Investigative report reveals serious human health and environmental hazard in Co. Galway.

1st February 2014
Press Release

Glenamaddy town’s sewage piped into a turlough SAC.

Following a tip-off, a detailed investigation by An Taisce has revealed that an entire town's sewage is being piped into a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) turlough in County Galway, creating a totally unacceptable health and environmental hazard.

An Taisce's report and photos reveal that the sewage from Glenamaddy town - population c.700 - is being piped into Glenamaddy turlough just to the east of the town. There it enters a swallow hole which drains the turlough, before apparently (according to tracer dye studies) re-emerging at Lettera spring some 3.5 km to the west of the town.

The primitive, unlicensed sewage unit - which Galway County Council admits is "grossly undersized" - has been in place since the 1950s. It has been a subject of internal discussions within various public authorities for the best part of at least 20 years, yet the hazard continues to this day.

As long ago as 1997 the National Parks & Wildlife Service (then Dúchas) commented in an internal memo, "sewage effluent [from Glenamaddy] directly enters a swallow hole draining the turlough and goes straight into the ground water. This is resulting in eutrophication of the turlough, not to mention a totally unacceptable health hazard."

Applying to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2009 for a licence to regularise the unauthorised discharge in Glenamaddy, Galway County Council noted that "the existing wastewater treatment plant would not be considered to be effective at treating the sewage generated within [Glenamaddy]...[It] is grossly undersized and may currently be significantly impacting on the [Glenamaddy] Turlough and the ground water in the region."

The Council's application continued, "Ground Water Movement out of the [Glenamaddy] Turlough is toward the Lettera Spring and is potentially impacting on the quality of water used for public consumption in the [Glenamaddy] Area."

The County Council has been considering alternative sewage disposal options for Glenamaddy for several years. These are envisaged in its 2009 licence application to the EPA. But almost five years on the problem remains, and the EPA has yet to take a decision regarding the Council's application.

In addition to presenting a potentially serious threat to drinking and bathing water in the Glenamaddy region, the sewage is believed to be impacting adversely on the turlough, which is a Special Area of Conservation under Irish law. Turloughs are one of only sixteen so-called "priority habitats" in Ireland. They are almost unique to Ireland and are hence one of our most strictly protected natural areas.

Internal documents obtained by An Taisce under access to information rules reveal that a member of the public complained to the EPA's Office of Environmental Enforcement about the sewage in 2012. Following this complaint, Galway County Council's Environment Section carried out a site visit to the turlough and reported back to the EPA that they could find no sign of the complained of discharge. Yet the primitive sewage unit was only a few metres from where the Council looked and carries prominent Galway County Council signage. Moreover it is the subject of regular maintenance work by the Council and had been the subject of a licence application by the Council to the EPA itself some three years earlier.

Commenting on today's report, An Taisce's Policy Director James Nix said "Several public bodies have a lot to answer for here: not least Galway County Council, the EPA and the NPWS. In parallel to this report we have lodged a formal request for action with the EPA under the Environmental Liability Directive."

He continued, "Just a few years on from the cryptosporidium scandal in Galway city, here we are again. Credit is due to the individual who brought this to our attention and to our Natural Environment Office which carried out a thorough investigation. There is a very urgent need for this issue to finally be taken seriously and addressed. The people of Galway deserve much better than this. Their health and their environment must be safeguarded immediately - this illegal situation cannot go on."

ENDS

For further information, please call:

Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 2411995

Natural Environment Office, An Taisce Tel: +353 1 454 1786

James Nix, Policy Director, An Taisce Tel: +353 86 8394129

email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org

An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

www.antaisce.ie

Notes:

An Taisce's report can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Byc1SOzeg2lPRjQ1bEFtRFRmRzg/edit?usp=sharing A full photographic record of An Taisce's site visit can be found here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0Byc1SOzeg2lPN1JLUHpTRXNxZzA&usp=sharing Galway County Council's 2009 licence application, which sets out some details regarding this sewage discharge, can be found here: http://www.epa.ie/licences/lic_eDMS/090151b2802c3418.pdf