The Commission, emphasised that septic tanks are a particular concern in Ireland, which has more than 400,000 septic tanks across the country, as mismanagement can cause discharges containing bacteria such as E.coli, pathogens and parasites to enter drinking water supplies.

EU legislation sets out an effective framework to correctly manage septic tanks, however Ireland has yet to implement it. The Commission has said the Government needs to provide clarification regarding this legislation in order to ensure septic tank management meets these standards.

The Commission states that for Ireland to meet the 2006 EU Waste Framework Directive, it must take measures to ensure that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health, and without using processes or methods which could harm the environment.

The Irish Government is also required to introduce a system of monitoring, inspection and maintenance of individual waste water systems in the countryside, but is yet to implement this system.

The Commission did note that Ireland is preparing legislation but was not satisfied with the slow pace of progress in complying with EU requirements.

As a result of a 2009 European Court of Justice ruling, and a 2010 formal notice setting out the Irish infringements, the European Commission referred the issue back to the Court of Justice in May 2011 where it requested a fine of Euro2.7M and a daily penalty payment of Euro26,173 be paid for as long as the infringements persist.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) has also called on the minister for environment to review its proposed septic tank inspection regime.

The environmental group, which has provided information to the European Commission on septic tank pollution, issued a statement yesterday (31 August) outlining the dangers of poorly managed or controlled septic tanks to the environment and human health.

Around one third of Ireland’s homes are isolated properties which use individual waste water systems to dispose of their waste water. In many parts of the country geological and soil conditions may make it difficult for septic tanks to function without causing pollution.

A FIE spokesperson said: “The fact of the matter is that in many cases people bought homes in good faith. The liability must include the original builders, and the councils and councillors who overruled planners to allow development on unsuitable land.”

Earlier this year the Irish Environmental Protection Agency reported widespread bacteriological contamination of Irish groundwater. It also found domestic waste water contains nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrates which contribute to nutrient pollution of surface waters.

Carys Matthews

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