River polluted by toxic waste from fuel laundering plant

June 22, 2010

By Brónagh Murphy

A river and surrounding marshland at Silverbridge have been extensively polluted by toxic waste dumped from a fuel laundering plant.

The plant, hidden in a remote farm building, was uncovered and dismantled by Customs officials on Thursday.

It was capable of producing up to 1.75m litres of illicit fuel a year, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have said.

Police accompanied officers from HMRC and the Environmental Heritage Agency during the search where they uncovered equipment and farm machinery being used to launder diesel.  Several vehicles used for transporting the fuel were also seized.

More than 20,000 litres of toxic waste, the residue of the laundering process, were removed from the site.  However, a substantial amount, which was being stored in underground slurry tanks, had leaked into the river while some had been dumped on nearby marshland.

Assistant director of HMRC specialist investigations, Mike Connolly said those responsible had shown a total disregard for the local land and waterways.

“Indiscriminate dumping of the by-products from the laundering process can cause severe damage to the environment, as well as taxpayers and local ratepayers having to pay for the clean up and disposal costs.

“People need to be aware of the environmental and safety issues surrounding the laundering of fuel, which is often done in the midst of rural or farming communities.”

Counting the cost

Commenting on the issue, SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley says illegal fuel laundering in south Armagh is a ‘massive environmental disaster waiting to happen’.

“If there is anyone out there who still thinks diesel laundering is a nudge-wink victimless crime they should come out and see what these gangsters have left behind them. Their acid sludge has leaked into a stream and there will be untold environmental damage. After that will come the clean-up costs. The sludge and all the soil it comes into contact with is highly toxic waste which has to be shipped out of the country for highly expensive disposal at specialised facilities,” Mr Bradley said.

“It is long past time to put a stop to their gallop. As long as diesel laundering continues there is a massive environmental disaster waiting to happen in south Armagh. Even a small drum of sludge could wipe out marine life in a river all the way to the sea. The whole community needs to turn on them and turn them in.”

Adding his condemnation, UUP MLA Danny Kennedy, said “local residents are paying the environmental price of fuel laundering”.

“The perception that fuel laundering is a victimless crime is clearly a complete myth, particularly when the community is left to pick up the tab,” Mr Kennedy said.

“The damage caused to our land and water systems through the indiscriminate dumping of the by-products from the laundering process, and the clean-up cost to rate payers, should send a clear message to the local community that somebody always pays in the end.”