Tuesday, 10 July 2007


There was a law passed recently to come down hard on people who pollute waterways. The fines, if the local county councils can implement them, will be very heavy. Industries that pollute private or public supplies could be charged up to 5 million euro or some employers facing ten years in jail. Private individuals who pollute the waterways will face up to 3000 euro with a maximum jail sentence of twelve months. More responsibility will rest on house owners and builders to ensure that no blockages to sewers take place. This sounds all well and good, but it will be a difficult job to bring the offenders to court. The environment health department are probably flat out coping with litter, noise pollution and poor housing.

One environmental issue that also makes the news quite often is burning rubbish. This act can incur a fine; at present this stands at 1270 euro if the case is taken to court. Burning rubbish is a real problem, especially now the population is growing and with it the increased waste that is being generated. At present Ireland generates 2.3 million tonnes of household and commercial waste every year. (I’d say this isn’t taking into consideration the amount of illegal dumping that is going on). This is an increase of over 60% over the last five years. Going into more detail that works out at 600 kg of waste per head of population, (that’s the weight equivalent of twelve sacks of coal or nearly 300 bags of sugar). Because the waste disposal in the county is charged to the customer, a lot of people tend to go for the cheaper option of burning their waste. Household waste contains a range of material from plastic, metal, glass, paper, cardboard and a wide range of garden waste. All of these products can give off toxic fumes.

Most years around the summer solstice we find plumes of black, toxic smoke rise from the peninsula. This is because of the large bonfires that are set alight at this time of year. I went round the sites to take photographs of the burning, as I wanted to see what was causing the sky to darken. On some of the fires were washing machines, fridges, metal gates and water tanks. There were car and tractor tyres and all manner of plastic items such as broken children’s toys. They were thrown on to the fires for the fun of the flames but without thought for the environment (including danger to peoples homes). Now before I come across as the sort of person who has an answer to this problem, I haven’t. As long as excess packaging is produced, plants and trees grow and consumers consume plastic and metal, there is no easy answer. I don’t think that many people could live today without accumulating some of tomorrow’s junk.

Plastics and certain paper products (like glossy magazines) produce some of the most toxic pollutants when burned. Plastic and rubber, like from a tyre, are particularly toxic. Most people tend to put a match to their rubbish when the air is still, this is a dangerous time to set a fire as the harmful particles and gasses in the smoke can remain at harmful levels for days. This can trigger all sorts of respiratory problems. Headaches and eye irritation are other signs of taking in the fumes.

Many of the items burned in the fires produce dioxins. These settle in fields where they can be eaten by livestock. Some of the dioxins could come back into the food chain in milk or in animal fat. Some dioxins are stored in the body and at least one dioxin, TCDD, has been classified as cancer forming.

Some people feel that a small fire does no harm. But almost three quarters of dioxin emissions in Ireland come from domestic waste burning.

There are some things we can do to keep the damage to the environment to a minimum. Try the three R’s REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE. Try to buy products that have little or no packaging, try to find uses for plastic containers. Take anything that can be recycled to the council yards. Plastic, glass, oil and cardboard can all be reused.

Further information can be found at: VOICE (Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment) tel. 01 475 0467 or e-mail
avoice@iol.ie and the Web page is www.voicebuz.org You can pick up an information leaflet at the local council office.


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