1m tonnes of waste illegally dumped at Mobuoy

NI Environment Minister calls for full-time waste crime task force Northern Irish authorities estimate that one million tonnes of waste could have been deposited in an illegal landfill in the town of Mobuoy near Londonderry.

Previous estimates released by the NIEA suggested that 516,000 tonnes of illegal waste had been deposited in a 1.4-kilometre area around the materials recycling facility (MRF) operated by City & Industrial Waste Ltd. The site was located adjacent to the River Faughan, which supplies drinking water to the city of Londonderry and is part of the Foyle system, one of the most prolific rivers for salmon supply in Europe.

However, further ground investigations carried out this year have improved the understanding of the extent and nature of the waste, leading to the increased estimate.

Yesterday, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan announced that his department was getting closer to finding a remediation solution to the mass of waste, stating that the protection of the River Faughan was a priority.

The minister also announced that the Mobouy Stakeholders Group, established earlier this year, would be meeting with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to discuss options.

He said: “The River Faughan, which is adjacent to this waste, is an important natural resource that needs to be protected and my department has an extensive environmental monitoring programme in place to ensure that it remains protected.

“A number of remediation options for the site have been identified and short-listed. However, further work is needed to evaluate these shortlisted options and develop an integrated remediation strategy for the site. This will take up to 12 months to deliver.

“I will ensure that there is opportunity for further engagement and consultation in developing this remediation strategy with the local stakeholders and the local community in the months ahead.”

Investigation history

The site was the focus of an investigation conducted by the NIEA that saw two people arrested in November 2012 and the operator’s licence revoked in June 2013.

The majority of the waste, the NIEA said, had been buried in sand and gravel pits that had been excavated by a quarrying operation run by a company on the adjacent site, Campsie Sand and Gravel.

The waste had been shredded to hide its source, but investigators from the NIEA believe that it came from at least two different council areas.

Complaints about the running of the site had been made to the NIEA as early as 2008, but it was not until 2012 that the regulator instigated an investigation that uncovered the extent of the crime.

City & Industrial Waste’s licence was revoked in June 2013 and the scale of the crime led then Environment Minister Alex Atwood to commission an independent report into illegal waste activities in Northern Ireland.

Mills report findings

Chris Mills, the former Director of the Welsh Environment Agency, authored the report, ‘A review of waste disposal at the Mobuoy site and the lessons learnt for the future regulation of the waste industry in Northern Ireland’, which was published in December 2013.

The Mills Report called the regulation of waste in Northern Ireland ‘highly vulnerable to criminal infiltration’. The ability to dig sand and gravel pits, as in this case, without obtaining planning permission meant that there was ‘a ready supply of ideal sites’ for illegal waste disposal.

Moreover, if criminals can enter the waste industry, it suggested, they can ‘easily undermine legitimate operators’ by avoiding landfill tax and other costs by illegally treating their waste.

The report also highlights that, currently, the punishment for illegal waste activities does not ‘fit the crime’, making the waste industry ‘extremely attractive and vulnerable to criminals who can make vast profits with relatively little risk’.

To counter this, Mills recommended becoming ‘more rigorous and robust in regulatory activity to stop criminals entering the waste industry’.

Calls for ‘significant gear change’ in waste crime enforcement

At the time, Durkan called the report ‘sobering’ and pledged a ‘fundamental change’ into how waste is managed in the country.

This September, he revisited the issue and called for a ‘significant gear change’ in environmental crime enforcement, including the establishment of a ‘permanent, full-time multidisciplinary task force’ to clamp down on illegal waste operators.

He said: “This is not low level, victimless crime. In my view it is one of the greatest threats to our environment and to both human and animal health through potential contamination of our water supplies and local rivers.

“Without strong coordinated North-South action, criminals will continue to rob our economies of vast sums of money though the sale of illegal fuel and to poison and pollute our environment and people.”

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