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Civil engineer Mick Duffy in the vicinity of Miltown Malbay wastewater treatment plant. Photograph by Eugene McCafferty

Irish Water accused of causing health hazard in west Clare

Irish Water has been accused of causing a “public health hazard” by allowing a wastewater treatment plant to pollute a stream in West Clare that is potentially contaminating bathing waters for local swimmers.

This assertion comes after an EPA report found breaches for ammonia at the Miltown Wastewater Treatment Plant were 171 times the permitted emission levels following an inspection carried out on June 10, 2021.

It has also emerged that that the EPA raised concern about the absence of a proper roadway into this plant in August 2018 to facilitate desludging, which still hasn’t been properly addressed by Irish Water.

North Clare civil engineer Mick Duffy has expressed major concern about the contents of an EPA report, which stated a visual inspection of the Legard Stream at its discharge points indicated widespread sewage fungus following discharges from the Miltown waste water treatment plant.

Irish Water was requested to examine the pathway of this stream to the sea to identify what measures are needed to protect human and animal health from this stream.

“The outcome of this investigation and your plans with time frames to implement identified measures should be submitted to the EPA by August 29, 2021.”

With an emission limit value (ELV) of 0.14 mg/l, exceedances as high as 24 mg/l, which is 171 times higher than allowed, were recorded on May 13, 2020. Other emissions varied from 4.5 mg/l to 11.9 mg/l in 2020 and 2021.

The cBOD ELV is 2.6 mg/l. However, exceedances were almost 24 times higher with discharges of 50 mg/l on June 24, 2020 and other exceedances of 8 mg/l, 15 mg/l, and 23 mg/l.
Orthophosphate limits were also breached on several occasions.

Mr Duffy condemned the emission limit exceedances at the wastewater treatment plant as “off the charts”.

He expressed concern the Legard Stream goes into the sea near the Armada Hotel, which is used as a bathing area.

The EPA report stated this plant has not been desludged to date in 2021, which Irish Water stated was due to the lack of a roadway into the plant.

“Irish Water stated they had informal conversations with the landowner but these talks have not come to fruition. No formal communications with the landowner regarding the construction of a roadway into this plant have taken place. Irish Water stated they have no quotations for the construction of an access roadway.

“Irish Water are required to prioritise the installation of a roadway into this plant and ensure that the operation of this waste water treatment plant is optimised.”

A site visit report following an inspection in August 27, 2020 stated issues with access to this plant for maintenance and desludging that were raised at the previous site visit on October 2018 remain unchanged and need to be resolved as a matter of urgency.

“The condition of the plant has deteriorated since the last site visit. Ongoing issues were noted with the peat bed filter.

“While the plant was desludged on three dates in 2020 on July 1 2, 3, it is not being carried out on a regular basis.”

Describing Irish Water’s explanation for not desludging the plant as “rubbish”, Mr Duffy said this is an unacceptable excuse as effluent could be taken out using a tractor and tanker to transport it to an appropriate articulated lorry.

He said the council is constructing a wastewater treatment plant as part of a new housing scheme near the Legard Road.

However, he warned if effluent from this scheme is put into the public sewer, it will worsen problems at the plant because it will push untreated sewerage out of this facility into the nearby stream.

In their submission to the 2023 to 2029 Clare County Development Plan, John and Patrick Hurley stated this plant has been located on their family land since its construction in 1948.

“Uninterrupted access has been provided to the facility since that time. In recent years, both the condition of the facility and its operational capacity has been a source of concern. These concerns were expressed to Clare County Council and Irish Water some time ago.”

These concerns included the poor quality of discharge, the negative impact on livestock and the surrounding environment if the discharge is not meeting regulatory requirements, capacity of the plant to meet current demand and the fact this plant is significantly overloaded.

This submission questions a statement in the Draft County Development Plan 2023 to 2029 that there is sufficient capacity in the Miltown Waste Water Treatment Plant to meet the needs of the targeted population in view of the fact the EPA has stated it is “significantly overloaded”.

“Ongoing discussions are taking place with the council and Irish Water regarding improving the necessary access to the plant with a view to remedying some of the deficiencies outlined in the EPA report.

“All of us involved are in agreement that it will only be applying a sticking plaster to a facility, which needs major surgery or replacement.”

Irish Water outlined it has undertaken an operational assessment of works required at Miltown Malbay Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) to improve treatment performance at the site.

Additionally, Irish Water is continuing to optimise treatment performance, including desludging at the plant, while taking account of the existing infrastructure that is in place.

The national utility confirmed this plant is not included in RC3 or in other Irish Water Programme at this time.

A spokesperson said, “Irish Water has reviewed the portfolio of projects and programmes in our Investment Plan to ensure we can deliver these in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

“It prioritises projects and programmes based on new and better information, updated timelines as projects progress and new and emerging needs in their water network to best serve their customers, support growth and meet the objectives under its Business Plan.

“Following this review, the delivery timelines for Miltown Malbay cannot be confirmed. The building, repair and upgrading of Irish Water’s water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants, water and sewer network will require a multi-billion euro investment programme over many years.

“Irish Water is committed to providing a safe and reliable water supply, protecting the environment and supporting the growth of homes and businesses. It continuously reviews and update its portfolio of projects and assess based on the available funding.”

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