Warning over waste water treatment after European Commission issue formal warning

Clonakilty, Co Cork, is one of 38 locations where the European Commission says waste water must be adequately treated.

The Department of the Environment says Irish Water will tackle issues over the treatment of waste water after the European Commission issued a formal warning over 38 different facilities around the country.

The Commission said Ireland needs to ensure that urban waste water is adequately treated in 38 agglomerations, including Cavan, Clonakilty, Cork City, Dundalk, Killarney, Killybegs, Longford, Navan, Portarlington, Thurles and Waterford City.

The commission said an additional letter of formal notice was sent to the Irish authorities in September last year and following the latest warning, it said if Ireland fails to act within two months, the case may be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU.

Under EU law, towns and cities are required to collect and treat their urban waste water, as untreated waste water can put human health at risk and pollute lakes, rivers, soil and coastal and groundwater.

According to the commission, the last deadline passed at the end of 2005 and required the setting up of collecting systems and treatment for discharges from medium-sized and small agglomerations discharging into freshwater and estuaries agglomerations.

Responding to the commission’s strongly-worded statement, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said: “The issues raised by the Commission are different for different areas. In some instances it relates to perceived inadequacies with collection systems/sewers, in other the capacity of treatment plants, and in others the level of performance of the treatment in place. Where agglomerations are not compliant with the requirements of the Directive, Irish Water has plans and programmes in place to address these deficiencies. In some instances engagement with the Commission will continue with regard to whether or not the agglomeration is currently already compliant.”

The spokesman said the two-month deadline is only for the Irish authorities to respond to the specific concerns raised by the Commission with regard to the 38 agglomerations, and that the breaches reflected “a historic shortfall in investment levels in this area”.

“Whilst the directive has many specific deadlines, in general 2005 was the latest date for compliance for each agglomeration. Progress has been made over recent years — for example in 2009, 57% of agglomerations requiring secondary treatment has such treatment in place, whereas by 2014 this stood at 80%.”

The spokesman said operational issues or adverse weather conditions could also be a factor in some areas being in breach, and added: “Compliance is a priority for Irish Water.”


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