THE Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended criminal prosecution against the ESB over the leaking of hazardous chemicals from underground power cables.
report published today found ESB was aware of 68 leaks of dangerous insulating oil over a 25 year period up to last summer but only notified authorities about 20 of them.
That’s despite the potential danger to public health and the environment from the substances entering water sources and soil.
The report also says that seven new leaks have been detected since last summer but under the ESB’s current cable replacement plan, it will take until 2035 for all the defective cables to be removed.
An investigation was launched last summer following an RTÉ Investigates programme in which ESB employee turned whistleblower Seamus O’Loughlin revealed his efforts to get the company to adequately address the long-running problem of leaking cables.
ESB has admitted that at least 500,000 litres of the problematic mineral oil leaked from underground cables in five local authority areas between 1993 and June 2019.
The power company says it can not find information on any leaks that may have occurred prior to 1993.
The affected areas are Dublin City Council, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, South Dublin County Council, Wicklow County Council and Cork City Council.
But the particular fluid-filled cables at the centre of the affair are also in six other county council areas: Fingal, Cork, Limerick, Clare, Wexford and Kerry.
Around 221km of these cables were installed between 1950 and 1989 and just 44km have so far been replaced.
The EPA found that ESB did provide figures for leaks in its annual environmental reports in recent years. It is not clear why the information did not raise alarm bells within the relevant authorities.
According to the EPA’s report, ESB has committed to carrying out environmental impact assessments on all known leak sites and has adopted new protocols for the alerting of the relevant authorities.
However, the EPA says local authorities where leaks took place should now investigate with a view to initiating legal proceedings against ESB for its failure to notify the authorities and for breach of its responsibilities under the Water Pollution Act.
ESB has been contacted for comment.