Home » Breaking News » Untreated effluent making swimmers sick, claims councillor
Jim Gallagher, a visiting swimmer from Liverpool, reads a sign posted by Clare County Council last summer, on the advice of the HSE, placing a prohibition on swimming in White Strand Miltown Malbay due to increased bacterial levels in the bathing water. Photograph by John Kelly.

Untreated effluent making swimmers sick, claims councillor

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CLARITY is being sought on the impact of wastewater plants on the county’s Blue Flag beaches, after a councillor claimed bathers are getting sick because of untreated effluent, writes Fiona McGarry.

The Green Party’s Liam Grant hit out, at a recent meeting of West Clare councillors, at the suggestion that raised bacteria levels at beaches are caused primarily by heavy rain.

A motion tabled by Councillor Grant called on the Council “to examine the daily discharge of wastewater treatment facilities for the last two years in Lahinch, Ennistymon and Kilkee with the intention of comparing this data with closures of nearby blue flag beaches to see if there’s any correlation between the two”.

The motion noted water quality issues at several Blue Flag facilities.

“I believe this has a lot to do with wastewater treatment facilities not being fit for purpose,” Councillor Grant stated.

Addressing the meeting, the Lahinch native was sharply critical of Irish Water: “I’m worried about elevated bacteria levels and hoping to find out how wastewater treatment plants are influencing them,” he said.

“We have the wastewater infrastructure of a Third World country. That’s down to a failure to invest over the last 30 years. I’m trying to get Irish Water to prioritise Ennistymon, Kilkee and Lahinch. People are getting sick and that’s due to effluent being pumped out into the water.”

Councillor Joe Garrihy seconded the motion and added, “It is absolutely critical that we upgrade to international standards.

“The work in Liscannor and Kilfenora is welcome, but delays for the likes of Kilkee are frustrating.”

Referring to a written response to the motion, which showed that two out of eight swimming bans in West Clare was linked to wastewater issues between 2019 and 2021, Councillor Ian Lynch challenged Councillor Grant.

“It was just one plant,” he said, referring to a main at the facility in Kilkee, which was linked to swimming bans on two occasions.

“This was addressed and we hope we won’t have that situation again in 2022,” he added. “Most of these bans are caused by the weather and heavy rain.”

District Cathaoirleach, Councillor Cillian Murphy said he had sought similar information about Doonbeg previously.

“We need to understand the numbers to know if the causes are always down to infrastructure or other issues. Unless we have an accurate picture, people will say, ‘It’s the bloody treatment plant’.”

Councillor Grant insisted the “narrative about heavy rain” must be challenged.

“I have swam from Lahinch to Liscannor and you have to keep your head up for fear of swallowing the water in certain places”

“The narrative about heavy rain, I’m seeking to challenge that. The Lahinch facilities are not adequate. Rain has an effect, but I’d don’t buy the narrative that it’s rainfall. There are things we can and should be doing.”

A written response to the motion from Senior Engineer Cyril Feeney noted that Irish Water is responsible for the operation of treatment plants in Clare and that they keep the records. Some data is available from water.ie and beaches.ie. A table showed instances from 2019 to 2021 when the Council put swimming advisories and bans in place due to “elevated bacterial pollution levels”.

On two occasions in Kilkee, these incidents were linked to a malfunction at the sewage treatment plan. Six other incidents were attributed to overland runoff after rainfall.

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