Dáil Éireann - Volume 566 - 14 May, 2003

Written Answers. - Waste Management.

  166. Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the progress made to date in regard to his consideration of the report of the Health Research Board study [1255] commissioned by his Department into the likely effects of landfill and thermal treatment; the specific steps he intends to take to deal with the finding in the report that Ireland has insufficient resources to carry out adequate risk assessments for proposed waste management facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12966/03]

  Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Cullen): The report published by the Health Research Board is a lengthy and detailed document which, alongside the related inventory of dioxin emissions to the Irish environment that was published by the EPA in late December 2002, is receiving careful consideration, both within my Department and the EPA. In due course, having consulted the Agency, the Department of Health and Children and other bodies that may be concerned, I will make a fuller statement in response to the HRB report and its findings.

  The executive summary of the HRB Report states: “Ireland presently has insufficient resources to carry out adequate risk assessments for proposed waste management facilities” and recommends that the necessary personnel and resources should be made available. This aspect of the report has been misinterpreted, partly because the body of the report does not particularly address or discuss current Irish capabilities or practice.

  “Risk assessment” in the context of the HRB recommendation does not mean the site-specific risk assessment that is routinely carried out by the EPA before it grants a waste licence to a proposed new waste facility. Rather, the report clearly is referring to a perceived need for health information systems to support routine and long-term monitoring of the health of people living near waste facilities, so that any actual public health impact from such facilities, or other types of environmentally significant development, can, over time, be identified and evaluated.

  The report cautions that: each phase of a risk assessment poses distinct technical challenges; there will always be considerable uncertainty in the results of risk assessments, most of which will be site specific; and accordingly, they should be viewed in an appropriate perspective, as only one possible component of a decision making process on environmental questions.

  The study team also indicated that health impact assessment was a relatively new discipline developed over the past ten years. In addition, the team highlighted the fact that assessments were “extremely difficult and expensive to carry out”, and that it would be years before useful information could be available in respect of any new facility.

  Nevertheless, the report considered that the provision of information systems and resources to monitor human health around potential sources of pollution would be an important element in [1256] building capacity in Ireland to protect public health in relation to potential environmental hazards generally. In this regard, the report noted that the recommendations in the 1999 Proposal for a National Environmental Health Action Plan, especially concerning the establishment of a national centre for toxicology, could form a basis for future action. My Department is, as stated, consulting the Department of Health and Children with regard to these HRB recommendations.

  In the meantime, the EPA will continue to implement its rigorous environmental licensing system in respect of all significant waste facilities with the objective of ensuring that such activities do not present a significant risk to public health or the environment.