Port lawyers challenge new health and industry study

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Foyle Port’s lawyers have written to Derry City and Strabane District Council challenging what it calls a fundamentally flawed report into whether the residential communities of Maydown, Strathfoyle and Culmore might be experiencing adverse health effects as a result of exposure to industrial activity.

The ‘Industrial facilities: health impact study’ recently completed by Ben Cave Associates Ltd., is sympathetic to community narratives and accepts that when coal and grain dust, soot, and bad smells start infiltrating people’s homes and yards, concerns are real whether ‘objective science’ has proven serious health implications or not.

The report - a draft copy of which has been obtained by the Sentinel - was due to be considered at the July meeting of the Council Health and Community Committee but was deferred as a result of the Port’s intervention.

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council explained that the final report has been completed by the appointed consultants and circulated among a steering group which included local community groups, businesses and statutory organisations.

“Since its completion the Council has received a representation from one of the stakeholders involved in the steering group regarding the final report and is currently considering its content,” the spokesperson confirmed.

Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners - now branding itself as Foyle Port - confirmed that it is challenging the report in its current form.

In a statement it said: “The Port and Harbour takes its environmental and health responsibilities very seriously.

“It welcomed the proposal by Derry City Council to carry out a Health Impact Assessment in respect of the health impacts of industries in the Strathfoyle, Maydown and Culmore areas and we have been keen and willing to provide assistance to those preparing the assessment and to make any relevant information about our operations available to the authors of the study.

““The Port and Harbour Commissioners recognise the benefits to the local community, both residents and business, of a robust and detailed Health Impact Assessment which examines all of the factors impacting on the health and well-being of the residents of Strathfoyle, Maydown and Culmore but the draft report we have seen falls far short of achieving that. The draft report is fundamentally flawed in a number of important material respects and our legal representatives have written to the Council setting out in a positive way how the draft report can be changed so as to meet the brief originally set out for the Assessment by the Council. We await the Council’s response.”

The draft report, whilst noting community concerns also found locals strongly supportive of industry as a major jobs provider.

“The study area is approximately eight kilometres from the city centre. It has poor links with the city centre. Its long-established residential communities live cheek by jowl with the greatest concentration of businesses requiring Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) permits in Northern Ireland.

“These businesses and others that operate in the area, serve regional, national and international markets. Their continued success is central to the economy of Derry-Londonderry,” the report states.

The authors point out that “no strategic document for the city or the region provides a coherent vision for the people or for the businesses in this area.”

It also warns that the wider context “does not favour a resolution of the central problem of residents in close quarters with industry.”

The Londonderry Area Plan, for example, allows for further industrialisation in what is the last bastion of manufacturing and light industry in the city.

The report concludes: “Residents from communities in the study area report they are experiencing adverse impacts on their health and well-being from proximity to industrial facilities.

“Current evidence suggests that impacts are generally non-attributable due to multiple sources, each of which is likely to be within permitted levels, but which cumulatively give rise to conditions, which local residents find unacceptable.

“Scientific evidence identified through a review of academic research suggests this is plausible.

“The review of information regarding cancer clusters in the study area identifies the need for further information.

“Studies of other residential communities near industrial areas show that causation is difficult to establish.”

The report recommends adopting the “precautionary principle” with regard to future development and also recommends “a small area health study to determine if there are measurable changes in clinical health outcomes due to environmental exposure to industrial activity.”