RPS advises on safe cyanide disposal

14 Aug 2008

RPS has advised client South Dublin County Council on the safe disposal of out of date cylinders of hydrogen cyanide. As South Dublin is a very built up area in residential commercial and industrial terms there were genuine public fears for the safe handling of the waste cyanide which is a toxic poison.

RPS environment and project communications staff were called in to assist in advising the council on the best environmentally safe disposal method and to manage public concern. After initial assessment RPS Dublin decided to mobilise the RPS Explosive Engineering Division from Bristol who are internationally experienced in the safe disposal of chemical waste substances.

EED called for x-radiography of the cylinders to confirm the composition state of the chemicals which were some 40 to 50 years old. Following this RPS assessment contractors were called in from the UK (Clearaway Voelia) and US (IES) to transport the chemicals to a secure location and to render them safe in public safety terms.

Two options were considered by RPS - (A) chemical neutralisation in South Dublin and thermal treatment of residues abroad and (B) controlled burn at a remote army installation in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin.

RPS recommended Option A to South Dublin County Council with Option B as a fallback solution if Option A proved unsuccessful. Following detailed planning and assessment of the contents of the containers following radiographic examination the containers were carefully loaded and transported under heavy police escort at night when traffic levels were lowest along a planned itinerary to the centre of a public golf course in South Dublin and chemically neutralised over a two day period when the golf course was closed to the public. The resulting liquid residues were then sent to Rotterdam for incineration as there is no such facility yet in Ireland.

Before during and after the neutralisation process RPS undertook air, soil and water monitoring of the secure location to Environmental Protection Agency satisfaction. RPS also undertook logistical design of the operation and managed 'public information centres' at the alternative process locations to allay any public concerns.

During the process South Dublin County Council maintained contact with the public through regular press releases and radio interviews in addition to public information leaflets issued by RPS. The concluded process was widely publicised in the National Press and on radio/TV as the perceived threat to public safety was raised in the Dail (Parliament) and with the Minister for the Environment on a number of occasions when the story first broke.

Political and environmental regulators and commentators praised South Dublin County Council for their enlightened and efficient response to the threat posed by the waste cyanide. RPS were glad to advise and assist this challenging process of rendering toxic material safe in a carefully controlled environment.

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