16 July 1997
'Decommissioning' of Asahi plant to begin
By Tom Shiel and Tom Kelly
With closure of the Asahi plant in Killala and the loss of 315 jobs now inevitable, work on the 'decommissioning' of the multi-million pound factory, once the proud flagship of Mayo industry, is to begin immediately.
Experts from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are to move onto the vast site at Tawnaghmore this week to draw up an inventory of toxic chemicals and decide how they should be safely disposed of.
Stocks of hazardous chemicals, such as acrylonitrile, are likely to be used up in the production process, as it would be expensive and awkward to dispose of them otherwise, and the EPA will, if necessary, insist that any landfill dump in the vicinity of the factory is excavated and toxic materials removed.
Despite initial fears in the 1970's about the environment and the potential dire consequences of a chemical spillage or derailment, Asahi has maintained an excellent environmental record over its 20 year history.
This was acknowledged yesterday (Tuesday) by Mr. Padraig Larkin, Manager of the Licensing and Control Division of the EPA, who said, however, that the most strenuous safeguards would be maintained until after the production lines fall silent sometime before Christmas.
"We aim to leave the environment in as pristine a condition as before Asahi came here", Mr. Larkin explained.
This is the first time that the EPA has had to deal with the environmental situation arising from a major industrial closedown but the Agency feels it is inevitable that they will face many such situations in the future.
Speaking to the Connaught Telegraph, Mr. Larkin said two EPA officials will be travelling to Killala this week to draw up an inventory of chemicals, part of the first stage of ensuring that the plant is decommissioned in a proper manner.
Any toxic dumps adjoining the plant will be excavated and hazardous material will, if necessary, be sent abroad for incineration. Ireland has no national incinerator at the moment.
Recently, before the latest crisis, Asahi applied to the EPA for an Integrated Pollution Control Licence, a system which is new to Europe and which governs all emissions to the environment whether it be air, water or land.
With the closure of Asahi, the major pipeline from Lough Conn which draws thousands of gallons of water for the production process daily, will fall into disuse. The availability of fresh water, however, is expected to be of some benefit in attracting other large scale industry to Killala.
The Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment, Tanaiste Mary Harney visited the doomed factory on Monday and said afterwards that north Mayo will receive top priority following the Asahi closure.
Mr. Des Mahon, Mayo County Manager, described the Asahi closure as a huge loss for North Mayo. The firm were one of the council's largest ratepayers and biggest users of water.
It has been a credit to the company's efficiency and care for the environment that they managed to discharge waste into Killala Bay without damaging two nearby Blue Flag status beaches.
Mr. Mahon, who was appointed chairman of the North Mayo Enterprise Initiative which is involved in finding a replacement industry for the area, said every effort would be made to retain the workers and prepare them for new jobs.
Special incentives were being offered to Asahi employees to set up their own businesses.
Mr. Mahon said he was happy the necessary infrastructure was in place to attract a new industry to the North Mayo area, and the region had an outstanding record in terms of industrial relations.
"It is important that we don't talk ourselves down. There is so much to offer potential investors.
"An undertaken has been given to maximise the opportunity presented to us. We will play the hand that has been dealt to us in the best way for the people of North Mayo."
Mr. Mahon confirmed an interim report on their progress would be presented to Taniste, Mary Harney, within the next number of weeks.
Meanwhile, Mayo Dail Deputy Mr. Michael Ring is seeking the location of an oil refinery plant at Killala Bay to help compensation the area for the Asahi closure. He said it was ridiculous that oil produced at Ireland first commercial plant off the Aran Islands was being transported to the Whitegate Refinery in Cork.
"I will be taking up this matter without delay at Dail Eireann level. I also intent contacting Statoil about the proposal. Killala Bay is an ideal location for such a refinery."