“Surely we have made a mistake,” was a common reply in the More4 News office when hit with the evidence, especially the lawyers.
Planning regulations laid down at the initiation of the Corrib Gas Project and water pollution laws dating back to 1977 were still being ignored.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) limits on aluminium in drinking water at Carrowmore Lake, the drinking water source for 10,000 people in Erris, and even in the tap water were being exceeded to dangerous levels.
The response from MCC was to cover up all the waterways and visible evidence of pollution coming from the site, and hide all drinking water test results.
The return to Mayo in May with a crew from More4 News revealed MCC were no longer releasing the figures of the highest aluminium exceedances – the on-site test results still being conducted by Shell – instead a new and disturbing phrase began appearing in the bi-monthly environmental reports available on http://mayococo.ie - “>LOD” (above level of detection).
Recent site and road construction work had covered over the trenches around gate two of the site, where I filmed the most visible pollution pouring directly from the construction site in March, thus hiding any evidence and visible link of polluted discharge water.
The aluminium was coming from “doib” soil underneath the wet Atlantic Peat. The removal of half a million tons of the stuff has just finished, now leaving vast areas of doib soil exposed to the elements and surface water.
See Don’t Mention The Water report and videos:
The IMC UK reports and video were released in April and the More4 video report followed in June, both exposing aluminium levels exceeding 3500ug/l - over 17 times the emergency levels imposed on SEPIL by MCC.
More4 News video report:
MCC and SEPIL both denied to the public, to this journalist and to the investigating team at More4 the elevated levels of aluminium in the lake and the drinking water were linked to contaminated water discharged from the construction site.
A spokesperson for SEPIL told the Irish Times on 28 March the increased aluminium levels were caused by eroding river banks in the area.
MCC claimed the 1714ug/l (micrograms per litre), nearly nine times WHO drinking water maximum limit, recorded on 23 January 2007 by the Health Service Executive (HSE) was due to an isolated incident at the Erris water facility. The “incident” was never explained. The water was tested a second time a day later and registered 406ug/l, still twice the WHO limit. No explanation was given for the second exceedance.
During my previous gig in Mayo, MCC said the test results for Carrowmore Lake and the drinking water were unavailable due the results being sent off to be digitised, in order for a computer system to be installed in the council office at Belmullet, so the public could easily access the public records.
According to John Monaghan, Rossport resident and self-educated one-man water monitoring system, the computer system arrived in April with all the MCC environment reports. But, despite the Erris water board testing the drinking water every day, the results were not accessible to the public. The only results of drinking water tests that were available were the occasional tests by the HSE.
Monaghan questioned what was this “isolated incident” and why the aluminium exceedance coincidentally occurred on the very day a random HSE test was performed.
In fact, according to Mayo’s recently ousted Independent TD Jerry Cowley there have now been three exceedances of the WHO limits in the drinking water, and each one was only spotted when, coincidentally, the HSE appeared to conduct a random water test.
When I returned to Mayo in May I already knew the site discharge water figures released by SEPIL on the MCC environment reports did not match up with independent tests conducted by Bord Na Móna (BNM).
Date: SEPIL BNM
2006/12/12 666ug/l 3271ug/l
2006/12/19 180ug/l 1928ug/l
2007/01/16 320ug/l 1925ug/l
I also knew that since confronting MCC with the test results that were in the thousands and also independent tests that were unable to record aluminium levels because they exceeded the capabilities of the testing kit – which meant the levels were over 3500ug/l – MCC changed the way results were recorded.
From 7 March, after confronting MCC with the evidence, high levels of aluminium were recorded on the environment reports simply as “>LOD” (Above Level of Detection).
In five MCC environment reports, dated from 15 March to 10 May, “>LOD” was recorded five times in the site discharge water, the last two on 25 and 26 May after 35mm of rain fell in seven hours.
During questioning and attempts to gain a video recorded interview – MCC declined to be interviewed - they admitted via email that there had been exceedances of aluminium, but this issue was rectified by mid March and there was a significant improvement in the discharge water since then.
The council also admitted the maximum level of detection was set at 2000ug/l.
From the beginning of January 2007 to 15 March, SEPIL conducted 42 tests on the SP1 pond, where water is held before it is discharged into the outside waterways. 40 of those tests exceeded the set maximum aluminium levels of 200ug/l.
From 15 March to 10 May 33 tests were conducted and 23 exceeded 200ug/l.
Although there is an agreed improvement from the 95 percent of exceedances prior to mid March, 70 percent of the tests after mid March still exceeded the maximum discharge limits.
Despite continuous correspondents with MCC over the three weeks of compiling the More4 News report, MCC failed to release any further drinking water tests. Instead they directed our investigation to their website where they claimed all drinking water test results were accessible on their website. But what we found was the link to these test results was disabled.
The aluminium exceedances from the site have now lasted over 18 months and MCC have not acted on their initial warning from September 2005 to prosecute SEPIL under the 1977 Local Government Water Pollution Act.
On arriving at gate two of the construction site on 25 May our investigation and camera team found that not only have the water test results been covered up, but the trenches, where in February I filmed the contaminated water pouring into the surrounding ditches that led down to Bellanaboy River, and consequently into Carrowmore Lake, were all covered over with peat. The road had been widened for heavy goods vehicle, despite a sign outside gate number two stating emphatically only light goods vehicles were allowed to use that gate.
Discussing this with protestors on the picket that morning, one man, who had kept an eye on the situation since my last visit, told me the road had been widened, resurfaced with tarmac up to the gate two entrance and a concrete pipe was laid to take the contaminated water far away from the site entrance, hiding any visible link to the site.
A quick return to gate three, under the watchful eye of Shell security in black sunglasses, the stream leaving the site showed the visible discolouration known to be aluminium in the water. But there was also a buildup of white and brown foam that indicated visible pollution from phosphates, orthophosphates or detergents.
The evidence from the return visit to Mayo would indicate that action taken by MCC following media attention, both independent and mainstream, and public pressure over the continued pollution of the drinking water supply, was to hide the problem rather than rectify it, to bury it, cover it over with earth and hope no one comes looking.
So, why would this happen? Why would a local council cover up a long-term health crisis in favour of a multinational oil and gas corporation?
For one, according those I spoke to over those three days in May, if SEPIL pulled out and the Corrib Gas Project was put to sea or was halted altogether, MCC, or should I say the taxpayer, would have to foot the bill to clean up the damage done at Bellanaboy Bridge.
Also MCC would lose the investment via rates from SEPIL, which one local said he believed was somewhere in the region of 2,000,000 Euros per annum. SEPIL also claim they are pumping £1,000,000 into the local economy every week.
But now, in July 2007, all the peat has been removed. The most recent MCC environment reports show between 24 May and 21 June of 28 tests – still conducted by SEPIL – there were nine exceedances. But it has to be remembered the rain fall levels have drastically reduced. This would point to why the peat was removed at this time of the year.
To this day the More4 News team, Indymedia UK and this journalist have been unable to obtain any further drinking water tests since January.
IMC UK Don’t Mention The Water report and videos:
Don't Mention The Water videos + Policing The Pollution also available on April 2007 (number 6) Reel News DVD.
More4 News video report: