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Calls for same-day water testing at Irish beaches after spills at wastewater plants

A swimming ban was put in place at several locations in Dublin this week following an overflow from the wastewater treatment plant in Ringsend.

Image: RollingNews.ie

MINISTER EOGHAN MURPHY has said he will examine if same-day water sampling of Irish beaches can be carried out after storm water overflows so that the public can be told if the beaches can re-open sooner.

Dubliners were inconvenienced for the second time this month after a swimming ban was put in place at several locations in Dublin following an overflow from the wastewater treatment plant in Ringsend.

Dollymount Strand on the northside of Dublin Bay was affected by the ban, as well as Seapoint, Sandycove and the Forty Foot in Dun Laoghaire.

Other restrictions were put in place at Sandymount and Merrion beaches due to water quality.

Yesterday, bathing bans were lifted at Seapoint, the Forty Foot and Dollymount.

It is a regular occurrence for swimming restrictions to be put in place, and when it happens, water sampling must be carried out by the local authority.

It can take a couple of days to a week for sampling results of the bathing waters to come back from the lab, all the while swimming bans must remain in place.

Murphy has said that early indications of overflows at treatment plants would help better inform the public as to whether they should take to the water, even before bathing bans are imposed.

Same-day testing

People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett, whose constituency was affected by the most recent bathing ban, said in the Dáil this week that same-day testing should be put in place.

“Even if we do not, there is surely a way that when discharges occur, it can be announced immediately. There is a problem if we do not know when there is a discharge and it cannot be announced publicly. At the very least, the public can be made aware of the incident,” he said.

He told the Dáil that Irish Water gave testimony before an Oireachtas committee recently, indicating it needs €18 billion to rehabilitate our water infrastructure.

“It is clearly not getting that kind of money… We need more investment and early warning systems,” he said.

Irish Water has said that capacity issues at the Ringsend plant are a major issue.

Any flow from rain storms above maximum flow capacity is forced into a holding tanks at the Ringsend waste water treatment facility.

“During especially heavy and sustained rainfall, the storm water tank reached capacity and the overflow from the tank entered the sea,”Junior Minister for Housing Damien English said on Wednesday.

“This is not something that generally happens in the summer months; it has probably happened twice recently and it is not very common. It is a capacity issue and it will be dealt with through planned expenditure.”

Irish Water plans to increase capacity at the Ringsend Wastewater Treatment plant from 1.6 million PE [population equivalent] to 2.4 million PE in 2025.

John O’Donoghue, Regional Operations Manager with Irish Water told Newstalk Breakfast earlier this week that the upgrade “won’t completely eliminate the overflow but it will help”.

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he understands it is possible to have same-day testing services and Dublin City University might have pioneered some of those systems.

“It is important that we advance those processes as the current system is completely inappropriate because we are only finding out what is wrong days later,” he said.

‘Earlier communications’

English has that said that Murphy has now “asked that we look at earlier communications and our officials are investigating if that is possible.”

He added:

Due to the nature of the testing required, it may take between 48 and 72 hours before validated results are available. That is to allow the bacteria time to grow… There are certain procedures and science behind the testing that mean a certain amount of time must be allocated.
The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, DeputyEoghanMurphy, has asked and stressed that we look into any ways we can improve those timelines. There are clear directions set down around how those tests are carried out. I am not sure if we can beat that timeline but we are looking at that.

English added that more detailed information in announcements is something the government is considering.

Currently, the EU bathing water directive sets out the frequency and parameters of water sampling, as well as the appropriate laboratory procedures.

“There is an issue with allowing bacteria grow over 48 hours and I do not know if that can be changed to allow results within 24 hours, English said.

With reporting from Cónal Thomas

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