Risks to human health through polluted groundwater the key issue in septic tank debate

22nd December 2011
Press Release

Press Release 22nd December 2011

“Risks to human health through polluted groundwater the key issue in septic tank debate - An Taisce”

Minister Hogan's approach on septic tanks not unfair or unreasonable, according to the National Trust

The stark reality is that the major drinking water crises of recent years are linked to inappropriately sited or poorly maintained septic tanks. For example, Galway's large-scale outbreak of cryptosporidium in 2007 (where more than 250 people became seriously ill) was traced in large part to sewage from poorly-maintained and wrong-sited septic tanks getting into Lough Corrib, from where drinking water is sourced.

Irish households have a right to safe drinking water that meets EU health standards, but this will continue to be undermined until such time as there is proper regulation and maintenance of the 500,000 septic tanks in Ireland.

The current situation is so remiss and dangerous that the European Court found against Ireland in 2009 and fines will be levied in 2012 unless a system of registration and maintenance is put in place.

For the small minority of poorly-informed politicians trying to drum up opposition, the truth is clear and simple: septic tanks can pose a risk to human health and there is a cost to ensure that risk does not materialise.

The €50 fee for a five year registration is fair and reasonable. County Cavan went it alone - being the only county to properly implement EU rules on water quality by introducing a septic tank inspection system from 2004 - and had to charge €100.

1.5 million houses are linked to public sewers while up to 500,000 are connected to septic tanks and similar wastewater treatment systems.

Any claim that people in rural areas are being charged for something that was not charged in urban areas is again based on the avoidance of facts. Purchasers of houses connected to public sewers paid for those connections as part of the development contributions put up by house builders and passed on in the purchase price. And pre-1977 sewer connections were funded under domestic rates which were foolishly abolished, and which are, in effect, only now being re-introduced).

Risks to groundwater are posed by individual septic tanks and similar wastewater treatment systems and it is not unfair or unreasonable to place those costs on their users.

A hardship fund will need to be established to cope with the remediation of septic tanks of those who simple cannot afford to pay; however, a five-year €50 registration fee is fair and reasonable.

An Taisce Ends

For further commentary/clarification please contact:

Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer, An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland, 01 7077064