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Raw sewage from 77,000 people in Ireland flowing into environment every day

Ireland needs “substantial” investment in waste water treatment, the EPA report said.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown's bathing ban earlier this year after an overflow of waste water at Ringsend.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown's bathing ban earlier this year after an overflow of waste water at Ringsend.
Image: Sam Boal

RAW SEWAGE FROM 77,000 people is being released into the environment every day from mainly coastal areas around the country, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report has found. 

Half of this sewage comes from Arklow in Wicklow, Cobh in Cork and Kilmore Quay in Wexford, the EPA report on Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2018 published today found. 36 towns and villages around the country release raw sewage daily. 

According to the EPA, 21 cities and towns – including Dublin and Cork – had waste water treatment plants that didn’t meet mandatory European Union (EU) standards, a reduction from 28 in 2017.

The EPA is the environmental agency responsible for regulating Irish Water. Sewage is one of the main threats to water quality in Ireland, according to the authors of this report. 

The director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement, Tom Ryan, said that inadequately treated waste water could pollute the environment and pose a risk to people’s health. 

“We are seeing repeated delays in providing treatment for many areas and it is not acceptable that 12 towns and villages will still have no waste water treatment by the end of 2021,” said Ryan, commenting on the report. 

“Irish Water must speed up its delivery of key infrastructure.”  

sewage Areas discharging raw sewage into the environment. Source: EPA

Changes required 

Necessary improvements to fix the issues outlined in the report include getting rid of raw sewage flows, preventing water pollution and better meeting EU standards across the country. 

Some waste water treatment plants need to be upgraded and there must be continued improvements to treatment systems currently in use, the report said.  

Over a billion litres of waste water are collected every day in Ireland’s public sewers and treated at 1,100 treatment plants. 

The main factor in urban problems with waste water treatment is the failure to properly treat it in Dublin and Cork. 

Untreated or poorly treated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses and can pose a health risk to people. 

Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement Andy Fanning said Irish Water needs to “continue to improve” its operation and maintenance of waste water treatment systems. 

treatment How waste water is treated in urban areas. Source: EPA

Irish Water delays

The report said that Irish Water is “repeatedly extending” the completion dates for works in the areas releasing raw sewage into the environment.

At the end of last year, Irish Water had completed just over half of the nearly 800 improvements to sewage treatment that should have been finished between 2009 and 2018. 

In 2016, Irish Water said it would stop discharging waste from 30 out of 36 areas by the end of 2020, but the latest report said it is currently on target to treat just two of these areas by this date.  

Cobh in Cork, Arklow in Wicklow and two other locations weren’t connected to treatment plants in 2018 so raw sewage from these areas flowed into the environment throughout the year.

Responding to the report, Irish Water said its investment in waste water infrastructure will increase to nearly €400 million in 2020. This brings it in line with the level of investment in drinking water. 

“As the recent incidents at the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant have shown, it is vital that we continue to upgrade and maintain drinking water infrastructure as well as putting emphasis on ensuring that Ireland’s wastewater reaches the same high standard of compliance,” said head of asset management at Irish Water Sean Laffey. 

The EPA report said problems have arisen in many plants because they were built to cater to smaller populations. 

The Ringsend treatment plant opened in 2003 to deal with waste water from 1.64 million. However, it now serves around 1.9 million people and this can increase to 2.3 million at times. 

Construction work which began last year on the plant to provide additional capacity is due to be finished next year, while further expansions will go on until 2025.

The plant isn’t expected to meet required EU standards until the end of 2022 at the earliest.

“Completing this project without delay is essential to protect the Lower Liffey Estuary and Dublin Bay,” the report said. 

Ireland requires substantial and sustained investment to build the infrastructure necessary to treat our waste water properly and release it safely back into the environment.

Waste water at beaches in Dublin at Merrion Strand and Sandymount Strand, and in Galway at Clifden beach contributed to poor quality bathing water, the report said.  

Last year, three serious incidents in rivers in Cavan, Tullamore and Dublin resulted in fish being killed after raw sewage escaped from the collection system and flowed into rivers. 

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