The Osberstown wastewater treatment plant near Naas is just one of many Irish Water plants where improvements are need to resolve environmental priorities, according to an Environment Protection Agency report issued this week.
The EPA Urban Waste Water Treatment report for 2016, said that 135 of 185 large urban areas complied with legally binding standards in 2016.
But Osberstown was one of 50, including Dublin and Cork, which failed the standards. These 50 areas account for almost two thirds of the national waste water load collected in all large urban areas.
The European Union’s Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive sets standards for the collection, treatment and discharge of urban waste water from large urban areas.
The EPA said the underlying cause of many failures is a lack of infrastructure. Other failures were due to inadequate operation and management practices, and insufficient treatment plant capacity.
It said that Osberstown was one of thirteen plants which had non compliant wastewater collection standards.
In addition, it was one of 45 plans which was non compliant with secondary treatment requirements and it was one of 21 plants which was non compliant with more stringent treatment required.
The listing of Osberstown was qualified by a note which said: “The effluent discharged from the treatment plant met the relevant effluent quality standards. However, the collection systems failed to meet the Directive’s requirements. This means that some of the wastewater is not conveyed to the treatment plant. As all wastewater is not treated, the area is deemed to fail the Directive’s secondary treatment requirements, and where applicable, the more stringent treatment requirements.”
The EPA said that meeting the standards in the Directive is a key step in protecting our environment from the adverse effects of wastewater discharges. The European Commission is taking Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European Union because of the ongoing failure to ensure that wastewater is adequately collected and treated. It said the collection and treatment of wastewater at 50 large urban areas did not meet European Union standards. Infrastructure and operational improvements are needed to bring Ireland into compliance with the Directive.
Former Leixlip Town Councillor, John Colgan said the situation at the Osberstown works, now under Irish Water, but until recently, Kildare County Council’s responsibility, was serious. “Outflow waste water from Osberstown is discharged into the Liffey river, and downstream of Leixlip. Fingal County Council takes its inflow water into the drinking water plant at Cooldrinagh, Leixlip. This provides about one quarter of County Dublin's supply and much of north Kildare's. “Even with modern sewage processing, no processing removes antibiotics from the outlet water, and we know we are all developing an immunity from the benefits of antibiotics. Nor does it remove oestrogen, which is passed into the wastewater from females urine. This product reduces the fertility of males. These two problems are, I understand, one of the growing worries of countries in continental Europe.”
Irish Water said the EPA report “clearly shows the size and scale of the challenge” faced by it in meeting the demands of decades of underinvestment in wastewater infrastructure.
The company said the EPA report identifies major progress by Irish Water in the period since 2014, as 65 new or upgraded plants have been delivered. “When Irish Water took over responsibility for water and wastewater in 2014, the national utility prioritised the health of our customers by focusing on improving drinking water, where boil water notices affected over 20,000 people, with many more at risk. The company said that in 2014 it took over a portfolio of projects from the local authorities that were all at different stages of development.
“In many cases the projects needed to be re-scoped, or the necessary planning and environmental statutory processes were not yet in place and in some cases Irish Water said the report identifies compliance issues due to collection systems in Cork, Thurles and Roscrea among thirteen agglomerations listed by the EPA. As the national picture is clarified by further surveys, the company expects that this will define major further investment requirements into the future.