Belfast Telegraph

Time to up stakes in waste war

Editor's Viewpoint

A report in illegal waste dumping in Northern Ireland has uncovered a nightmare scenario beyond most people's worst fears. Based on its investigations it is estimated there could be up to 100 illegal sites which could take £250m to clean up. And that is not the worst of it.

The investigation also discovered a lack of controls and regulations which allow potential dumping sites to be created in the first place without planning permission and the emergence of criminal gangs in this large-scale despoliation of the countryside. There are huge profits to be made by such gangs – who might well also include former paramilitary members – who care little what misery they leave in their wake. Waste dumping on this scale is a blot on the landscape, but it also is a potential health hazard as there are no controls over what may be buried in the landfill sites including even very toxic substances. These can all leech into water courses, creating dangers for livestock and humans, never mind fish populations.

It seems incredible that illegal dumping could be carried out so blatantly without anyone raising the alarm, leading to suspicions that someone must have turned a blind eye on occasion. Even when concerns were raised about a huge waste dump in Co Londonderry, little was done for a very long time.

That is a totally unacceptable state of affairs. Former Environment Minister Alex Atwood did the province a signal service by commissioning this investigation and his successor Mark H Durkan must now begin implementing new rules to clamp down on illegal dumping.

There must be a stricter and more transparent trail from where waste is collected to where it is dumped. Companies involved in the industry must be subject to greater oversight and it should be a matter of principle – as well as law – that anyone found guilty of illegal dumping or pollution flowing from it should have to pay for any cleaning operation. As a final resort there should be stiff jail sentences for those who flout the law.

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