Uisce Éireann criticised by Eamon Ryan for ‘avoidable’ chemical spill that caused Cork fish kill

History of problems at chemical plant highlighted by Minister for the Environment in letter to utility’s chief executive

A fish kill left at least 5,000 dead on a tributary of the Blackwater in north Cork. Photograph: The Irish Times

Uisce Éireann has been reprimanded by Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan for a big fish kill in north Cork caused by what he described as an “avoidable incident” at one of its treatment plants.

In a strident letter to the utility’s chief executive Niall Gleeson, Mr Ryan sought a full account of the specific systemic remedial action that Uisce Éireann undertook after issues arose previously at the plant.

He also called for a detailed audit of all its facilities to ensure they meet the highest standards, and sought a meeting with Mr Gleeson in the next week to hear an outline of its plan “to ensure an incident of this nature does not reoccur”.

The fish kill occurred last weekend on the river Allow in north Cork following a discharge of chemicals from the Freemount water treatment plant. It is estimated that more than 5,000 fish, including salmon, trout and lamprey were killed along a 4km stretch of the river, an important tributary of the Blackwater.


Mr Ryan noted it was the second significant kill since last year, following discharges of chemicals from the Ennistymon treatment plant into Ballymacraven river in Co Clare.

The Minister highlighted an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) site-visit audit of the Freemount plant on August 23rd, 2022, which found sludge was discharged to the Allow because of an apparent failing which resulted in high loading of the sludge treatment facilities earlier that month.

“A key EPA finding was that Irish Water should implement an action programme to improve the sludge handling facilities at the Freemount Water Treatment Plant to prevent a reoccurrence of this serious issue,” said Mr Ryan.

“As Uisce Éireann will be aware, there is already significant pressure on Ireland’s native fish stocks and so this type of avoidable incident is completely unacceptable.

“As a matter of urgency, I would ask that there is a full investigation of this serious incident immediately. In addition, we need to have full account of the specific systemic remedial action that Uisce Éireann took at the Freemount water treatment plant following the last discharge, and if such action was taken, we need to know why another discharge has now happened so soon after, resulting in this very significant fish kill on the river Allow,” he wrote.

Mr Ryan requested that Uisce Éireann develop and put in place standards in consultation with Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) and the EPA to ensure this will not happen again.

“This should involve examination of, and best practice standards in delivery methods, changes to the holding equipment, bunding standards, pump control standards or other appropriate protections. Following this, I would expect that Uisce Éireann then carries out a detailed audit of all of your facilities to ensure that they are all meeting this new standard.”

In a statement after the incident Uisce Éireann said it was investigating a reported spillage at the plant and had engaged with the IFI “and the EPA has been notified”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times