Environment Protection Agency

[Speaking in the Seanad during a Labour Party private members’ motion on the Environmental Protection Agency]

[LINK to text of the Labour party motion: http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=26594&&CatID=63%5D

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I support Senator Whelan and his colleagues on this motion. When I read the documentation he provided it sowed a seed of doubt in my mind about the adequacy of the current oversight arrangements. The Minister’s commitment to an investigation is appropriate. This should be an opportunity for concerned citizens and their public representatives to make submissions.

I have got into trouble before for stating things I believe to be true, such as that the Chernobyl disaster had far fewer health consequences than is generally assumed in the lay press. No increased incidence of congenital malformations has ever been verifiably attributed to the Chernobyl disaster, with the exception of the sad occurrence of thyroid cancer which undoubtedly affected children in the area. There has been no evidence of a long late cancer causation associated with the disaster.

That does not mean that there are not environmental consequences from chemical, radiological and other emissions. There have been many huge disasters caused by regulatory failures. One of the classic examples was Minimata Bay in Japan where the poisoning of water by mercury from an industrial plant, which went undetected until it was too late, resulted in a colossal environmental disaster, with many people getting mercury poisoning, dying, being crippled or suffering irreversible brain damage. As a result of appropriate environmental regulation, we now limit the use of materials such as asbestos, benzene and other hydrocarbons. These regulations are based on good science, not on some kind of fluffy bunny-hugging, Luddite, anti-industrial policy. There is sound science, medicine and epidemiology behind them all. The concerns about specific chemicals associated with hydrocarbon disposal are very real. It may well be that there are adequate processes in place for the supervision of the safe disposal of these products but the contention as advanced that it is not adequate is plausible and requires full evaluation and I urge an appropriate, health-only focused investigation, taking into account the data presented by Senator Whelan.

With respect to the other issue, to say I was troubled would be too strong but a tiny bit of unction arose when I read the text of the Minister’s reply with its heavy emphasis on job creation, troikas etc. Being concerned about the environment does not make one unpatriotic, unconcerned about economics or jobs, but if we store up real health disasters now, we will have to pay for them later. There is an appropriate balance. All of these decisions need to be based on good science, medicine, epidemiology and public health. Let us get this one right.

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