Half of septic tanks fail to meet standards

Half of homeowners’ septic tanks failed to meet the required standard last year, it has emerged.

The Environmental Protection Agency found that 49% of septic tanks were not up to standard last year, up from 45% in 2015.

There is a particular concern about the health risks because many septic tank owners source their water from their well.

Almost three out of 10 (29%) inspection failures were due to the risk to human health or the environment.

Last year, 27% of all inspections took place on sites with private wells and more than half (51%) of the treatment systems failed to meet the required standard.

“The failure by homeowners to maintain and operate a septic tank system adequately can pose a health and environmental risk through the pollution of private drinking water wells or watercourses,” the EPA warns.

“Homeowners may be putting themselves, their families and their neighbours at risk of ill health if they do not maintain their septic tank system adequately,” said Darragh Page of the EPA office of environmental enforcement.

Operation and maintenance and the lack of desludging continue to be the main reasons that septic tank systems fail inspections. A quarter of septic tanks failed due to owners not removing sludge build-up,

A local authority can prosecute a homeowner if they fail to comply with an advisory notice where failures are identified.

However, of all the inspections undertaken last year, there is currently just one pending prosecution open against a homeowner.

The EPA said local authorities should prioritise the enforcement of those notices where system failures pose a risk to human health and the environment.

The agency is responsible for the development of a national inspection plan for the domestic wastewater treatment system. The plan requires local authorities to undertake a minimum of 1,000 inspections of domestic wastewater treatment systems each year.

The EPA points out that Sligo County Council did not undertake any new inspections last year.

It has been told to address any shortfalls by the end of the year.

Warning letters were issued to other local authorities who failed to reach their minimum target numbers.

The number of advisory notices issued last year increased by 544 (11.5%).

However, 473 advisory warnings issued over the last three years are still open – 18 since 2013, and 451 are open beyond their proposed resolution date.

The EPA’s report also shows that just 54% of sites that failed an inspection are now compliant following remedial works. Almost one in four checks (23%) were on unregistered sites.

More than half (53%) of inspection failures were due to operation and maintenance and desludging issues.

The EPA says desludging is a minimum maintenance requirement and is relatively inexpensive to undertake.

There is a grant scheme available to homeowners, administered by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, for the upgrade of their domestic wastewater treatment systems but this does not cover maintenance or desludging.

Local authorities and the EPA provide information on the inspection process and maintenance of treatment systems on their websites.


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