Recent history tells of many ‘surprises’ hidden in the landfill sites of N Ireland, and indeed elsewhere in Ireland.
In some circumstances, perhaps healthcare wastes have been the least of the problems, but it has become clear that many thousands of tonnes of healthcare wastes have been deposited illegally, both north and south of the border.
The latest revelation is of possibly substantial quantities of radioactive wastes, from hospitals and universities, deposited in sites at Duncrue Street in north Belfast and at Culmore Point outside Londonderry.
Previously confidential British government files from 1983 released in Belfast confirm the secret dumping of radioactive waste in the early 1980s.
A memo in the file revealed that solid radioactive waste had been buried at two local authority disposal sites during the period 1977-82. These were at Duncrue Street in north Belfast and at Culmore Point outside Londonderry. At Duncrue Street, the memo noted, “a number of controlled burials of hospital/university waste of short half-life together with small amounts of industrial waste were arranged”.
The total activity disposed of was approximately 180 millicuries, of which the bulk comprised radioactive iodine with a half-life of less than two months. At Culmore Point, two consignments of hospital waste had been disposed of by controlled burial.
With such modest quantities of short half-life materials the residual risk is negligible. However, it is clear that this should not have happened, nor should it have been followed by an official silence – dare we say, a ‘cover-up’? –