Cost of cleaning up illegal waste 'could leave NI bankrupt'
A daming report has shone a spotlight on illegal dumping in Northern Ireland - with counties Antrim and Down among the worst offending areas and the estimated clean-up bill a phenomenal £22.3m.
So widespread is illegal dumping that a leading environmental campaigner has warned that, if government authorities do not take action quickly, Northern Ireland could be left bankrupt.
Published by the investigative journalism website, TheDetail.tv, the report found 6,000 incidents of fly tipping were recorded in Northern Ireland during 2014/15 and between 2006 and 2015 more than 7,240,000 tonnes of waste were deposited.
A dossier compiled by the investigators shows where each of 66 illegal dumping sites was located - with potentially harmful material classed as "controlled waste" even being found on GAA playing fields in Strabane.
The largest discovery of illegal waste, at Tummock Road in Ballymoney in 2007, amounted to 56,741 tonnes , which would have cost close to £3m to clean up.
Hazardous waste, in the form of asbestos, was found at the former Ulster Weavers site on Donegall Street in Belfast in 2011.
The cost of that clean-up operation was estimated at £1m.
James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth in NI, said: "To clean up these (illegal) sites could potentially bankrupt Northern Ireland, but not cleaning up these sites leaves a toxic legacy."
Mr Orr pointed to an illegal dump in the Mobuoy Road area of Londonderry on the banks of the Faughan, a waterway providing drinking water to around 60% of the city's population.
"Tax evasion runs into hundreds of millions of pounds and there is a big impact on public health also," said Mr Orr. "If we look at the leachate which runs into the River Faughan from an illegal dump thought to contain over 1.5m tonnes of waste, that is extremely worrying.
"When we consider that many of these illegal dumping sites are covered in soil, and then we have animals grazing on them, there is a major risk to public health."
Mr Orr is among those calling for Stormont to carry out a public inquiry into illegal dumping agreed by the Assembly in 2014.
"Government really needs to get a handle on this. The fines imposed for this type of activity are meaningless and we have many millionaires who are profiting from it," he said.
"Consider that two years ago, the Government asked for a public inquiry into illegal dumping across Northern Ireland, something which received cross party support, and so far nothing has happened, it is scandalous."