Wexford environmental charity calls for ‘emergency response’ to pollution incidents in light of kerosene spills

The Executive Director of Seal Rescue Ireland has called for pollution events to be treated as an “environmental emergency” by Wexford County Council following several kerosene leaks in recent months.

kerosene leak from a holiday home into a stream in Poulshone was one of two such pollution incidents reported to Wexford County Council in mid-December.

Poulshone residents David and Claudia Peacon were walking on Tuesday, December 13 when they noticed the red-coloured substance in the stream and a noxious odour. They reported the issue to Wexford County Council’s Environment Section at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and were told that they were not the first to report the issue, and that it would be investigated by council staff.

Speaking several days later, Senior Environmental Engineer with Wexford County Council, Gerry Forde said that the source of the leak was detected during a detailed inspection of the stream and surrounds by council staff on Friday, three days after the Peacons made the report. 

“We found the problem. In a nutshell, it was a malfunction in the tank for the central heating system. In frosty weather, fittings can crack and this can occur. We have been in touch with the owners and they are dealing with it.”

“There are always two issues when it comes to contaminants like this. First of all, it is the impact on the river. However, the fact this river is so close to the sea, it will get out and is quickly diluted. So it is probably not as critical as if it is a sensitive, upland river. If diesel or oil has gotten into the ground, that needs to be dealt with as well. That can be a much bigger issue.”

When asked where the responsibility for the ground clean-up lies, Mr Forde said that it differs depending on whether it relates to public or private land.

“Any clean up in a person’s own garden and property would be organised by the property owners themselves. If the spill is on public land and a clean up is required, we do it but we would recuperate the costs from the property owners.”

At time of writing, it had not yet been determined whether a land clean up was required.

Mr Forde said that the leak was one of two such incidents reported to Wexford County Council that week, with the other one occurring in Wexford town.

“Anecdotally, you get a few a year. Most of them are accidental. It is never a deliberate thing,” he said. “We always advise people with holiday homes to check them regularly. These people in Poulshone weren’t in the house at the time.”

In the days after making a report, David and Claudia Peacon expressed their frustration at what they say is a “lack of urgency” exhibited by Wexford County Council and the EPA when pollution reports are made. Since making the report, they did not receive any update from Wexford County Council about the issue. They subsequently contacted the EPA  but were informed that such matters were the responsibility of Wexford County Council.  

“The EPA gave me the indication that it was no concern of theirs. They said they’d put me in touch with the council. I told them I had been in touch with the council already so they suggested I try Inland Fisheries Ireland,” said David.

David and Claudia subsequently contacted Inland Fisheries Ireland, and left a message for the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), who did not respond.

“It’s a fairly big concern. It’s frustrating when you feel that the bodies are not treating it seriously. Inland Fisheries are the only ones who were helpful and said they would get someone out straight away.”

When queried about the length of time between the report being made and the issue being addressed, Mr Forde said that trying to find the source of the pollution in a built-up area like Poulshone is like “trying to find a needle in a haystack” and takes time.

“We were a bit behind time last week with people out sick. The team were out for the detailed inspection on Friday but there was someone up from the council in the days before that.”

While unaware of the Poulshone incident, Executive Director of Seal Rescue Ireland (SRI), Melanie Croce echoed the sentiments of the Peacons, saying that SRI reported a similar incident of pollution in the summer and experienced a “delayed response” from the council.

“We could smell it in the water and could see it so we chased it up. We told the council and they didn’t send anyone out until the next morning. All through the evening and overnight, it was still spilling. This meant it took a lot longer for it to flush through,” she said. “It was a pretty delayed response. Incidents like this should be treated as an environmental emergency. The response needs to be immediate.”

While Ms Croce said SRI did not have bio-assessment data from before and after the spill, generally speaking, such incidents can have a great impact on the ecosystem.

“It would likely kill wildlife. It would kill birds and fish and likely insects. Even if it doesn’t kill them, it is going to leave some sort of toxic residue that will go up the food chain,” she explained. 

Ms Croce emphasised the importance of planting trees and vegetation along rivers as they can soak up pollutants from the land before they get into waterways. She also dismissed the idea that once a pollutant is diluted by the sea, it is less harmful.

“You have to think that, at every minute of every day, every single river is putting water into the sea. To a certain degree, pollution does get filtered. At the same time, if we are creating ongoing pollution, it is going to have a build-up effect,” she said. “Once it goes into the ocean, it isn’t like it disappears. It is not out of sight out of mind. We are seeing the impact by way of seals, which are a bio-indicator species. We are seeing a lot of seals really sick at the moment and this comes from somewhere.

It all starts with protecting the land as everything we do with the land will eventually get into the sea.”

Ms Croce said she hopes that the council will be quick to respond to pollution reports going forward.

“We can all report water quality issues to the council. It is important to have eyes and ears everywhere. They need to understand public does care about this.”

A spokesperson from the EPA said that they had no record of any report of this nature being made. However, they said that incidents of this nature are the responsibility of the Pollution Investigation Unit of Wexford County Council.

“For us to get involved in a local matter, the pollution would have to come from an EPA-licenced facility,” they said. “However, if they found that the council weren’t doing anything, they could call us. We have a remit to make sure it is followed up.”

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