Repeated delays in the elimination of raw sewage are unacceptable and pose a risk to our environment and public health.

Date released: November 13, 2019

  • Waste water treatment at 21 of Ireland’s 169 large towns and cities did not meet national and European standards set to protect the environment. This is down from 28 the previous year.
  • Sewage from the equivalent of 77,000 people in 36 towns and villages is released into the environment every day without treatment. 
  • The pace of improvements needed to protect our environment and public health is too slow. Raw sewage discharges will continue past 2021 in 13 locations.

The EPA report on Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2018, released today, shows there have been some improvements in waste water treatment in the past year, including the elimination of discharges of raw sewage from two areas. However, the pace at which Irish Water is fixing the legacy of deficiencies in Ireland’s waste water treatment infrastructure is too slow, and many areas continue to release inadequately treated waste water into the environment. Raw sewage from 36 towns and villages is still released into our coastal waters and rivers today.

Commenting on the report Dr Tom Ryan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“Inadequately treated waste water can pollute our environment and is a risk to people’s health. We are seeing repeated delays in providing treatment for many areas and it is not acceptable that 13 towns and villages will still have no waste water treatment by the end of 2021.  Irish Water must speed up its delivery of key infrastructure.”

Mr Andy Fanning, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement commented that,

“The underlying problem in many cases is a lack of adequate treatment infrastructure.  This is a legacy issue which must be solved by investment in new treatment systems.  However, some towns that already have the necessary treatment in place did not perform as well as they should.  We require Irish Water to continue to improve how it operates and maintains waste water treatment systems to get the best performance from them”.

The report is now available on the EPA Website.

Further information: Niamh Hatchell / Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or

Environmental priorities

Waste water is one of the main threats to water quality in Ireland.  The EPA priorities where Irish Water should target its resources to bring improvements in treatment where they are most needed are:

  • 57 areas where waste water is the sole environmental threat to rivers, lakes and coastal waters at risk of pollution.  The EPA is monitoring 14 of these areas following recent improvements to determine if the risk of pollution is now resolved.
  • 15 areas where improvements are needed to protect critically endangered freshwater pearl mussels or to safeguard shellfish habitats.  This includes 10 towns and villages in Co. Cork located near pearl mussel populations.
  • 21 large towns and cities, including Dublin and Cork, where waste water treatment did not meet mandatory EU standards.  This is down from 28 in 2017.  In March 2019 the Court of Justice of the European Union declared that Ireland has failed to fulfil its obligations to collect and treat waste water properly.
  • 36 towns and villages releasing raw sewage into the environment.  Half of the raw sewage comes from just three areas, Arklow, Cobh and Kilmore Quay.
  • 3 beaches where waste water contributed to poor quality bathing waters.  The beaches are Merrion Strand and Sandymount Strand in Dublin, and Clifden Beach in Galway.
  • 8 large urban areas where waste water collection systems (sewers) were inadequate.  When a collection system is inadequate it cannot retain all waste water and convey it for treatment. 

Irish Water must also carry out significant work to improve information on the condition and performance of public sewers across the country to help focus upgrade works where they are most needed.

A map of Ireland showing the 21 large towns and cities that failed to meet wastewater treatment standards in 2018  

21 large towns and cities that failed to meet waste water treatment standards in 2018.

 A map of Ireland showing 36 towns and villages where raw sewage is released into the environment every day.
36 towns and villages where raw sewage is released into the environment every day.