Setbacks for unjust waste management plans
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
Last Thursday, a bombshell hit the media with the leak to the Washington Post of the long awaited US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on dioxins. The report not only classifies dioxins as human carcinogens but links even low-grade exposure to dioxin to a wide array of health problems, including changes in hormonal levels and developmental defects in babies.
The report gives solid backing to those scientists who had been dismissed as scaremongers for questioning the safety of incinerators. The EPA report finally confirms that dioxins are some of the most potent toxins known to science.
This report was issued at a time when the powers-that-be in the 26 Counties are attempting to foist dioxin-producing incinerators on regions as part of a so-called waste management solution. M.C. O'Sullivans Consulting Engineers have won most of the lucrative contracts to draw up the 26 Counties' regional waste management plans for the next decade and beyond. But as the Sinn Féin submissions on these plans, released last week, point out, these draft plans are not proposals for waste management at all - they are thinly disguised announcements that if Environment Minister Noel Dempsey gets his way, every region will have its own incinerator.
The leaked US EPA report points out that toxic dioxin emissions have fallen off substantially over the last few years, but also that dioxins are far more dangerous than was previously thought. They accumulate in fat. Children are particularly vulnerable because dioxins accumulate in dairy products and mothers' milk. Unlike women, who can breast feed, men don't have any way in their lifetimes to offload their dioxins.
PJ Rudden of O'Sullivan's glibly claimed at a debate in Galway last week that emissions from incineration represent no danger, but it is these same incinerators that emit the dioxins.
In the light of the US EPA report, Minister Dempsey should have seriously reconsidered his campaign to get incinerators into the Irish countryside. The EPA report should have caused him concern.
In fact, Dempsey on Monday announced, in the face of these warnings about dioxins, that he would nevertheless be ploughing ahead with his incinerators for each region. In justification of this, the minister is reported as saying that ``every time someone lights up a cigarette, dioxin is emitted''. This, as every scientist will tell you, is grossly misleading.
Dioxins are produced from the burning of chlorinated plastics. The important thing is to keep dioxin levels at an absolute minimum. At present, Ireland has the lowest dioxin level of any industrialised country. This happy situation looks like lasting only as long as it takes Dempsey to get his plans off the ground and into the air.
What is likely to concern Noel Dempsey more, however, was the National Anti-Service Charge Conference which took place last Saturday, 20 May, in Drogheda. Delegates from all over the 26 Counties voted their resolve to fight the privatisation of waste services and the imposition of waste collection charges.
The national conference emerged from battles in Wicklow and Drogheda, where councils tried to privatise their waste collection services over the Christmas period. But the refuse collectors themselves weren't having it, and they fought hard to retain their jobs, and won - for the moment. The councillors who had happily voted for privatisation and equally happily backed the right of private companies to charge the householders for this `service', got a rude awakening when demonstrations and protests in January and February outside council meetings showed the depth of public feeling on the issue.
Last Saturday's conference was organised by the Drogheda Residents Against Bin Charges and Privatisation. Sinn Féin's Ken Ó hÉiligh chaired the meeting. Representatives came from all over the country, from as far away as Cork and Limerick, Waterford, Dublin, and Monaghan. They came representing lone parents, on behalf of organisations like NATO, ACRA, trade councils and many residents' and tenants' groups.
Sinn Féin Councillor Owen Smyth from Monaghan forcefully condemned waste collection charges as a form of double taxation and endorsed the Drogheda residents' fight against privatisation of waste management.
Joe Moore, President of the Cork Trades Council, talked of how people had been jailed in Cork during the water rates campaign, how the councillors had been elected on the basis of the strength of their opposition to charges, but when it came to voting, the party `whips' were imposed and they voted through the charges. Many speakers referred to the brown envelope economy.
Carrickmacross Sinn Féin councillor Matt Carty said that privatisation ``represents the squandering of local authority responsibilities. Private companies are accountable to no one.'' Many speakers referred to the well organised campaign that beat the water rates. Many at the meeting had taken part in this campaign and shared their experiences.
Joe Higgins, TD for the Socialist Party said: ``Governments can absorb our political statements, but they can't deal with local groups, small groups all over the place who refuse these unjust charges. It is people's power which will win out. But this has to be organised.
He referred to the scandal that the collection of waste charges by local authorities throughout the 26 Counties between 1997 to 1999, had been illegal. ``Only last month, he said, ``TDs came running into the Dáil and in all of two and a half hours had voted through all three stages of a bill to legalise what was illegal, and yet three years after the Ansbacher accounts were revealed, they still haven't even told us the names of the account holders.''
The conference voted unanimously for an anti-service charges Day of Action in Dublin on Saturday 24 June and supported a network of local campaigns. Those gathered called for mass nonpayment of refuse charges to defeat this unjust double taxation and demanded that local authority services be funded from the record tax returns collected by central government.
Resolutions condemned privatisation, which it was felt would lower the quality of the service, cause job losses and the loss of democratic control over local services. Delegates pledged their support for any groups fighting privatisation, and supported a resolution which condemned refuse charges as a tax which will fall on those who pay most tax, and produce least waste.
``Eyes turn to Dublin, on the matter of charges'' as Louth Sinn Féin Councillor Arthur Morgan pointed out. At the last Dublin Corporation meeting, councillors threw out a proposed waste charges as a form of double taxation. They referred the manager's proposal back to the environmental SPC (Strategic Policy Committee). It remains to be seen what the councillors will do when the proposal comes back to the council.
``Waste charges are only the first element of Waste Management Plans that include incinerators,'' said Arthur Morgan. ``Yet all down our coastline, from Omeath to Wexford, cancer rates are rising. Opposition to privatisation and waste charges is part of the struggle to enforce democratic waste management as a service which the government funds.
``Householders should not have to foot the bill for incinerators which produce the dioxins that scientists have known for a long time are carcinogens.''