Illegal dumping probe steps up as 100 suspect sites excavated
The Department of the Environment has carried out excavations at around 100 suspected illegal dumping sites, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Trial pits have been dug at the numerous suspected sites and trenches dug to determine if waste has been hidden underground.
The DoE said its officials were also involved in intensive surveying of the lands in areas already known to be illegal dumping sites.
Drilling equipment is now being used to determine how far the contamination extends into the earth.
The massive scale of the illegal dumping operation was first outlined by the Environment Minister Alex Attwood (right) during a visit to Londonderry this month.
Mr Attwood and environmental enforcement officials outlined how the criminal gang or gangs responsible had been contaminating hectare upon hectare of land in the rural Mobouy townland, outside Campsie.
They were speaking as they announced details of Operation Sycamore, the largest investigation into illegal dumping of its kind ever undertaken in Northern Ireland.
It has uncovered a systematic and secret operation stretching back to at least 2009.
Several tracts of land were dug up before hundreds of thousands of tonnes of municipal and household waste was thrown into the void and then covered over with top soil, gravel and sand.
Giving an update on the probe, a DoE spokeswoman said: "Documentary evidence recovered from the illegal landfill is being traced back to its producer/origin currently.
"To date, the investigation has involved the intensive surveying of areas of land used for illegal waste disposal – this has involved the use of drilling equipment to determine the depth of waste infilled, excavation of almost 100 trial pits throughout suspected sites and the construction of large trenches to determine if waste has been infilled throughout the areas concerned.
"All these investigations have been recorded in writing, video and still footage to be able to be used as evidence in court.
"Two individuals have already been arrested in connection with the deposits of waste and have been interviewed under caution on a number of occasions – these individuals have been bailed to return. Once the document tracing has been completed further arrests are anticipated."
She further confirmed that, to date, "extensive survey work and the searches of two business premises under waste legislation powers have been carried out in order to gather evidence".
"If there is a requirement to carry out further searches as evidence comes to light these will happen as a matter of urgency," the spokeswoman said.
Sample tests and biological investigations centred on the River Faughan, meanwhile, have been undertaken as part of the ongoing investigations.
The River Faughan lies next to at least one of the dumping sites and there are fears that the river – a source of drinking water for the people of Derry – may have become contaminated.
To date, all tests have come back clear.
The DoE spokeswoman said: "Intense monitoring using both chemical and biological techniques is being carried out in addition to the normal monitoring of the River Faughan carried out by the Environment Agency."