Derry City Council knew about radioactive dumping in 1980s - meeting told

The former Derry City Council Landfill site at Culmore Point. DER5213JM041
The former Derry City Council Landfill site at Culmore Point. DER5213JM041

Two consignments of radioactive waste dumped at a local authority landfill site in Derry in the early 1980s was from the city’s Altnagelvin Hospital and Derry City Council was made aware of its disposal at the time, it’s been revealed.

The findings of research carried out by Environment Department officials in recent days were presented to members of Derry City Council’s Environment Committee at a special meeting held in the Guildhall this afternoon.

The meeting followed public outcry after state papers released under the 30 year rule, disclosed that radioactive waste had been dumped in the Culmore landfill site in the early 1980s.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan attended today’s meeting along with two department officials.

Department of the Environment official David Bell explained that Altnagelvin Hospital had been authorised under the Radioactive Substances Act of 1960 to dispose of “low level radioactive waste from diagnostic use of materials by controlled burial at the Culmore Landfill site.”

He said information gathered over the past number of days “strongly suggests” that the practice of controlled burial of this type of material at Culmore had ceased by the mid to late 1980s.

While Department officials said that their research to date could not be described as “fully conclusive” they emphasised that any potential risk to the health of people living in the city was “negligible or very remote”.

The material disposed off at the city’s landfill site is known as spent technetium generator cores, containing Molybdenum 99, which is a material used in hospital diagnostics.

Environment official David Bell said research carried out into the dumping suggests that the hospital and health authority at the time were “being conservative” in terms of managing the disposal, storing the generator cores for significantly longer than the suggested three month period usually advised.

“The practice seemed to be storing these for as many as six months before they were disposed of and while our research is not absolutely conclusive at this stage, our judgement is that there is strong evidence that this is looking ok,” he said.

Mr. Bell said the authorisation given to the Western Health and Social Services Board at that time to dispose of the material required that there was communication with Derry City Council and that the council would have had to have been informed, adding that there was “appropriate communication between all the different players involved”.

Representatives from all the political parties on Derry City Council and residents from Culmore and Strathfoyle attended this afternoon’s special meeting.

[For detailed reaction from today’s meeting, see this weekend’s Sunday’s Journal].