Local residents fear clean-up efforts have not cleansed all of Caterpillar’s 40,000 litre oil storage spill from Larne Lough nearly one month on.
Caterpillar admitted responsibility for the red diesel spill on June 11 after a leak at its Larne factory.
With the massive slick stretching from the Gobbins to Drains Bay, fears were raised over the safety of sea birds and marine life
During a recent Assembly session, the Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Economy and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Michelle McIlveen told MLAs that the leaked fuel had “spread rapidly.” upon reaching the sea and “much of it evaporated in the first few days after the spill.”
“The remainder of the oil has been broken down by natural dispersion and biodegradation, and very little evidence of the spill can now be observed,” she added.
However, Sandy Bay resident Gary Andrews said there was still a “strong smell” of diesel at Sandy Bay.
“When I walk my dog you can still smell the diesel, it has been like that since it happened,” he told the Times.
“Some part of the clean-up effort hasn’t been as thorough as it could have been. You can’t see the diesel but it must have been carried onto the rocks and I am avoiding taking my dog onto the beach. I would like to see someone held to account.”
Commodore of East Antrim Boat Club Stephen Craig said he was “frustrated” at the clean-up effort, and “concerned about the long-term impact” on Larne Lough and on his club’s equipment.
“When DAERA were contacted by the club they said they didn’t think there was a problem,” he revealed.
“I’m not aware of anyone coming near our club. Our club was holding its regatta, and some sailors saw dead fish and sea birds.
“We are waiting for members to say if the equipment on their boats has been damaged or contaminated. We will be contacting Caterpillar to highlight the impact of this.”
A Caterpillar spokesman said: “We continue to work closely with the NIEA, who are monitoring the situation, and with other parties, including our specialist environmental contractor. We are committed to continuing to assist with a clean-up if required and where appropriate and will continue to engage with and take advice from relevant parties in this respect.”
A Northern Ireland Environment Agency spokesperson revealed that “no traces of diesel” were found in water samples collected from beaches at Sandy Bay, Brown’s Bay, Ballygally and Carnlough on June 22.
Responding to claims of a diesel smell at Sandy Bay last week, the spokesman added: “NIEA will of course investigate this latest suggestion of a smell of oil to determine if it is linked to the previous spill.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Ulster Wildlife said it would be “very difficult” to calculate the effect of the diesel spill on local wildlife.
“Diesel is toxic and this is a massive spill, but it’s very hard to relate that directly to the impact on wildlife,” stated Ulster Wildlife’s Nature Reserves Manager Andy Gray.
“Unless you have birds you can do tests on there’s no way to tell, and the bird populations fluctuate anyway.
“This could have been crude oil or another chemical and we would have been looking at a disaster situation. It’s as near a miss as we want to get, we’ve had a lucky escape.”
An RSPB spokesperson added: “In the area we are monitoring in Blue Circle and Swan Island there have been no adverse effects and no dead birds reported to date, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
The Environment Agency said in the past week that it would “not be appropriate” for the Department to comment on whether it will prosecute Caterpillar over the diesel spill.
In a statement to the Larne Times, the NIEA spokesperson said: “This was a serious pollution incident.
“As the investigation is ongoing and may result in legal action it would not be appropriate for the Department to comment publicly on the possible outcome at this stage.”
To contact Caterpillar, telephone 028 2826 1000.