Sir, - The European Parliament's declaration that 73 per cent of phosphorus-based pollution of Irish waterways comes from farming puzzles the Irish Farmers Association. Because cattle numbers are static and 50,000 farmers participate in REPS, the IFA requires "better explanations of the processes at play". Permit me to explain these processes.
Most Irish farms are neither connected to main sewers nor possess waste water treatment facilities therefore all farmyard washings, too dilute for land spreading, find their way into drains, gullies and streamlets.
Ireland's 7.5 million cattle and 2 million pigs produce 84 million gallons of wastes daily. (Forget the 9 million sheep.) In winter, the 11 gallons of phosphate-rich faeces and urine daily produced by each cow are collected indoors to be later spread on land. However, rain washes away a considerable percentage, the highest run-off being in November.
No national policy exists to dispose of agricultural wastes so where do they go? Recent fishery board surveys in the west and south-west found almost half the farms examined posed medium to high pollution risks: 33 per cent had no slurry storage facilities whatsoever; wastes simply "disappeared." Where? Two-thirds of deep wells in Connacht are polluted by agricultural bacteria and the number of polluted rural water supplies is at record levels (38 per cent).
For 25 years, land has been expected to absorb agricultural wastes. Up to 10,000 gallons of slurry per acre can be injected into the ground but, like any sponge, supersaturation of land by phosphorus has resulted in this element continually leaching into adjoining watercourses in quite alarming quantities. Phosphorus in much Irish ground has risen by a factor of 16 since Ireland joined the EEC.
The Department of Agriculture and the IFA claim direct discharge of wastes into waterways is not responsible for pollution; perhaps, but it is the indirect release of pollutants has made Ireland the greatest environmental transgressor in the EU. As the subtle legal differences between direct and indirect sources of pollution matter little to ruined waterways, REPS and "static" cattle numbers will not solve the problems. Stringent environmental laws are necessary to control modern urban, industrial, medical and nuclear wastes. Unless similar statutory regulations are quickly introduced concerning environmentally-acceptable disposal methods for agricultural wastes, Ireland will permanently wrest that unenviable sobriquet once held by Britain; the Dirty Old Man of Europe. - Yours, etc.,
Roderick D. O'Sullivan, Maida Vale, London W9.