Motion on one-off housing wastewater treatment poses health risk, An Taisce warns

Published by Niall Sargent on

November 20th, 2018

A Sinn Fein motion to allow Local Authorities to grant wastewater treatment licences to one-off houses in areas that have failed a percolation test poses a danger to human health, An Taisce has warned.

The motion, set to be tabled this evening, comes in response to concerns from Leitrim County Council that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines on effluent treatment are stopping people from building one-off rural houses.

The guidelines form part of a suite of EPA measures to prevent effluent in septic tanks from contaminating groundwater. The strict guidelines are proving difficult to meet in the Leitrim due to the boggy nature of the land, the Council has said.

The motion, according to Sinn Fein, would allow for a person who would fail the percolation test to apply for a waste discharge license and then put in a water treatment system. The treated water would then be released into a stream nearby.

According to An Taisce, however, the passage of the motion would “pose a real danger to human health and environmental quality” and would “remove decades of water quality protection”.

To date, over 50 per cent of septic tanks inspected under the EPA’s national inspection plan have failed, often due to inadequate percolation.

Ireland has already been in trouble with the European Court of Justice for a failure to implement a sufficient monitoring system for domestic wastewater systems as required by the Waste Directive,

The Water Services Act was largely brought in to remedy this, with An Taisce warning that if Sinn Fein’s motion goes through, it will put Ireland in direct contravention of both the Waste Directive and the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive.

Untreated effluent can be released to surface, ground and drinking waters from malfunctioning septic tanks, and, as such, percolation areas form an “essential part of domestic wastewater treatment”, An Taisce said.

Percolation areas allow effluent to undergo biological treatment where a layer of bacteria or biofilm uses the pollutants in the wastewater as a food source, cleaning the effluent before it is discharged to groundwater.

If the soil lets the water either flow through too quickly, or too slowly, then there is insufficient biological treatment, and polluting effluent is discharged to ground and surface water.

Dr Elaine McGoff, An Taisce’s Natural Environment Officer, said that the motion is a “myopic approach” to address the difficulties of one-off housing, taking “no account of the broader health and environmental risks”.

“This would be a retrograde move which would put Ireland straight back in the firing line for a European Court of Justice legal action,” she warned. “It is entirely illogical.”

According to the EPA, a steering committee is currently reviewing the code of practice which will then go out for full public consultation.

[x_author title=”About the Author”]

Related Post
Last chance to amend weak climate bill

Friends of the Earth, An Taisce, and Stop Climate Chaos lead the charge to amend the Climate Bill before it Read more

European TV station are looking for Irish people to produce a short video on climate change to air in France and Germany

TV channel ARTE are looking for Irish people to take part in a programme which will air during the COP21 Read more

The Environmental Pillar rejects eco-label given to an Irish salmon farm

The Environmental Pillar wishes to make clear to consumers and public that it rejects the awarding of an environmental certificate Read more

Calls to shorten the hedge cutting and gorse burning ban has no basis in science, say An Taisce

The environmental and heritage group are rejecting calls from the Irish Farming Association to shorten the hedge cutting times. An Read more

Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London