A high-profile An Bord Pleanála inquiry into Irish Cement’s plans to burn tyres and recovered waste in place of fossil fuels has come to a close in Limerick.
The company is seeking to begin burning ‘alternative fuels’ at its cement kiln in Mungret to the south west of the city.
The four day hearings heard from dozens of environmentalists and parties arguing for and against the plans.
The €10m plan has already been approved by Limerick City and County Council; however it has drawn strong opposition from local residents who argue that there will be an increase in toxic emissions into the surrounding countryside.
Hundreds of local residents joined the action group Limerick Against Pollution (LAP) in protesting outside the South Court Hotel in the city when the inquiry opened on Tuesday.
The group has warned that the list of 115 hazardous materials cleared for burning includes old tyres, animal tissue waste, agro chemical waste, animal excrement and red mud from alumina production.
Irish Cement maintains that the fuels are lower-carbon than the petroleum coke it currently uses and will be burned at extremely high temperatures – effectively meaning that there will be no increase in emissions.
The company also told the hearing that the plan would improve the long-term viability of the plant.
The inquiry has been open to the public over the past week and was attended by businessman JP McManus, Ireland Rugby legend Paul O’Connell and a number of local TDs including Willie O'Dea, Niall Collins, Maurice Quinlivan and Jan O'Sullivan.
American environmental expert Dr Paul Connett - who was flown in by LAP as a “star witness” – warned that the plan could threaten the region’s industries and criticised Irish Cement’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
He said the statement did not provide an adequate assessment of toxic pollutant emissions or any information on the exposure risk to farmers, residents and children.
“For Irish Cement to describe this as sustainable development is an Orwellian way of thinking,” he said.
He said the company should join up to the natural gas supply which is very close to the facility – instead of relying on “dirty and risky” waste fuels.
He acknowledged this would be more expensive but insisted it would be far safer for the surrounding area.
Irish Cement said Limerick was now the only cement factory in Ireland denied permission to use alternative fuels – adding that there are over 200 cement factories in Europe burning over 10 million tonnes of residual waste every year.
An Bord Pleanala recommendation
Following the closure of the inquiry this afternoon, Limerick councillor Cian Prendiville said the hearings had “exposed Irish Cements proposals for what they are.”
“This is Irish Cement putting their profits before the interests of people and the planet, pure and simple,” he said.
“The powerful statements made by the public at the hearing, and the huge turnout of ordinary people in the gallery shows this will simply not be accepted.”
An Bord Pleanala will now issue a report recommending that Irish Cement’s plans be granted or rejected.
The Environmental Protection Agency will then be asked to decide whether to grant an operation licence for the company to proceed with its plans.