Roche is gearing up to knock down an Irish plant—and it's complicated

Roche
Roche decided in 2015 to close four small-molecule manufacturing plants around the world. It found buyers for three. But the one that the company couldn't sell was in Clarecastle, Ireland. Destruction of the facility begins in June. (Roche)

Unable to sell its plant in Clarecastle, Ireland, Roche will take a wrecking ball to the facility in June.

It won’t be a simple process. In fact, a timeline of June 2021 to May 2028 has been listed for the project, which requires removing 10 buildings and infrastructure from the 88-acre site. 

The most painstaking aspect of the operation will be recovery and removal of what lies underneath: Nearly 40,000 metric tons of waste has been identified on the property. And the project will require more than 90,000 metric tons of backfill to patch up the land afterward. 

According to the planning application for destruction of the site, some waste will be moved to receiving facilities nearby, while the bulk of the waste from three “areas of environmental concern” will require thermal treatment and shipping to receiving facilities in Europe. The “worst case scenario,” according to the application, would involve moving the waste outside Ireland to a hazardous waste landfill.     

Located 30 minutes from Limerick near the west coast of Ireland, the plant is surrounded by emerald fields and overlooks the Fergus River. It was built in 1974 by Syntax. Twenty years later, the Mexico-based pharma company was acquired by Roche.

RELATED: Roche to close Irish site by next year, plans 132 layoffs: report

Roche expects the project to be complete by the end of 2024, followed by three-plus years to evaluate the "effectiveness of the remediation process," according to a company spokesman.

"Three and a half years reflects industry standards and reflects the average time to fully deconstruct a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in line with [and] following all applicable laws and regulations," according to the spokesman, who added that Roche is doing a similar landfill remediation in Grenzach, Germany.

The Clare County Council signed off on Roche's remediation plan, attaching several conditions, most notably one that permits no more than 18 truck movements into and out of the site each hour. Hours of operation will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and it'll take 160 workers to complete the job.

In 2015, Roche said it would close four small-molecule manufacturing plants around the world. The company found buyers for the factories in Italy, Spain and Florence, North Carolina, but failed to do so for the one in Clarecastle, which employed 130 chemists, engineers, manufacturing and lab technicians, craftworkers, accountants and IT specialists.

In March of last year, shortly after the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, pharmaceutical operations ceased. In June, Roche submitted its application for demolition of the site.

In a joint submission of support for the project, three Clarecastle community groups stated that the “environmentally sound brownfield development site is of immeasurable value to our future.”