FORT George has been swept for evidence of nuclear and chemical weapons storage during its use as a naval and military base and declared clean by the consultancy firm advising ILEX on the remediation of the site for a £250k fee.
Michael Boyd, Director of WYG Nolan Ryan Tweeds (NI) Limited, said the site has been tested for contamination risk in accordance with technical guidance for special MoD sites which under law must be checked for nuclear production facilities, chemical weapons storage and radioactivity.
The Sentinel asked Mr Boyd if WYG had ruled out the possibility that the site had been used for these purposes.
He replied: “We went through a process. We engaged with the MoD and went through the technical guidance.”
He said WYG has not simply taken the MoD’s word for it, adding: “We surveyed it ourselves. We have to investigate it.”
Mr Boyd also said the location of five historical tanks on the former naval and army site whose purpose had hitherto been unknown have now been fully checked.
Until this year only the MoD knew what the five tanks had been specifically used for.
But Mr Boyd said the locations of these mystery tanks have now been targeted and given the all clear.
“We did target it,” he told the paper. “Boreholes were investigated. We targeted the whole site. There was nothing that we didn’t expect from the site.”
The environmental expert - who is spearheading WYG’s £250k consultancy contract for the remediation of Fort George - also said there was no evidence of luminous paint containing radium - a radioactivity risk.
He made the comments after the Sentinel revealed arsenic, asbestos, explosives and radioactive chemicals at Fort George were identified as potentially harmful contaminants as ILEX prepares a major mixed use planning application that will include housing units and a Science Park.
ILEX Chief Executive Aideen McGinley said the Londonderry regeneration company wished to provide details on the ongoing remediation work after the Sentinel report.
She said she was concerned the Sentinel report could have created “anxiety in the local community.”
Two weeks ago the paper reported extensive contamination on the site as the consequence of nearly a century of its use as a shipyard and military base.
According to a newly published Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) potential contaminants include residual TNT, other explosives and ammunitions;
various oils and hydrocarbons; solvents; paints; metals including arsenic, lead and zinc; ammonia; polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs (banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001); and organotin compounds such as tribuyltin or TBT (banned by the International Maritime Organisation).
Mr Boyd said WYG first looked at a number of historical investigations of the site before looking for gaps in the data and conducting its own rigorous investigation.
This culminated in the investigation of 56 boreholes in May 2012, which revealed levels of arsenic and lead that were above the recommended threshold, but which did not uncover evidence of “gross contamination.”
“Those levels are slightly above the standard,” he said. “We completed a fairly high level GAP analysis and then designed up a site investigation,” he said.
“We completed, in May, a further site investigation and investigated 56 boreholes. We did not find any contaminants above and beyond what were there originally,” he added.
A further intrusive site investigation was carried out by WYG in early June 2012 and a number of boreholes on the site are consequently subject to ongoing monitoring.
Mr Boyd said he would be meeting with DCC and NIEA tomorrow (Thursday, August 2) to provide a progress update on the remediation work.
He said a risk assessment will now be submitted to the DCC and NIEA in August 2012 and it is hoped the remediation strategy for Phase 1 of Fort George, which is the proposed Science Park element, will be signed off by October 2012, with work commencing in March 2013.
Mr Boyd said the remedial strategy would eliminate all risk to potential residents, end users and third parties posed by former contaminants.
Equally, the successful contractor - who will be selected via a wide ranging public procurement exercise - will be obliged to provide comprehensive detail on monitoring and remediation measures.
He pointed to WYG’s previous successful remediation work on what he said were far more heavily contaminated sites at the Olympic Park, London, a former Gas Works in Yorkshire, and a former landfill site in Cork.
Mr Boyd said it was not possible to give an estimate of the total cost of remediation at this stage.
Back in 2009 former Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie estimated that the costs of remediation work on the site could be up to £9million but that figure has since been revised downwards.
Asked how much it would cost Mr Boyd said: “We can’t really say. To be honest the remediation/contamination isn’t that significant on site. Given the previous uses of the site we would expect more than we have.”
The consultant did reveal, however, that there has been yet further slippage in the decontamination schedule.
The remedial strategy was supposed to be agreed with DCC and NIEA by June 2012. But this will now take place by August 2012.
Decontamination work was originally expected to begin in the middle of 2011 and expected to complete by June 2012.
But Mr Boyd said the remediation work is now scheduled to begin in March 2013 and will take about one year to complete.
ILEX provided extensive detail on its remediation plans after the Sentinel revealed its own EIA warned that people could be at risk through direct skin contact, inhalation of vapours, dust and gas, ingestion of soil and soil dust and the ingestion of home grown vegetables.
The report warned there was a risk of pollution through the leaching of the various contaminants through the soil, into shallow groundwater and into the Foyle and the Pennyburn.
Whilst of concern for future users it is also a major concern for people living in the Pennyburn and Strand areas of the city who the Sentinel revealed this Spring were amongst the most likely people in Londonderry to suffer and die from cancer.
The highest cancer death rates across Londonderry by Ward during 2008/10 were: Altnagelvin 30; Ballynashallog 30; Brandywell 29; Culmore 29; Pennyburn 29; Strand 27; Clondermot 25; Enagh 25; Holly Mount 25; New Buildings 22.
Equally, the highest incidences of cancer were in: Culmore 139; Enagh 108; Clondermot 106; Altnagelvin 102; Ballynashallog 102; Pennyburn 101; Shantallow West 101; Lisnagelvin 91; Foyle Spring 86; Victoria 86.