Climate activists are raising the ‘Poo Flag’ to highlight sewage pollution

14 June 2021

Climate activist group Extinction Rebellion is raising the ‘Poo Flag’ in their #SeaChange campaign to highlight raw sewage pollution in our waters, rivers and seas.

The campaign coincided with the beginning of bathing season as beaches are awarded a Blue Flag if they meet a high standard.

The Blue Flag is one of the world’s most recognised voluntary awards for beaches and marinas.

To qualify for it, a series of environmental, educational, safety and accessibility criteria must be met and maintained. 

And while the practice of issuing Blue Flags for clean beaches is commendable, it is “not enough,” according to #SeaChange spokesperson Natasha Ariff.

Swimming in waters that do not have a Blue Flag runs potential health risks, “such as gastroenteritis and diarrhoea, illnesses that are being reported by more and more people after coming in contact with the sea,” Ms. Ariff said.

We’ve “tolerated the intolerable”

If raw sewage is present in bathing waters, any faecal bacteria, viruses and possibly even parasites it contains poses a serious health risk to swimmers.

However, despite these risks, raw sewage continues to be discharged into rivers and seas in many locations around Ireland, according to environmental scientists.

“For too long we have tolerated the intolerable,” said Irish Wildlife Trust Campaign’s Officer, Pádraic Fogarty.

“We’re realising that in too many places we are swimming in our own filth,” he continued. 

In response to the pollution of the waters, the #SeaChange campaign group have erected ‘Poo Flags’ in several locations where the Blue Flag status has been revoked due to the poor water quality and regular flow of raw sewage regularly into these waters.

Waters that have had Blue Flags revoked include Merrion-Sandymount Strand, Front Strand in Balbriggan, Ballyloughane, Clifden Beach and Kilmore Quay. 

The ‘Poo Flag’ campaign comes under Extinction Rebellion’s #SeaChange movement that is urging the Government to address the urgent issue of water quality in Ireland.

They are calling on the Government to fund wastewater treatment infrastructure, so untreated sewage is no longer routinely being discharged. 

In at least 33 locations around Ireland, raw sewage is being released into the sea regularly. Only half of these locations are scheduled to receive treatment in 2022 and the rest in 2023 and 2024. 

According to Irish Water, which is responsible for providing clean water in Ireland and wastewater services, there have been 16 new infrastructures put in place since 2014 to stop the discharge of raw sewage into Irish waters. 

Irish water said that the company is “committed to ending the unacceptable practice by constructing Wastewater Treatment Plants and network infrastructure to ensure wastewater is treated before being safely discharged into the marine environment.”

Story by Shauna Burdis

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