I move amendment No. 65:
In page 46, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:
"(f) data on the toxicity and flammability of all emissions listed in paragraph (e)".
My sympathy is with my two colleagues: I am amazed by the ruling on amendment No. 64.
Amendment No. 65 relates to the section of the Bill which deals with the environmental quality data storage system which the agency shall establish and maintain. Sometime, informally, I would love to have a discussion with the Minister about the criteria used for the selection of "may" and "shall" in various sections of the Bill. I am glad the agency will have to establish and maintain a data base related to environmental quality.
Section 66 (2) contains a list of provisions. My amendment simply wants to add to that list the data on the toxicity and flammability of all emissions listed in paragraph (e).
The reason I want toxicity and flammability included is that they are the two things that most concern citizens in terms of emissions from plants. What concerns them most is the harm they might do. They are also concerned about the possibility of fire or an explosion resulting from those emissions. There are a number of issues to be raised there. I read with interest the Minister's view on this. She says that: "something on the lines of the US toxic release inventory would be a better option, be more meaningful and helpful to the public and probably result in reductions of emissions if the American experience is repeated". The Minister may be right and a standardised method might well take over from this. If the agency is obliged to tell the public that a long list of substances with obscure names are being released but is not obliged to tell them the hazards involved, the risk to human health and the possibility of a fire, then we are in a peculiar pickle.
In column 1780 of the Official Report of Seanad Eireann dated 10 May 1990 the Minister said:
I have been advised by my technical advisers in the Department that this provision would not be a practical proposition as toxicity and flammability are only meaningful when used in relation to a specific medium, life form or location.
Most human beings consider toxicity in terms of "will it kill us or not". To quote from a more authoritative source than Brendan Ryan, the Byrne Ó Cléirigh report which the Minister's office supplied to me, deals with the proposed national incinerator and with the question of hazardous waste. It refers us to the draft EC directive on hazardous waste of August 1988 which gives the definition in Annex 3 of what is an explosive substance, what is an oxidising substance, what is a highly flammable substance, a flammable substance, what is an irritant, what is harmful, toxic, carcinogenic and corrosive.
If the Minister told me that my amendment did not go far enough and should list all those criteria then perhaps we could have a discussion. In my limited technical knowledge, the toxicity of a substance is measured as either an LD50 or an LC50, two different ways of testing the toxicity of substances on animals. Without getting into the ethical question of whether this is right, they are the criteria that are used. They are then linked with threshold limit values which are stated data under defined criteria.
In relation to flammability there is an upper explosive limit, a lower explosive limit and a flashpoint. It is the first time that I have been informed that people cannot be given any sort of data about toxicity or flammability because they can only be used in relation to a specific medium, life form or location. It is true that toxicity is different for a human being, an animal or a bird. It is true that flammability depends on whether the substance is in the presence of oxygen but it is disingenuous to suggest that technical fact can be used not to give people access to the information that is available about the toxicity of substances that are released into their environment. We can argue about the wording of the amendment but I cannot understand why the agency responsible for making available to people details about emissions into their environment should not be obliged to inform them of the risks.
One of the problems for technical people is that science is not nearly as knowledgable as it pretends. I quote from the OECD report of May, 1987:
Many thousands of chemicals currently in commercial use have not been adequately assessed for their potential hazards to man or the environment.
Perhaps the problem is that they would have to tell people that it is not known if a lot of what is allowed into the atmosphere is considered harmful or harmless. There is also the question of whether we can tell what is being emitted from a hazardous waste incinerator. The truth is that we do not know half the things that are emitted. We can only search for the things we know exist.
If people are to be told what is emitted, the data base that contains details of the emissions should also contain information about the relative hazards of the emissions. Hazard identification is not vague, it is fairly well quantified. The measurements on which it is based are specific. They do not apply universally but they can be stated in a fashion which tells people what they need to know about themselves. Should it be decided that inventories of emissions into the environment should be kept by the Environmental Protection Agency, then the hazards of those emissions should be part of the data base on which those inventories are kept.