One fifth of septic tanks deemed a 'risk' to human health and environment

A recent article on Journal.ie reported that according to the EPA, inspections by Clare, Waterford and Offaly councils last year were “well below” their requirement.

Half of septic tanks failed inspection in 2022, while 20% were identified as a risk to human health or the environment, a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows.

According to the agency, there is inconsistency in the local authorities’ approaches to failed septic tanks.

The Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems report found that there were proportionately fewer septic tank failures fixed in counties Roscommon, Waterford, Leitrim and Tipperary.

There are nearly 500,000 septic tanks in Ireland and over 1,100 septic tank inspections were completed by local authorities in 2022.

Inspections by Clare, Waterford and Offaly councils last year were “well below” their requirements, EPA said.

  • Read more here on how to support a major Noteworthy project to examine ongoing cases of problem septic tanks and the impact broken systems have on our health.

The agency examined the 1,143 inspections of domestic waste water treatment systems completed by local authorities in 2022.

Some 49% (560) of the treatment systems failed inspection because they were not built or maintained properly. 230 (20%) of treatment systems inspected were considered a risk to human health or the environment, because faulty systems can contaminate household drinking water wells and pollute rivers.

“Faulty septic tanks are a risk to human health and the environment. If not built and operated properly, they can pollute watercourses and contaminate household drinking water wells with harmful bacteria and viruses,” EPA said in a statement.

“Where septic tanks are not functioning properly, it is critical that householders fix the problems to protect their family’s health, and the environment.”

Where septic tanks fail inspection, local authorities issue advisory notices to householders setting out what is required to fix the problem. The report found that there were 550 cases where issues notified to householders over two years previously had still not been addressed. The septic tank grant scheme, offers grants up to €5,000 to assist in addressing malfunctioning systems. Over 200 grants, totaling nearly €1 million were awarded in 2022.

Noel Byrne, EPA Programme Manager, called for greater enforcement by local authorities to protect people and the environment.

“It is unacceptable that failed septic tanks have not been fixed more than two years after inspection,” he said.

“Half of these involve sewage surfacing in gardens and discharging to ditches and streams, which are health risks that cannot be allowed to continue.”


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