Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

North’s waterway pollution highest in south Armagh

Almost two-thirds of waterway pollution incidents linked to fuel laundering across the north have occurred in county Armagh, with more than half of these in the south of the county, recently released figures have revealed.

Since 2012 the Environment Agency has dealt with 61 separate cases of river pollution incidents as a result of the dumping of toxic fuel waste.  Thirty-eight of these have occurred in county Armagh, the majority of which (22) were located in the south Armagh area.

The news has raised serious health concerns, particularly in the case of Lough Ross near Crossmaglen where evidence of oil in sediment has been discovered.  Thousands of households on both sides of the border obtain their supply of drinking water from the lake.

Inspectors from Monaghan County Council made the discovery and samples taken from a feeder stream into the lake also warranted “further investigation”.  Stating that the water quality in River Fane – which originates in Lough Ross and provides the drinking water supply to Dundalk – was “satisfactory”, the council said “visual assessment” of the area around the lake indicated that further investigation is necessary.

A county Louth official said tests conducted on the River Fane confirmed the council’s own investigation that the water is safe to drink.

Last month a cross-border political grouping called for a full time task force to be set up to tackle fuel laundering and the sale of illegal fuel on both sides of the border.

The British/Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) said it was “alarmed” by the widespread presence of fuel laundering plants and filling stations selling illicit fuel in border regions.

The group recommended that the British and Irish governments should introduce more lengthy custodial sentences for illicit trade.

Despite a sharp rise in the number of fuel laundering plants being dismantled in recent years – and toxic waste dumps appearing at roadsides on an almost weekly basis – there have been no prosecutions over the illegal dumping of laundered waste.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has been informed by his southern counterpart, Alan Kelly, of strong evidence that a large proportion of fuel waste found dumped in counties Louth and Monaghan has originated north of the border.  Toxic sludge found at almost 600 sites in the two counties cost the Irish government €6million in clean up costs and Mr Kelly hinted that compensation may be sought from Stormont to help defray the huge expense.

Meanwhile, a suspected fuel laundering plant was uncovered on Thursday at Loughross Road, Crossmaglen in a joint operation carried out by the Environment Agency and the PSNI.

The discovery was made during the arrest of a 52-year-old man for waste and contaminated land offences.   The accused was subsequently charged with a number of waste offences and will appear before Newry Magistrates’ Court on 1st April.