Waste system must meet EU standards - lecturer


AN NUI Galway lecturer has said that many private waste-water systems should have “few problems” in meeting the inspections required under the Government’s legislation.

However, the State should ensure that chartered engineers sign off on all new designs or upgrade systems to ensure they are compliant with EU standards, Dr Eoghan Clifford, an NUIG civil engineering lecturer, said.

Dr Clifford, who is joint inventor of three waste-water and sludge-treatment technologies, said that property owners with a “well-installed and well-maintained” system should have little difficulty.

“If they are also ensuring they are not using vast amounts of detergents there shouldn’t be a problem,” he told The Irish Times.

“The more vulnerable the site, as in soil conditions or proximity to drinking/sensitive water resources, the greater the likelihood that there may be some cost in meeting the standards.”

He said vulnerable areas could include locations with low permeability, locations prone to flooding, or where there are limited depths of soil.

Fianna Fáil has claimed that property owners with septic tanks could face bills of up to €20,000 and the Government had indicated that it may give financial assistance for required upgrades.

However, Dr Clifford said the highest cost he had heard of was €10,000 for a package treatment system with a polishing filter, which would be more expensive than a septic tank and percolation area and was designed for a residence of eight people. “There will always be exceptions on difficult sites, but compliance may be a very simple issue of minor cost for a lot of people.”

Dr Clifford said if the State was to avoid further problems later it should ensure that chartered engineers sign off on all such waste-water treatment systems.

He also said there should be a nationwide standard across all local authority areas taking the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) code of practice as a model.

Two months ago Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan told an Oireachtas committee on the environment that owners of older septic tanks would not be forced to upgrade them to the latest EPA standards under the Water Services Bill.

Mr Hogan has also held up Cavan County Council’s inspection approach as a role model, resulting in its exclusion from a European Court of Justice ruling. The court ruling of October 2009 found Ireland, with the exception of Co Cavan, to be in breach of EU regulations on water quality dating back to 1975.