Liffey Swim to go ahead despite findings of poor water quality

Dublin City Council says results significantly exceed acceptable levels for bathing waters

The 100th Liffey Swim takes place August 3rd, 2019. Competitors must complete a number of open sea swims to qualify for the historic race. Video: Enda O'Dowd


The 100th Liffey Swim will go ahead ton Saturday despite a level of pollution recorded in the Dublin river this week which would close swimming spots covered by water quality regulations.

Speaking after it emerged that water quality tests gave “exceptionally poor” results, a public health expert with the HSE said the Liffey is not designated as a bathing area and therefore did not come under bathing water legislation.

“If this was happening on Dollymount Strand, we would issue a prohibition order, because the water in Dollymount Strand is expected to be at bathing water standard,” said Dr Helena Murray, a specialist in public health medicine with the Department of Public Health in HSE East.

Brian Nolan, the chair of Leinster Open Sea, told the Irish Times the race is going ahead, but advised all swimmers to go onto the HSE website and review its advice for swimmers, which was issued on Friday.

“We’re delighted it’s going ahead,” Mr Nolan said. “We face this every year.”

Earlier on Friday, Dublin City Council and the HSE warned that water samples from the river were exceptionally poor and could cause illness.

The council tested the water quality after sewer debris was discharged into the river following heavy rain earlier this week.

In a statement, the council said the results were exceptionally poor, and significantly exceed the maximum permitted levels for designated bathing waters.

It said Irish Water was also made aware on Thursday evening of an overflow or discharge of sewage from its sewer network in the area of Knockmaroon.

“This discharge may have been active for some days before being rectified.” It said it was advised at 12.30pm on Friday by Irish Water that the matter was now resolved and the discharge had ceased.

“Notices have been placed at the designated bathing water locations,” the council said.

It said it had notified the Liffey Swim organisers and the HSE. Given the long history of this event, the council said it regrets that the water quality in the Liffey “would appear to have been badly impacted by this unforeseeable event”.

“Unfortunately, it is not possible to get any more up to date samples taken and tested in advance of the event,” it said.

“The River Liffey is not a designated bathing water location. While any decision in relation to this event is a matter for the organisers, it is noted that a number of tidal cycles will have taken place prior to the Liffey Swim and that, as is done every year, the ESB will increase flows in the Liffey prior to the event to further dilute any residual contaminants.”

“It would, therefore, be hoped that the river water quality will have improved significantly by the time of the event but, unfortunately, no guarantees can be given in this regard.”

In a separate statement, the HSE said a “significant increase in bacteria” was been found in the Liffey and swimming and other water-based activates in the water may cause illness.

It warned women who are pregnant or people who have a weakened immune system to avoid swimming or other water activities in the river. It also said people should avoid swallowing or splashing water as much as possible.