Flood Relief.

I acknowledge the benefit of the flood relief scheme on the River Nore to Kilkenny city. However, recent events give cause for concern, most of which have dented public confidence in the scheme.

Houses in John's Quay suffered a slippage at one stage during the implementation of the scheme. While this was being investigated, the remarks of the Office of Public Works in relation to the scheme and the condition of those houses were outrageous. The hotel at John's Bridge became another issue. It is suffering slippage at the waterside. There are concerns regarding the structure of Bridge House, a listed building beside the hotel.

The monitoring committee that was put in place, although it functions, does not give out at regular intervals information that would satisfy the public in respect of the works being carried out. In fact, some of the information being given out is inaccurate. When I tabled a parliamentary questions in the House to obtain more accurate information, I found that the information emerging locally contradicts that emerging at national level.

A problem has arisen in respect of the spillage of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the river, which took place in 1980. Samples were taken from a particular section, where the spoil from the river is being spread. Out of 12 samples, two were found to contain levels of PCBs. The EPA has been called in, as have the health and safety authorities. While only two samples were found with PCBs content, no level is tolerable.

The remark that the sites were secure is not true. They have not been secured. One site, where PCBs were found, can be accessed by children. It has been acknowledged by Dr. Stafford from the EPA that amenity areas are high-risk areas. Access to the soil cannot be permitted. However, access can be gained to the site.

No samples have been taken at the site at Ossory Bridge. A third site exists at Riverside Drive. All these sites are accessed by the public and there is concern that there has been little or no reaction from the Office of Public Works in terms of informing the public. A press release was issued last week, but I have not seen any signage along the river indicating the dangers on the sites in question. I have not seen the other sites, although the Office of Public Works says they are secured, nor have I seen them being secured.

Residents along the riverbank have asked to be consulted by the Office of Public Works in respect of other issues and they were told that the Office of Public Works had not even considered their position because they were not located on the maps that were shown.

The public have deep concerns about health and safety matters because of this scheme. There is a need for the Department to build public confidence and engage immediately in a process that will inform the public. I suggest that the Minister of State visit this area and set up a display of what is happening so people will see what works are being, and have to be, undertaken as the scheme is being rolled out. There is a need for the Office of Public Works to strengthen its communication with the local authorities. We have ongoing meetings of Kilkenny Borough Council in which members have expressed deep concern at the fact that that body is being overlooked and is not receiving the kind of information one would expect given the size of the scheme being undertaken.

All we ask is that the Minister of State views the scene, determines what needs to be done, puts in place a process to inform the public, deals immediately with the health and safety issues, has the sites in question secured properly and has appropriate signage erected.

The House will be familiar with the background to this issue. A spillage of PCBs from the brewery into the River Breagagh occurred in 1980, as the Deputy said. Most of this spillage was recovered immediately through the prompt action of Guinness (Ireland) Limited. At that time, the Office of Public Works had no involvement with the Breagagh or Nore Rivers and was not, therefore, involved in the clean-up of the spillage or any subsequent redemption measures. The Office of Public Works's first involvement came much later as part of the preparation for the Kilkenny flood relief scheme. It had a survey carried out in 1997 to test for the presence of PCBs in the Breagagh and Nore Rivers. This identified some areas where PCBs were present in the riverbed at locations where the Office of Public Works intended to carry out dredging as part of the flood relief scheme.

Guinness (Ireland) Limited agreed to carry out a further clean-up operation to remove any remaining traces of PCBs. This was done in consultation with Kilkenny County Council and Kilkenny Borough Council, the Office of Public Works, the Environmental Protection Agency, Dúchas and the South-Eastern Health Board. The work was managed by Project Management Ireland Limited and was completed early in 2002. The clean-up was carried out, in agreement with the EPA, to a Dutch standard for presence of PCBs and the material was removed for incineration abroad.

The completion of this work left the way clear for the Office of Public Works to proceed with the flood relief scheme. The dredging of the riverbed is an essential part of the scheme to improve the flow of water in times of flood. The scheme involves removal of material from the riverbed and spreading it at Dukesmeadows, Bishopsmeadows and the Ossory Road. To date, the majority of the material removed has been spread at Dukesmeadow.

Given the history of the PCBs spillage and in order to reassure residents at Dukesmeadow, the Office of Public Works agreed to sample the spoil and test it for PCBs. Twelve samples were taken and traces of PCBs above the clean-up level were found in two of these. These results were immediately made available to the Dukesmeadow residents' association in December 2002 and the Office of Public Works agreed to carry out further analysis of the test results to assess the significance of the findings. This issue is being taken seriously by the Office of Public Works. A group has been set up comprising representatives of the Office of Public Works, Kilkenny County Council, Kilkenny Borough Council, the EPA, the South-Eastern Health Board and Project Management Limited to deal with this issue. This group will meet on a regular basis until this issue is resolved. It is important to note that it is not planned to remove any further material from the river before July of this year. The immediate concern is to deal with the spoil that has already been removed. In consultation with the EPA and the South-Eastern Health Board, the Office of Public Works is undertaking immediately further com prehensive testing and analysis of the spoil deposits. The results of this work will be available in approximately six weeks and decisions can then be made in light of them. The Office of Public Works and the contractor for the flood relief scheme are currently carrying out a risk analysis for all areas where work is currently taking place in the river to agree what actions need to be taken from a health and safety point of view.

Based on the information available to date, the EPA can confirm that the present spoil deposits do not pose an immediate threat to public health. PCBs are harmful if ingested or if they come into direct contact with the skin, but the possibility of airborne PCBs does not arise given the nature of the spoil deposits. In addition, PCBs are relatively heavy and tend to sink in water and stick to soil or gravel. The Office of Public Works is taking steps to ensure that the spoil sites are adequately secured.

I am satisfied this issue is being managed well by the Office of Public Works in conjunction with the other relevant bodies. The Office of Public Works has been open with local residents on this matter, as with all other matters of concern arising from the flood relief scheme, and this policy will continue. I am confident the Office of Public Works will take whatever action is required in consultation with the relevant agencies when the results of the additional tests become available. The immediate priorities are to allay public concerns about PCB deposits and to deal with public health issues that arise without losing sight of the objective of completing the flood relief scheme for the benefit of the people of Kilkenny.

I intend to visit Kilkenny early next week. This is the first communication I have had from the Deputy on this issue.

That is not correct. I tabled parliamentary questions on this issue last week.