Above" Nurdles in the sand
Skibbereen residents determined to save their town against threat of plastics factory manufacturing ‘nurdles’
In December 2017 Cork County Council gave planning permission for a wealthy American Company, trading in Ireland as Daly Products, to build a Custom Engineered Thermoplastics Production Facility at Poundlick, on Baltimore Road in Skibbereen.
This factory, if built, will ship in to Ireland raw virgin polymer, as tiny pellets known as nurdles, and transport them to Skibbereen along the bumpy windy roads of West Cork.
The nurdles will then be melted down at temperatures of between 200 and 400 degrees Celcius and at pressures up to 700bar. Chemicals and heavy metals will be added to change the nature of the polymer. The polymer will be extruded into fine strings and cut to reform nurdles, which will be shipped back out again to meet customer requirements either in or out of Ireland.
Nurdles are shipped in and Nurdles are shipped out. Each ton of plastic is made of about 10,000,000 nurdles, each one being less than 5mm in diameter – about the size of a fish egg or a lentil.
In the UK, an estimated 53 billion Nurdles per year are spilled into the environment during production and transport alone. That is without there being a major spill from an accident. Because they are light and small they wash into streams and rivers and because they look like fish eggs birds and fish eat them with devastating effect.
The facility that American RTP Company hope to build in Skibbereen is planned with four 16 metre emissions stacks to disperse gaseous emissions and particulate; so what is in these gaseous emissions?
The planning documents are light on detail, however in the Air Quality Report list eight toxins, including Cadmiun and Antimony that are variously carcinogenic, or dangerous to the nervous system, the reproductive system or the lungs and are likely to be found in the emissions.
According to the EPA Toxics Release Inventory in the USA where RTP Company headquarters resides, the main emissions from their polymer compounding facility in Winona are antimony and particulate.
Finely dispersed particles of antimony form explosive mixtures in air and there is a serious risk of fire and explosion on contact with acids or halogens. If a fire were to break out, the toxic fumes and smoke would likely blow directly across the town and the new school where children are studying.
A recent fire at The Irish Seafood Company just outside Baltimore required firefighters from Skibbereen, Schull and Bantry along with backup from Midleton, Mallow and Ballincollig. How much worse would a thermoplastic compounding facility storing highly combustible toxic materials be?
Aside from the considerable fire-risk, long-term exposure to antimony emissions via inhalation causes respiratory effects, such as inflammation of the lungs, chronic bronchitis, and chronic emphysema. That the EPA have not requested the factory apply for an Integrated Pollution Control Licence then is all the more puzzling, especially given that the prevailing wind blows directly across the town and the site is so close to the Skibbereen AFC where children playing soccer will be taking in lungsful of air each week and to the Retirement Village where some residents already have compromised breathing.
Nevertheless the planning authorities have decided that they do not require an Environmental Impact Study and that the facility requires no Integrated Pollution Control licence nor even an Emissions Licence. The American parent company in Winona is EPA licenced and required to report via the Toxic Release Inventory.
Equally puzzling is that the company have agreed with Irish Water that all surface water run off and production water will be discharged into the Skibbereen Waste Water Treatment Plant, which in turn discharges into the River Ilen just 7km upstream of the Special Area of Conservation of Roaring Water Bay and the Islands.
That heavy metals including Cadmium, Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel and Tin will be used in the production is concerning for the 70 or so jobs in the mussel farming industry in Roaring Water Bay. Mussels that will not be eaten are often effectively used to filter toxins out of river water, however mussels that have filtered heavy metals are not fit for human consumption. The 70 mussel farming jobs in the bay could all be put at risk.
Despite the promise made by one local councillor of between 20 and 40 jobs from this thermoplastic compounding facility, during this summer of 2018 the same parent company opened a similar but larger facility in Poland. Despite being 1.7 times as big as the one planned for Skibbereen it supplies only 25 jobs, many of which are for chemical engineers experienced in polymer compounding. Taking into account mussel farming alone, this facility could then create a net loss of jobs in the area. If we add into the equation the likely damage to tourism from industrialisation, heavy goods traffic, emissions pollution and associated loss of species, then the net loss of jobs could be even greater.
Concerned citizens state that whichever way you look this factory makes no sense and have vowed to fight the planning in the courts if necessary. They have created a web based information and action portal at www.saveourskibbereen.ie for people to register their opposition to the planning, gather more information and raise funds to oppose this planning and to lobby for far more sustainable development of West Cork, in line with the agreed Local Area Plan which outlines Skibbereen for technology and tourism.
A Group Spokesperson said, “If An Bord Pleanála rule in favour of RTP Company, we will have eight weeks from the decision date to initiate a Judicial Review of the An Bord Pleanála decision. We will be contacting people to present the various ways that the community of West Cork and Skibbereen can help us fundraise for this eventuality.
If they rule against RTP Company, we will be asking for help in initiating a lobbying campaign asking RTP Company to not submit a new application. To be kept up to date go to the website www.saveourskibbereen.ie and enter your email address under About Us/More Info.”