17 August 2001

Limerick report is given rough ride

A REPORT into severe animal health problems witnessed in the Askeaton area of west Limerick, Ireland, in the mid-1990s has been branded a "waste of money" and a "whitewash" by farm leaders.

Published by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency and presented to local residents, the report concludes that environmental pollution was unlikely to have been the cause. Instead it points to poor farm management and bad weather.

The disease outbreaks centred on two farms, run by Liam Somers and Justin Ryan. On both holdings animals suffered from severe lesions on their bodies, with some aborting calves and others dying from pneumonia and general loss of condition. Similar events unfolded on other local farms, with 14 showing moderate to severe health problems, said the report.

Farmers have always suspected local industry, in particular a nearby alumina facility. Several residents spoke of being engulfed in clouds of choking toxic fumes. But the report, which was launched in 1995 and cost over IR£4m (£3.3m), found levels of lead, arsenic and mercury in the soil to be normal, as was the acidity of rain water.

Irish Farmers Association deputy president John Dillon, said huge amounts of money were wasted investigating farmers and not the causes of the health problems. "The report conveniently scapegoats the farming community while absolving industry of any involvement. The protection of ordinary people is considered to be expendable in the interests of insulating major industrial plants from criticism." &#42

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president, Pat ORourke, questioned the credibility of the EPA, calling for local representatives to be included in its make-up. But EPA directors dismissed any idea of a cover-up. Part of the problem was few fallen animals had been submitted for post mortems at the time. It was hard to reach definitive conclusions, but there was no evidence of environmental pollution.