of the accident. With regard to previous discharges at the location over recent years, I understand that seven were of a relatively minor nature, being confined  to leakage in and around the silo itself and within the confines of Iarnród Éireann property and that two during 1990 resulted in cement being discharged outside Iarnród Éireann property. No injuries were sustained as a result of any of these incidents.
I know that when these incidents occur, Iarnród Éireann make every effort to minimise the inconvenience to local residents. In this context, I am happy to report that in connection with the recent incident, industrial contractors have been engaged to clear the houses of any local residents who have been affected by the discharge and Cork Corporation are also giving very valuable assistance.
Iarnród Éireann will be carrying out an internal inquiry to establish how the shunting incident occurred. Based on the initial reports I have received at this stage, it would appear that this accident did not require to be notified to the Department of Tourism, Transport and Communications under the notification of accidents order since no passenger lines or passenger trains were involved. However, in view of the regrettable inconvenience caused to the local residents as a result of the accident, I am arranging for the Department's railways inspecting officer to discuss with officers of Iarnród Éireann what actions could be taken to prevent a similar incident in the future.
Dáil Éireann 404 Adjournment Debate. Cork Cement Site Discharges.