Standing at a funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery a few years back, my interest was piqued when an old friend blessed herself and said to me “That’s another one from Finglas taken too soon, I blame those dumps”.
The “dumps” she referred to were the two landfill sites in Finglas, namely Tolka Valley and Dunsink Lane. Both these sites were situated in close proximity to residential areas. The consensus among the community was that these landfills were the prime contributor to illnesses in the populace particularly cancer and birth defects.
Breast cancer survivor and founder of the charity “Strike a pose against cancer”, Paula Fanning certainly feels that theses landfills had a negative effect on the health of those residing in the area.
Paula who grew up in the Lakeglen estate, which is directly opposite where the Tolka Valley landfill was once located, said “I know so many from the area who got different types of cancers and far too many of them died too soon”.
She also said that she was one of the lucky ones who survived. She feels that her survival is down to her employer’s (Marks & Spencer) breast screening program and not government initiatives which only offer screening when a woman reaches her 50th birthday.
Curious to see if there was a correlation between landfills and illnesses in Finglas, I posted a message to the Facebook “Finglas memories” page. With over three hundred comments, I was overwhelmed by the response. Respondents spoke of effluence being disposed of in the dead of night by men in white boiler suits. Others gave details of the incidents of cancer in their respective families.
One very interesting posting, told of how in a block of ten houses, four of them gave birth to children with an extra chromosome. A London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study bore out this anecdote and found that babies born to mothers who live near landfills have a greater risk of birth defects. They also noted that birth defects decreased in births beyond a two mile radius of a landfill.
Dr. David O. Carpenter of The Institute for Health and the Environment, at the State University of New York at Albany said that, “living near landfills shows an increase in asthma and that the extent to which landfill contaminants suppresses the immune system has been “underestimated”. Children living near landfills were also hospitalised more frequently that those children who lived outside a recommended two mile parameter.
According to insurance company, Irish Life annual report 2016 , the number of people dying from cancer is continuing to rise. Their research submits that over half of women (51%) and 41% of men died from cancer. These figures are an increase from 48% and 39% respectively in 2015. Irish Life posits that the reason for this is down to demographics and that Ireland’s population is ageing.
The latest annual report from the National Cancer Registry (NCRI) November 2017 tallies with the Irish Life report and finds that the number of cancer diagnosis continues to rise year on year mainly due to aging factors and population growth. The report also states that with ongoing medical treatments the number of cancer survivors has risen among the general population.
The Irish Cancer Society list skin, prostrate, breast, bowel and lung cancers as the most common types of cancers in Ireland. There are 165,000 people living with cancer in Ireland today. Survival rates vary from 90% chance of surviving 5+ years for prostate cancer to only a 10% chance for lung cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common diagnosed cancer amongst caucasians in Ireland. Between the years 2011 and 2015 over 11,000 invasive skin cancers were diagnosed mainly concentrated in the Cork, Dublin, Kildare and Sligo regions.
The Dublin North figures for prostate cancer over a twenty year period were 92 cases (1:23 of population) in 1994 and 256 cases (1:11) in 2014. Breast cancer diagnosis averaged at 2,965 over the same twenty year period. New cases rose by 3% per annum. These are inversely related to unemployment and educational standards.
Lung cancers accounted for 157 cases (1:11) of males in 1994 and 169 (1:19) in 2014.The female comparative was 90 cases (1:28) in 1994 and 130 cases (1:29) in 2014. Lung cancers are significantly higher in the counties of Dublin, Kildare, Louth and Carlow. This type of cancer is found in areas of high unemployment, lower levels of education, higher proportion of elderly living alone. All new diagnosis for lung cancer is 7% for females and 11% for males.
Data Analyst for The National Cancer Registry Sandra Deady Phd forwarded on to me data more specific to Finglas. She sent me details of cancer incidents in the area between 1994 -2014.This data included analysis for all malignant cancers combined (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) as well as the four most common individual cancers namely colorectal, lung, female breast and prostate cancer.
The data she provided showed that all cancers combined were 8% above the national figures. Colorectal cancer was at the expected national level. Lung cancer figures were 66% higher than the national expected. Prostate cancer incidents were 23% lower in Finglas compared to national levels. The figure for female breast cancer was 7% lower than the national rate.
Of the three TD’s representing Finglas, only Dessie Ellis granted me an interview. His view was that Dunsink to this day was still an area for concern. Mr Ellis also said that “asbestos was illegally dumped here which could affect any redevelopment of this area for years to come”. Noel Rock (Fine Gael) Replying by email stated” that they don’t keep information on landfills and its effects on health”. The third sitting TD in the Finglas area Roisin Shortall failed to respond.
Presently there are two halting sites at Dunsink Lane in Finglas. I spoke to Missy Collins from Pavee Point (Traveller and Roma rights organisation) who told me that there were 40,000 travellers living on the island of Ireland today. Life expectancy is 65 years of age with only a handful living into their eighties. She gave some examples of mortalities among the community, including her husband Thomas who died aged 58 from a tumour.
Missy who campaigned for better housing certainly feels that poor living conditions, including living next to landfills could be a factor. She said that “the dumps were letting off stuff for years”. She also spoke of the problem with vermin as a negative health factor.
European Council Directive on landfills (99/31/EC) split landfills into three separate entities, inert, non-hazardous and hazardous landfills. Another European Council Directive (80/68/EEC) objective is to regulate for the protection of groundwater against pollution caused by dangerous substances, backed up by the Local Government (Water Pollution) regulation Act (1977-1999) .
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1993 to licence, regulate and control activities for the protection of the environment. Waste management is regulated through the Environmental Protection Agency Act (1992) , The Waste Management Act (1996) and the Protection of the Environment Act (2003) .
When the Tolka Valley landfill was closed in the late 1970s it was never capped and the park was created by covering over the landfill with topsoil. There continued to be problems with the leaking of Methane gas into the atmosphere and even today bauxite (a sedimentary rock with a relatively high aluminium content), can be seen in the soil samples. Dr Travis O’Doherty (Eastern & Midland Regional Assembly) pointed me towards a study which showed the Tolka River to be more toxic than the nearby Royal Canal.
Nowadays Tolka Valley Park is certainly a sight for sore eyes. Aesthetically beautiful consisting of a lovely park and wetlands running from the base of Glasnevin graveyard up to Ashtown/Rathbourne. Locals walk their dogs, jog or push buggies seemingly oblivious or ambivalent to this areas former notoriety.
Dunsink landfill finally closed as a municipal waste site on Christmas Eve 2003.The Fingal Draft Development Plan (2017-2023) in its submission draws attention to Dunsink Lane and its environs. It noted that even though “the remediation of Dunsink Lane is now complete it will still require long term management and monitoring of leachate and atmospheric emissions”.
In 2006, for her Masters in Geography dissertation, Aoife C. Drumm (Maynooth University) studied Dunsink landfill and the public perception of living in proximity to a landfill. She compared Dunsink landfill to Nantygwyddon landfill in Rhonda Wales and Miron Quarry in Montreal, Canada.
She posited that there was a correlation in illnesses and proximity in both Nantygwyddon landfill in Rhonda Wales and Miron Quarry in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. This she submitted was down to toxic waste being disposed at these sites.
Ms Drumm stated that there was no toxic waste dumped in Dunsink landfill and that public perception from Finglas residents was just that and not absolute fact. However, her report did not examine the Tolka Valley landfill and therefore she cannot say that landfills did not have a negative health effect on the community of Finglas. Ms Drumm concluded that that the type of waste is the concern and not how it is disposed of.
Sinn Fein TD Dessie Ellis disputes that no toxic waste was ever disposed of at the Dunsink landfill. He told me of protests in the l990s where his father chained himself to barriers. In 2017, the Poolbeg incinerator opened in Ringsend, Dublin and has already reached its full capacity of burning 1,800 tonnes of waste daily. This incinerator is already proving controversial and this is where environmental activists focus will most likely shift to next.
I will leave the final word to Finglas native Simone Mooney who said that “we are either eating and drinking it or breathing it”.
She divulged that in the last four years, six children have been diagnosed with neuroblastoma in Finglas. Five have died. Four were diagnosed in the past two years. Four went to the same playschool in Finglas South beside St Malachy’s school. On average only ten children get this cancer a year in Ireland. Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer. Incidentally Tolka Valley is less than three hundred yards from this school.