Regulation is a driver for improvement and a cleaner environment

Date released: Nov 16 2009

 The EPA today published its   ‘Focus on Environmental Enforcement in Ireland’ report covering the years 2006 – 2008.  This is the second such report from the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement.  It assesses Ireland’s enforcement of environmental standards and highlights the challenges we face as a country in complying fully with European requirements for air, water and waste.

The Report highlights:

Enforcement Actions: 
The EPA and local authorities carried out over 130,000 inspections leading to 10,000 enforcement actions and 750 prosecutions in 2008.

Waste: 
Odour complaints from waste transfer stations fell by 66% over the three years while odour complaints relating to landfills doubled in the last two years.

Drinking Water:
Following new legislation in 2007, the EPA issued 45 legally binding directions to local authorities to meet drinking water standards.

Water Quality:
The number of seriously polluted river stations decreased by ten - from 39 to 29 in the three year period 2006-2008.

Air and Noise - Local authorities issued 1,200 warning letters following noise and nuisance complaints.

Industry - Complaints associated with large industrial activities regulated by the EPA dropped from over 1,000 in 1998 to over 400 in 2008.
 

“Environmental legislation has increased dramatically in recent years, and it is being matched by a significant level of enforcement activity,”
said Dara Lynott, Director of the Office of Environmental Enforcement.
“This level of regulation is a driver for improvement and a cleaner environment. We have less pollution entering the environment; without regulation we would not have the outcomes we now see.”

The increase in legislation and enforcement activity also drives new approaches to the tasks of monitoring and enforcement.

“We now use risk-based approaches to enforcement,”
Dara Lynott continued.
“This means that we align our resources to where they are needed most. And the statistics in this report show that this approach is working.”

The public play a significant part in highlighting risk according to the EPA and are a vital source of information for regulators. 

“Almost 70,000 complaints came to local authorities last year across the spectrum of environmental issues. This shows the level of public awareness of environmental issues, and a willingness to take action on the environment.”

The EPA’s drive for higher standards and better use of enforcement resources has resulted in Ireland becoming the first EU member state to have comprehensive inspection plans across all local authority areas.

Challenges remain according to Mr. Lynott.

“Ireland’s success in implementing environmental legislation will be defined by how well Ireland responds to the challenge of providing waste, wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. This investment needs to be matched by investment in people to operate and manage these assets.”

 

SYNOPSIS BY AREA LEGISLATED

1 WASTE

Enforcement figures:  Increase in inspections from 35,406 to 46,036 from 2007 to 2008.

Successes:  All municipal waste is now landfilled in lined cells with gas and leachate collection.
Odour complaints from waste transfer stations down 66%.

Challenges:  Odour control at large landfills.
Diversion of biodegradable waste away from landfill to meet EU targets.

Prosecutions:  700 prosecutions for 2008; six prosecutions in relation to landfill  odours.
Prosecutions taken by local authorities grew from over 400 in 2007 to almost 700 in 2008.

The future:  Significant increases needed in separate waste collection / outlets for organic waste.

There have been great steps forward made in relation to waste inspections and these are reflected in the figures. Routine local authority inspections increased from 26,000 in 2007 to 33,000 in 2008. Over the same period, the number of enforcement notices went from 5,618 to 8,151 and this included a rise in warning letters issued from 2,986 to 3,768. Vehicle checkpoints rose from 194 to 252. Overall, these figures show a strong commitment by local authorities in the area of waste management.
 
2 WATER

Enforcement figures:  Increased local authority water inspections from over 54,000 in 2007 to over 73,000 in 2008.

Successes:  Reduction in the number of stations seriously polluted by 10 – from 39 stations to 29 stations.

Challenges:  The licensing and enforcement of all urban waste treatment plants to limit emissions and prevent pollution.  Improving the control of diffuse pollution and on-site wastewater treatment systems serving single houses.

Prosecutions:  An average of 75 prosecutions each year by local authorities relating to water pollution.

The future:  Implementation of the Programme of Measures as set out in the river basin management plans under the water framework directive.

In 2007, the EPA identified 339 drinking water supplies that required remedial action. Since then 83 water supplies have come off the ‘Remedial Action List’ (RAL) and 62 other supplies have been added to the list during 2008. The EPA plans to target supplies on the RAL for further scrutiny over the period 2010-2011in a drive to reduce the number of water supplies with problems. In terms of Wastewater, in 2008 alone over 1,000 discharge to sewer licences were issued, mainly by Dublin City Council, to reduce the amount of fats and grease entering the sewer network. The period of this report saw a reduction in the emissions to water from both the food and pharma-chem sectors. Finally, there has been a slight fall in the number of bathing water areas meeting the EU guide standards, but overall some 90% of bathing areas in Ireland meet these standards with 97% meeting the EU mandatory standards.


3 AIR and NOISE

Enforcement figures:  Over 500 specialist air emission monitoring visits by the EPA were made between 2006 – 2008.

Successes:  Air quality monitoring for Ireland indicates good compliance with current EU and national air quality standards.

Challenges:  Meeting international commitments relating to national air emissions.

Prosecutions:  18 prosecutions taken by EPA with over half relating to odours.

The future:  Improvement in the capacity and quality of air monitoring and abatement.

Overall, the air quality in Ireland is good due to the prevailing winds from the Atlantic Ocean and other factors including the ban on smoky coal, use of natural gas and a high level of control over EPA licensed industrial emissions.
 
Emissions from power stations have fallen in the period 2001-2007. Sulphur oxides (SOx) have dropped by 63%, nitrous oxides (NOx) by 41%, heavy metals by 30% and CO2 by 19%. Overall, Ireland will meet EU emissions ceilings for SOx, ammonia and volatile organic compounds but not for NOx. 
 
In terms of noise, the EPA and local authorities logged a total of 6,299 complaints about noise between 2006 and 2008, 60% of which were recorded in the Dublin metropolitan area. Noise complaints account for 6% of all complaints received by local authorities and between them, the local authorities issued 1,398 notices of enforcement action in relation to noise.
 

4 LARGE INDUSTRY

Enforcement figures:  Risk based enforcement has been implemented across all industrial activities. Over 1,300 EPA inspections were undertaken each year across this entire sector.

Successes:  Complaints received in 2008 relating to large industrial activities were down by ~ 60% on 1998.

Challenges:  The prevention and remediation of land and groundwater contamination.

Prosecutions:  The EPA took 30 prosecutions against IPPC facilities during the period 2006 – 2008.

The future:  Continued improvement in resource use and minimisation of waste.

The EPA has been licensing large industry in Ireland for 15 years now and much of this work is conducted through the auditing and monitoring of 550 ‘Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control’ (IPPC) licences. Complaints relating to large industrial activities have reduced by 60% since 1998.  The pharma-chem sector in particular managed a 59% reduction in emissions since 1995.

The report  is available on the EPA web site or from the EPA’s Publications’ Office, McCumiskey House, Richview, Dublin 14 on 01-2680100.