The Minister for Environment, John Gormley, has said he has been assured by his department that people will not be exposed to any health risk because of hazardous waste at Haulbowline in Cork.

Mr Gormley said that he will meet residents to reassure them of this, and said he hoped to bring a report to Government later this year outlining options to deal with an estimated half a million tonnes of waste. 

Health fears have been raised after a sub-contractor involved in a surface clearance at the site claimed to have uncovered levels of a toxin, chromium six, which causes cancer, and has accused the Department of a cover-up. 

The waste came from the former Irish Ispat steel plant at the site.

The department has denied there was any cover-up and Minister Gormley says his officials are considering the options for dealing with the dump at Haulbowline.

Labour Deputy Leader Joan Burton called on Mr Gormley to come into the Dáil to explain why the contractors were ordered to stop work.

When she continued to ask whether the people of Cork were safe, she was told by the Ceann Comhairle that she was out of order and would have to sit down or leave the House.

A number of deputies were also ruled out of order earlier today when they tried to raise the issue on the Order of Business.

A report in today's Irish Examiner claims that the waste contains the highly toxic chemical chromium six.

The chemical, also known as hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)), causes cancer and is the same material against which US activist and film heroine Erin Brockovich campaigned.

For more than 60 years, steel production at Haulbowline turned the 20-acre island in Cork harbour into one of the most dangerous dumps in the country.

In the decade before the steel plant closed in 2001, more than half a million tonnes of hazardous waste was dumped there, and when it finally closed the big question was what could be done with the material to make the site safe.

The Department of Environment took control of the site in 2003 and since then it has been trying to establish exactly what is buried there and what risks it poses.