Fear in the valley

  • 29 February 1984
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LAST MAY This REPORter was shown a map by a man who lives in the valley between Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel, The man detailed the number of deaths along the river valley by sudden heart attacks. He then pointed to an area in the hills above the valley and listed the names of those who had died from cancer since the Merck Sharp and Dohme facctory opened in Ballydine between Carrick and Clonmel. The incidence of cancer and sudden heart attacks seemed to this reporter to be incredibly high for such a short period. By Colm Toibin

We began to investigate.

We had been told that over the hill at Grangemockler a large number of children had become deaf since the facctory opened. A reporter from Magill spent two days in Grangemockler and establishhed that there was a problem with deafness among chilldren there, but this problem was there before the Merck Sharp and Dohme factory was even built.

We had been told that there was a high incidence of twins born to women in the area. This reporter visited families who had twins and found in several cases that the twins were born outside the district or before the Merck Sharp and Dohme facctory was built.

We went along the valley and talked to people whose relatives had died of heart attacks but we could find no pattern. The figures for death by sudden heart attack along the river valley still remained astonishing. None of the local doctors we spoke TO, however, expressed any - terest in it.

There was fear in the vauey. Everybody was lookkg out for signs of damage the factory was doing and no one was sure whether they could find them or not. But no thorough investigation has yet been done by the authoriities.

The Government is still concerned about the probblems in the Suir Valley, it seems, and the Taoiseach is concerned that something should be done about it. Various official bodies have been looking into the matter for four and a half years; it seems unlikely that anyything is going to be done about it and the matter may have to be sorted out one way or the other in the courts.

No monitoring is being done by Tipperary County Council of the area around the factory. This is on the recommendation of Mark Lynch of the Department of Agriculture and J.P. O'Callaaghan of South Tipperary County Council. They both produced reports in the autumn of 1982; their reports were summaries of the invesstigations already done.

Aspects of their interpreetations were inaccurate. Mark Lynch's report for the Departtment of Agriculture stated that a TCD study on lichens in the area "does not indiicate any pollution". The TCD study stated that the lichen study had indicated "chronic levels of pollution".

J.P. O'Callaghan, the Tippperary county engineer, in his report for the County Counncil stated that " ... the lichen species in the Ballydine area are high pollution sensitive types which do not flourish in polluted areas". This is nowhere stated in the TCD report.

On the leaf yeast study undertaken by TCD, Mark Lynch states the following:

"The data can be interpreted as indicative of airborne pollutants occurring over a wide area around Ballydine. This interpretation is unntenable in the context of meteorological conditions if the Merck Sharp and Dohme plant is the source." None of the studies undertaken have stated this, and he gives no reason whatsoever for his conclusion.

J.P. O'Callaghan for the County Council states that "the results of the Leaf Yeast counts . . . do not purport to be scientifically accurate". At no stage in their report did the TCD scientists give any indication that this was the case. Quite the opposite. O'Callaghan gives no explanaation for his assertion.

On a TCD animal hair study, Mark Lynch for the Department of Agriculture states that: "The methodoology used was deficient. No conclusions can be drawn." The conclusions of the TCD scientists were that these studies showed a high level of bromine and chlorine which reached a peak during the summer of 1981. Mark Lynch gives no reasons for his dismissal of the TCD animal hair studies.

The TCD leaf yeast study and animal hair study offered most evidence that the facctory was poisoning the valley. The conflict in the evidence has given officialdom an excuse for inactivity. Since these reports, monitoring has stopped.

No investigation has been done into the case of Paddy O'Meara, although he has given his evidence to J.P. O'Callaghan of Tipperary County Council, John Coffey of the Department of the Environment and Dr Jimmy Walshe of the Department of Health. He insists that his health has been ruined by the factory. His own doctor in Clonmel, Dr O'Callaghan, has never been asked for a report on him, as far as we can ascertain, and no independent assessment has ever been done on his health. His land, opposite the factory, has never been monitored at any stage, despite the allegations he has made.

Bertie Kennedy's problems started in 1981. His cattle began to behave strangely at the same time as his neighhbour, John Hanrahan, on whose farm 114 cattle have died in mysterious circummstances. "I heard them in the barn one night and I went out to see what was happenning. When I went in they were holding their heads up and sniffing the air. Then they all suddenly bolted down to the bottom of the shed and started to pile on top of each other. Three and four high they were. I've never seen anything like it before and I've been in Ballyneale for 27 years. One bullock got his back broken with all of them piling on top of one another. The shed was 135 feet long and they all piled themselves into the top 15 feet."

The problems recurred the following winter. "These were different cattle in different sheds. They started to tremmble and then bolted into the comer. They could be standding there looking like they were dead to the world and then they'd go all of a sudden. One day they were standing in the field and they started shaking and one bullock ran and they all bolted out of the field. But then they came back into the yard and gathered around me like flies. "

In August 1982 Bertie Kennedy began to get pains in his chest and suffered from breathlessness. He had been kicked by a bullock earlier in the month and he put his trouble down to that.

He went to Dr Denis Flanagan in Carrick-on-Suir, and the following day he was sent to Galway for tests.

In all he was seen by six doctors. According to his wife, all the doctors asked him where he came in conntact with chemicals. Dr O'Halloran in Galway said that he had never seen that type of cancer before in a farmer, according to Mrs Kennedy. "The doctor in Galway under Dr Kniessey, Dr Kenelley, said that it had something to do with chemiicals", Bertie Kennedy said. His wife says that Dr Flanagan in Carrick asked where her husband had come in contact with asbestos. None of the doctors will make any commment.

"I'm not blaming Merck Sharp and Dohme for my illlness", Bertie Kennedy said. "But I think it should defiinitely be monitored. I'd back any committee set up to investigate it."

Bertie Kennedy died in August. There was no inquest.