Eighteen high risk pollution sites have been identified in Mallusk Industrial Estate — the source of one of Northern Ireland’s worst fish kills earlier this year.
Tens of thousands were killed in the Sixmilewater in July after the angling watercourse was polluted by chemicals traced back to the industrial estate. No-one is to be prosecuted as the exact source of the pollution could not be identified.
But the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has revealed that 18 high risk pollution sites were found in the estate, holding oil, chemicals, cleaning materials and concrete.
SDLP South Antrim MLA Thomas Burns has spoken of his concerns after the figure was revealed by NIEA’s audit, which has so far assessed 82 sites, of which 15 were medium risk and 49 were low risk.
“I am very concerned by the results of this study so far.
“The 18 high risk sites represent around a fifth of all locations assessed to date and there are more investigations to be made.
“This is unacceptably high.
“Action needs to be taken immediately to mitigate these risks. There must not be any more repeats of these catastrophic fish kills. It is too late to save the Sixmilewater, but other rivers must be protected.
“It is my understanding that around 300 businesses were informed they would be assessed, so we are not yet even one third of the way through the analysis. I would imagine that more high risk sites will be uncovered, but I hope they will be very few in number.”
He called on NIEA to take a more robust approach to river pollution and urged Environment Minister Sammy Wilson to punish offenders to the full extent of the law.
“This destruction of rivers in south Antrim is totally unacceptable and cannot continue.
“The Minister understands this and has given me strong assurances that a hard-line approach will be taken with repeat offenders in the future,” he added.
“A fine of a few hundred pounds does not deter repeated wrongdoing.
“For an incident the size of the Sixmilewater catastrophe, I want to see perpetrators hit with very large fines and jail sentences. These are the types of punishments which are required.
“I would like to reassure local people that I will continue to raise this issue at the highest level of government, and offenders should be aware that a watchful eye is focused upon their activities.”
NIEA said it had increased its resources directed at the Sixmilewater catchment and the number of cases recommended for prosecution has increased from two in 2007 to seven cases in 2008 so far.
“NIEA officials have also issued three enforcement notices in the area over the past three months as a result of pollution prevention risk audits in Mallusk,” a spokeswoman said.
“Where pollution occurs it is the policy of NIEA to take formal enforcement action if this is warranted by the severity of the pollution and the circumstances which led to it occurring.
“ In cases where it is decided that prosecution is appropriate, staff collect the necessary evidence and prepare a file which is submitted to the Public Prosecution Service with a recommendation for prosecution. Sentencing of course remains a matter for the courts to decide.
“It is evident from NIEA water pollution enforcement statistics that we are robust in taking prosecutions. NIEA compares extremely favourably with both the English/Welsh and the Scottish environmental protection agencies.
“Over the most complete data period, 2001 to 2005, NIEA have taken 16 water pollution prosecutions per 1,000 square miles compared to four prosecutions in England and Wales, and one in Scotland.
“This doesn't mean to say we are content with our performance and we will continue to vigorously gather evidence and recommend prosecution where it is appropriate.”