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Office of Environmental Enforcement

The Office of Environmental Enforcement is responsible for the enforcement of EPA licences issued for waste, industrial and other activities. It also exercises a supervisory role in relation to the environmental protection activities of local authorities. This ranges from providing advice and guidance, through to auditing performance, and, where necessary, issuing legally binding Directions.

Enforcement priorities include sectoral non-compliances, activities of high environmental risk and activities generating significant level of environmental complaints. There has been an increase in the number of inspections, compliance meetings, preparation of legal cases and unscheduled work in 2007. Similar to previous years, a small number of "problem" sites continue to require significant enforcement effort due to incidents, contamination, persistent non-compliance or poor site management.

In 2007, the EPA was granted new powers in relation to supervising the supply of drinking water by public water suppliers. The EPA also commenced the integration of licensing and public authority enforcement activities with the objective of providing a fully integrated enforcement service at regional level.

Licence Enforcement

Licences granted by the EPA provide for the control and enforcement of specified activities and the protection of all environmental media in one document. The enforcement work of the Office of Environmental Enforcement (OEE) includes the auditing and inspection of licensed sites to assess compliance and environmental performance, the sampling and assessment of emissions and the provision of guidance and information on best practice.

The investigation of complaints and incidents and the direction and supervision of corrective actions account for a significant part of enforcement of licensed sites. Facilities continually showing significant non-compliance with relevant legislation or presenting a serious risk to the environment are targeted for legal action.

Details on all waste and IPPC licenses can be viewed on the licensing section of www.epa.ie.

In 2007:

  • EPA inspectors conducted 131 audits and 900 inspections of licensed IPPC and waste facilities;
  • Compliance meetings were held with senior management at 93 facilities to emphasis the level of non-compliance and the consequence of continued non-compliance;
  • Licensed facilities were monitored 1,097 times for air, water and noise emissions in 2007;
  • 683 non-compliance notices were served in 2007;
  • The main non-compliance issues encountered related to waste management, containment and exceedences of emission limits at facilities;
  • The number of complaints made to the EPA in relation to IPPC facilities and waste facilities numbered 374 and 1,760 respectively;
  • Three IPPC facilities accounted for 38 per cent of all licensed industry complaints. The complaints concerned odours, air quality, noise, water and dust;
  • Over 67 per cent of all waste complaints received related to four facilities. The most common cause of complaint was odour.

Inspections

Table 3 presents a summary of the licence enforcement inspection work conducted by OEE staff during 2007 broken down by category of inspection.

Table 3: OEE Licence Enforcement Inspections 2007

Inspection Type

Number

IPPC enforcement inspections

546

IPPC enforcement audits

78

Waste enforcement inspections

354

Waste enforcement audits

53

IPPC monitoring visits

852

Waste monitoring visits

245

IPPC compliance meetings

52

Waste compliance meetings

41

Environmental Odour Monitoring

During 2007, the EPA conducted extensive odour assessments at EPA licensed landfills. This involved:

  • assessment of landfills by experts specialising in detection and measurement of odour and landfill gas management;
  • increased on-site presence by enforcement personnel to:
    • Undertake odour assessments (using the EPA's standard procedure);
    • Verify odour complaints from residents in the environs of the landfills; and
    • Observe odour management practices on-site.

The results of this work are continuing to inform the enforcement plans for these sites.

Legal Enforcement

Prosecution is one enforcement tool available to the EPA. Others include legal notices to implement specific measures to prevent or remedy pollution. Legal action pursued by the EPA in 2007 included the following:

  • Twelve cases were brought against licensees before the District Courts. Convictions were handed down in 11 of these cases with the Probation Act being applied with the other. Fines and costs of €160,418 were awarded to the EPA. The majority of the charges related to persistent breaches of emission limit values, failure to install infrastructure, providing false and misleading information and failure to submit information or notifying the EPA of incidents as required under licence conditions.
  • Three further detailed criminal investigations were carried out during the year and two files were subsequently submitted to the DPP for consideration of prosecution on indictment. In both instances, the allegations subject of investigation related to control of waste in waste transfer station operations.
  • A Study on the Use of Administrative Sanctions for Environmental Offences in Other Comparable Countries and Assessment of their possible use in Ireland was commenced during the year with a final report due in early 2008.

At the end of December 2007, the EPA had 33 District Court cases on hand.

Legal action taken by the EPA led to commitments by individual licensees of up to €1 million by way of remedial measures such as improving waste water treatment plants and carrying out a range of environmental improvement works on site.

Public Authority Enforcement

Supervision of Local Authorities

The EPA exercises a supervisory role in relation to the environmental protection activities of local authorities.

Forty four audits of local authorities were carried out on wastewater (16) and drinking water (28) treatment plants in 2007. Fifteen audits of local authorities were undertaken to look at implementation of the Local Authority Management System, the EU Recommended Minimum Criteria for Environmental Inspection and the National Complaints Procedure.

Sixty four investigations were carried out on foot of 459 complaints made to the EPA about activities that were the responsibility of local authorities. The majority of these complaints related to either waste management or water management issues with the remainder related mainly to odour, noise and planning. As a result of these investigations, 88 advice and recommendation notices were issued to local authorities.

Seven Directions were issued in relation to waste management and water management issues. These were issued to Wexford County Council, Kerry County Council, Galway City Council, Cork County Council, Donegal County Council, Sligo County Council and Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

Further details of Public Authority Enforcement Activities are available at Table 4.

Table 4: Public Authority Enforcement Activities 2007
Audits

59

Investigations conducted

64

Advice and recommendation notices

88

Proposed Directions served

8

Directions served

7

Environmental Enforcement Network (EEN)

The EPA co-ordinates a National Environmental Enforcement Network. The Network harnesses the collective resources, expertise and investigative capacity available nationally to tackle environmental crime. The Network is well established and brings together over 1,000 staff from over 50 agencies. Members are working across 9 main areas grouped under the themes of Waste, Water, Enforcement Management and Producer Responsibility. Details of Network events are available in Table 5.

Network activities in 2007 include:

  • The launch of a National Complaints Procedure, in conjunction with the publication of the See Something Say Something leaflet to make it easier for members of the public to make environmental complaints;
  • National waste and water conferences and other network events, brought the relevant enforcement authorities together to deal with enforcement issues in an integrated way;
  • A comprehensive review of the Enforcement Network with the focus changing from training and guidance to implementation and audit/inspection;
  • The establishment of new working groups for Cryptosporidium and air/solvents;
  • Implementation of new Drinking Water Regulations and extensive extranet website guidance for local authorities on Cryptosporidium;
  • The launch of the Focus on Waste Enforcement bulletin at National Waste Conference;
  • The development and delivery of a specialised waste enforcement training course;
  • Continuation of waste enforcement concerted actions.
Table 5: Environmental Enforcement Network Activities 2007
Seminars and Workshops (total)

8

Enforcement Management Network

3

Unauthorised Waste Network

1

Producer Responsibility Network (WEEE and Packaging)

3

Solvents Network

1

Conferences (total)

2

National Water Conference

1

National Waste Conference

1

Working Group Meetings (total)

20

Unauthorised Waste

3

Transfrontier Shipment

2

Waste from Electrical or Electronic Equipment

4

Local Authority Management System

2

Environmental Complaints

1

Erne/Blackwater

3

Suir

3

Solvents

2

Total Network Events

30

Other Related Activities
Water Framework Directive meetings

9

EPA/EHS Meetings between EPA and Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service

5

Water Services National Training Group Meetings

7

IMPEL Events

7

Number of inspection plans received from LAs (as per RMCEI)

34

Number of Training Courses delivered

5

Extranet members active

595

Unauthorised Waste Activities

Tackling unauthorised waste activity remains a key priority for the Office of Environmental Enforcement. During 2007, this involved intensive engagement with members of An Garda Síochána and local authorities to ensure that Ireland has an integrated approach to tackling environmental crime. The Office of Environmental Enforcement is also continuing to work with colleagues in Northern Ireland to address cross-border illegal waste issues.

The 24 hour line for illegal dumping was continued throughout 2007. This involved the co-operation of organisations such as local authorities and An Garda Síochána.

A Code of Practice Environmental Risk Assessment for Unregulated Waste Disposal Sites was published and associated training was carried out. The first consolidated report on Local Authority Waste Enforcement activities was also published in 2007.

Investigations into illegal cross border movement of waste were initiated and guidance on the preparation and submission of criminal investigation files to the DPP's office were developed and implemented.

Urban Waste Water

During 2007, the EPA continued to use its supervisory powers over local authorities to drive improvements in the operation and management of waste water treatment plants. The Office of Environmental Enforcement carried out 16 audits of Local Authorities during 2007 to determine the level of compliance with legislation relevant to the management of waste water. As part of the audit process and in follow up inspections to investigate complaints, 37 waste water treatment plants were inspected in 2007.

Drinking Water Quality

In March, 2007, the EPA was granted new powers in the drinking water area under the European Communities (Drinking Water) (No. 2) Regulations, 2007. The EPA is now the supervisory authority for public drinking water supplies. Public water suppliers (sanitary authorities) are required to notify the EPA of breaches of drinking water standards and comply with any directions given by the EPA. Sanitary authorities have similar powers in relation to private water supplies (i.e. group water schemes). The Health Service Executive was also given a statutory role in relation to the protection of human health and must be consulted both by the sanitary authority and the EPA where there is a potential risk to human health arising from a problem with a drinking water supply.

During 2007, the EPA assessed 101 notifications received under the new Regulations and served 22 Directions on sanitary authorities about drinking water issues, including a Direction to Galway City Council in relation to the Cryptosporidium crisis, which occurred in March 2007. The EPA focused its efforts during 2007 on identifying the areas of greatest risk to both the security and safety of drinking water supply in Ireland and the steps that need to be taken to minimise these risks.

Guidance was also developed and issued to local authorities in relation to reporting and dealing with drinking water non-compliances. Ongoing liaison with the Health Service Executive was facilitated and agreed guidance for boil notice criteria was developed. A Remedial Action List of public water supplies that require enforcement action or further improvement was also developed.

The Quality of Drinking Water In Ireland Report for 2005 was published in January 2007 and during 2007 the first report to be prepared under the new Regulations was prepared for publication.

Phosphorus in Surface Waters

The OEE assessed progress with the implementation of the Phosphorus Regulations by the local authorities and a report on the findings was included in the 2006 Water Indicators report that was published by the EPA in October 2007. The main finding of the review was that monitoring data from the 2004 - 2006 period indicated that, in the case of rivers, the water quality at 69.5 per cent of the monitoring stations nationally is compliant with the Phosphorus Regulations.

Environmental Legacy Issues

Ireland, in common with most developed countries, is dealing with environmental legacy issues such as old landfill sites, abandoned mine sites and contaminated land. Progress is been made in relation to these issues but it will take many years before all legacy issues have been dealt with. Below are highlights of work conducted during 2007 to tackle legacy issues.

Risk Assessment - Old Waste Sites

There are approximately 300 old waste sites in Ireland dotted all around the country. These are typically what were known in the past as the 'town dump'. There are also a much smaller number of illegal waste sites, most of which were created between 1998 and 2002 and which mainly contain construction and demolition waste. In April 2007, the EPA published a Code of Practice that provides a framework for the identification of these sites, the assessment of the potential risks associated with them and the identification of the appropriate remedial measures or corrective actions required to minimise risk to the environment and human health.

Following the publication of the Code, the EPA trained local authority staff on its use and application. Local authorities are now implementing the Code and the EPA is overseeing its implementation.

Abandoned Mines Project

In February 2006, the EPA and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Geological Survey of Ireland and Exploration and Mining Division) embarked on a joint project to carry out detailed site investigations at priority historic mine sites, to assess their potential risk to human health and safety and the wider environment and to make recommendations in relation to the future management of these sites. International experts in geostability and risk assessment are advising on the project.

To date over 100 metal and coal mine sites have been investigated and detailed geochemical analysis and geostability assessment have been undertaken. Locations of these sites can be seen in Figure 1. Over 300 mine waste volumes have been calculated, with the sizes ranging from several hundred tonnes to over several million tonnes. Structural stability of over 500 features have been assessed which includes tailings dams, adits, slopes, shafts, mine water bodies and buildings. Detailed sampling protocols have been developed and a draft ranking methodology has been designed. It is expected that this project will be completed in 2008.

Contaminated Land

In 2007, the EPA investigated a complaint concerning heavy metal contamination at South Park, Claddagh, Galway City. The EPA sought a report from Galway City Council on its investigations and requested that it provide a risk assessment and proposals for remedial measures. In April 2007 the EPA considered the risk assessment carried out to be satisfactory and agreed the long-term remedial proposal to cap the northern section of the site with clean soil. In December 2007 the fields were returned to recreational use.

Figure 1: Location of Historic Mine Sites in Ireland Under Investigation