OPINION EDITORIAL : SOS Skibbereen
By Fiona Hayes
I am sitting on the river bank on a slightly misty morning watching rowers from the World Famous Skibbereen Rowing Club training on the River Ilen. Skibbereen boasts no fewer than six world champion rowers, a credit to the club, the coaches, the dedication of the athletes themselves and of the parents of young athletes training on the river.
Rowers are amongst the fittest athletes in the world. As well as the skill of rowing technique and ability to work in teams they need flexibility, strength, power and extremely high levels of endurance. The absolute values for oxygen consumption found amongst rowers are among the highest reported in any type of endurance athletes. This ability to take in and use oxygen efficiently is paramount to their success and comes from dedication to cleverly designed training programmes. As these young rowers move up and down the river they take in lungful after lungful of clean West Cork air and pump it around their bodies developing healthy and powerful heart muscle as they train.
Unfortunately the future of rowers in Skibbereen could be put at risk by poor planning decisions. The decision to locate a custom engineered thermoplastic production factory on the Baltimore Road currently rests with An Bord Plaenala, having been opposed by Skibbereen residents on the grounds that no impact assessments have been done and no emissions licence has been requested despite the factory having planned 4 x16 metre emissions stacks to facilitate ‘dispersal’ of smoke, dust and toxic emissions.
These emission stacks will in fact be approximately the same height as the new school and the prevailing wind indicates that for about 75 per cent of the time the emissions will blow directly across Skibbereen.
The factory will be run by American parent RTP Company who will benefit from the cheap loans and significant tax breaks afforded to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for occupying the 3.7 hectares of IDA land designated.
RTP Company’s head office is in Winona, Minnesota; in an area that consistently fails to meet air quality standards for the USA. Interestingly, whilst no Integrated Pollution Control Licence has been required for the planned site in Skibbereen, RTP Company in Winona does have to be licensed even though it is set in a ‘Non Attainment Area; which means the level of air pollution is persistently greater than that set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
Indeed this area of Winona fails to achieve National Ambient Air Quality
standards because of levels of ozone, lead, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter.
Skibbereen on the other hand performs extremely well when measured against the EU Directives on Ambient Air Quality Limits for these substances, no doubt this clean air being a contributory factor when training young people to become World Class Athletes.
RTP Company in Winona is required to report emissions via the ‘Toxic Release Inventory’, which reveals that the greatest toxic release from their facility is Antimony.
As well as damaging heart muscle, long-term exposure to antimony via inhalation causes respiratory effects, such as inflammation of the lungs, chronic bronchitis, and chronic emphysema.
Coincidentally, as far back as 2001 Winona has had the highest risk of respiratory problems of any city in Minnesota, a State that is 2.5 times larger than Ireland.
The Air Quality Report submitted on behalf of RTP Company in their planning application is vague about the levels of toxins that will be released into the air around Skibbereen both from the tall emissions stacks and as fugitive emissions; however they state that a number of hazardous materials, including but not limited to bromine fire retardant compounds, antimony fire retardant, volatile organic compounds that will be heavy metals such as nickel, cobalt, and tin; sulphur oxides; molten polymer; vinyl acetate; POM, PC, and ABS, will be used on site.
The planning applications suggests that emissions will come from Cadmium, Bromine, Cobalt, Nickel, Tin, Styrene, Acrylonitrile and Vinyl Acetate.
Five of theses toxins adversely affect the lungs. Other health hazards from them include damage to heart, kidney, bone, central nervous system, reproductive system and brain.
The difference between Ordinary and Extraordinary is that little Extra. In Skibbereen, we have clean air and clean water enabling us to grow organic food, to enjoy diversity of wild life, to have a clear view of the stars at night and to develop our rising stars into World Class Athletes.
There is no mention in the Local Area Plan of developing Skibbereen and the surrounding area through the petrochemical industry, rather it is designated in to be developed through technology and tourism.
The IDA however is focused on new ‘Regional Investment Targets’ building clusters of investment in parts of Ireland that help to attract more overseas companies from particular Industries”
Whilst this policy of building clusters from particular industries appears sound on paper, one only has to look at the complex interaction that occurred in three areas in Sicily reported in a World health Organisation Report, where petrochemical based activities moving in attracted further petrochemical based industry in support and destroyed the regional economy from tourism and food, creating major Health Problems in the local population as it did so.
The development in three distinct areas in Sicily produced no long-term economically sustainable result for the areas. Indeed far from improving the local economy, the petrochemical based industry created new unemployment and emigration, leaving these three areas with such levels of environmental damage that Italian national legislation officially recognised the areas as being in need of rehabilitation plans to avert the crisis of environmental pollution.
Our children and grandchildren in Skibbereen and in West Cork deserve better than this. Our children and grandchildren in West Cork deserve a chance to become world class athletes. At the very least they deserve to breathe clean air; so if this planning decision concerns you, go to www.saveourskibbereen.ie where you can find out more detail and can make your voice heard.
West Cork is special; let’s keep it that way.