Raw sewage entering water in 44 places around Ireland

EPA says failure to tackle sewage-treatment deficiencies poses unacceptable risks

The EPA says waste water is one of the main threats to water quality in Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images

The EPA says waste water is one of the main threats to water quality in Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images


Waste-water treatment facilities in 50 of Ireland’s 185 large towns and cities fail to comply with EU standards, according to the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on urban waste-water treatment.

In addition, raw sewage still enters the environment untreated each day in 44 urban locations around Ireland, the report for 2016 finds.

The agency has warned that plans to install treatment facilities at some of these areas where there is a high risk of pollution and an ongoing threat to public health from harmful bacteria and viruses are delayed by up to three years, and most will not be completed until 2021.

Ireland’s failure to address waste-water deficiencies causes an unacceptable risk to the environment and public health, the EPA concludes.

The figures confirm a marked deterioration in waste-water treatment since 2015, when 29 plants out of 171 in large urban areas were found not to comply with EU standards, and raw sewage was being discharged into waterways at 43 locations.

The report, released on Tuesday, also highlights “the need for significant funding to address the legacy of underinvestment in infrastructure needed to collect and treat our waste water effectively”.

It adds: “Prompt investment in infrastructure now could avoid large financial penalties [imposed by the EU] in the future.”


EPA office of environmental enforcement director Gerard O’Leary said: “Waste water from over half our population failed to meet environmental standards. For many years Ireland failed to address the deficiencies in waste-water treatment. Substantial and sustained investment is now required to protect our valuable waterways and protect public health.”

Waste water is one of the main threats to water quality in Ireland, the report points out.

As a consequence, it sets out “priority areas where resources must be targeted to bring environmental improvements where they are most needed” by Irish Water, the utility responsible for the collection, treatment and discharge of urban waste water.

Cork and Donegal account for nearly half of the areas where raw sewage is being discharged, followed by Galway and Wexford. In the vast majority of cases untreated waste water is being released into coastal areas.

Separately, 59 areas are identified where waste water is the sole threat to rivers, lakes and coastal waters that are at risk of not achieving “good status” – ie healthy ecosystems. Almost one quarter of these are in Donegal and Galway.

Bathing water

Four areas are identified where waste water contributed to poor quality bathing water. The affected beaches were Loughshinny in Balbriggan-Skerries and Merrion Strand in Co Dublin; Ballyloughane Beach on the outskirts of Galway city; and Clifden beach in Connemara.

The EPA identifies 12 areas where improvements are needed to protect critically-endangered freshwater pearl mussels in rivers such as the Blackwater and the Nore, and three areas where disinfection of waste water is required to safeguard shellfish habitats.

“Ireland’s environment is at risk because waste water is not treated to the necessary standards even though the final deadline to meet these standards was 2005,” said Darragh Page, programme manager at the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement.

“New or upgraded treatment systems are required in some areas. In other areas there is already sufficient treatment capacity in place, but the management of the treatment systems needs to improve.”


The largest discharge of untreated waste water in 2016 was from the Ringaskiddy-Crosshaven-Carrigaline areas in Co Cork. Most of this area is now connected to a new treatment plant which has significantly reduced the amount of raw sewage entering Cork Lower Harbour. Nearby, however, Cobh discharged raw sewage on a continuous basis throughout the year.

Five areas currently discharging untreated waste water are expected to be connected to treatment plants by the end of 2017. These are Youghal, Belmullet, Rush, Bundoran and Killybegs.

Ireland has 30,000km of sewers collecting waste water which is treated at 1,100 plants.

The report is available on the EPA website: www.epa.ie