Irish waste water treatment plants failing to meet EU standards, report finds

A quarter of Ireland's waste water treatment plants are discharging raw sewage into the sea and rivers with either basic or no treatment.

And, more than half failed to meet European Union (EU) quality standards in 2006 and 2007, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report published last Thursday (July 2).

Gerard O'Leary, EPA programme manager, said: "Continued investment in waste water treatment is required as well as a dramatic improvement by local authorities in the operation and monitoring of existing waste water treatment infrastructure."

The report analysed 370 treatment plants serving 482 villages, towns and cities and found that:

  • Waste water from 192 treatment plants (51 per cent) did not meet EU quality standards due to plants not operating properly or being overloaded.

  • Waste water was being discharged with either no treatment or basic treatment at 112 locations at the end of the 2007. As of last month (June), 93 remained without treatment or with only basic treatment. Most of these discharges are into estuarine or coastal waters.

  • 158 locations should have had secondary treatment plants in place by December 2005 to comply with EU law - but by last month 20 still did not. Many are being built but some reportedly may not be complete until 2013.

  • 90 per cent of waste water in the country received secondary treatment or better and secondary treatment of waste water has increased over the past ten years.

  • The EPA blames "insufficient or incorrect sampling" by local authorities for a quarter of plant non-compliances with the EU's urban waste water treatment directive requirements.

    John Gormley, Irish minister for the environment, heritage and local government, described the non-compliance levels as unacceptable.

    He said: "The report highlights the need for continued investment in waste-water treatment infrastructure if we are to achieve the standards required by EU and national legislation."

    Dara Lynott, director of the EPA's office of environmental enforcement, warned local authorities could be prosecuted for failing to ensure standards are met.

    He said: "Failure to comply with licence conditions set by the EPA will result in enforcement action up to and including prosecution. The EPA will focus on waste water treatment plants that are polluting rivers, lakes and sensitive receptors such as bathing waters."

    To read the report, Urban Waste Water Discharges in Ireland for Population Equivalents Greater than 500 persons - Report for the Years 2006 and 2007, click here.

    David Gibbs



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