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Raw sewage from 35 towns and villages present in Irish water

12 November 2020 

Raw sewage from 35 towns and villages are present in Irish waters and the vast majority of these areas are unlikely to receive treatment until after 2021, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The agency released its 2019 Urban Waste Water Treatment report today and stressed that delays in upgrading treatment systems around the country pose, “prolonged risks to the environment and public health”. 

The study also found that the rate of treatment of 19 towns and cities, including Dublin and Cork, failed to meet standards designed to prevent pollution. 

However, the EPA did note that some improvements in performance were evident in the past year due to the removal of the raw sewage discharges from one town and improvements in waste water management in nine other locations. 

An “unacceptable risk”

The presence of raw sewage discharges presents an “unacceptable risk” to both public health and the environment, according to Dr Tom Ryan, the Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement. 

“Two years ago, Irish Water advised it would provide necessary treatment infrastructure by the end of 2021 for 30 of the 35 areas discharging raw sewage. 

It has now revised this down to just two areas, resulting in significant delays in bringing projects to completion,” Dr. Ryan said. 

Irish Water’s growing uncertainty around the delivery of such projects are “undermining confidence in its capacity” and are cause for serious concern for the EPA, Dr. Ryan added. 

The country-wide failures to treat waste water falls short of national and European Union standards, and the agency flagged particular concern with failed treatment in the Ringsend treatment plant as it produces almost half of Ireland’s waste water. 

Additionally, no clear plan exists to improve treatment at 23 areas where waste water is a significant threat to waters at risk of pollution, Andy Fanning of the EPA’s Office of Environment Enforcement warned.

“Irish Water must clearly identify when and how it will resolve the issues at these 23 areas and plan improvement works as early as possible,” Mr. Fanning said. 

The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) called for immediate government action to improve waste water infrastructure in response to the report, and said that the State continues to fail to meet mandatory standards under the EU Water Framework Directive. 

“Despite the fact that the EPA has been highlighting this issue since the 1990s, successive governments have neglected our sewage infrastructure and failed to provide the necessary investment to prevent pollution of our rivers, lakes and coast with human waste,” SWAN Coordinator Sinead O’Brien said in reaction to the report.

“Adequate resourcing for urgent improvements to our waste water infrastructure must be prioritised by this government. The Irish public and EU courts are rightly running out of patience,” she added. 

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Kayle Crosson