17th March

Government fails to protect Ireland's shellfish waters

Shay Fennelly

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has found that Ireland has failed to fulfill its obligations under the Shellfish Waters Directive 79/923. The Directive’s purpose is to protect the quality of shellfish waters designated by Member States as needing improvement or protection in order to support shellfish life and to contribute to the high quality of shellfish products. Clew Bay, Co Mayo. Photo Shay Fennelly

Clew Bay, Co Mayo. Photo Shay Fennelly

The ECJ ruled in June that the Irish Government failed:

  • to designate all shellfish waters requiring designation
  • to set values for potential contaminants which could be injurious to human health
  • to take all the measures necessary to establish pollution reduction measures in designated shellfish waters

 The case followed a complaint from the Irish Shellfish Association (ISA) in  2002 concerning the situation of shellfish waters in Ireland and the government’s lack of action to protect those areas where shellfish are grown from water pollution.

Last December the shellfish sector was alarmed when the Mayo County Council  (MCC) obtained an emergency licence from the EPA to discharge 2,346 tonnes of partially treated leachate contaminated with dangerous substances from Derrinumera landfill into Clew Bay.

In May MCC asked the EPA to review the waster licence for Derrinumera  landfill, Mayo’s main llandfill site. The Council is proposing to build a sludge hub centre and a leachate treatment plant at Derrinumera and a new sewage plant in Newport.

The leachate, which is currently discharged into the Castlebar river, will instead be pumped from Derrinumera after treatment, and join an outfall pipe from a new sewage plant in Newport before being finally discharged into Clew Bay.

These proposals are outlined in two Environmental Impact Statements published by MCC (see more details on www.maycoco.ie) 

One EIS is for the sludge hub and leachate treatment centre, and the other is for a new sewage plant in Newport. MCC applied to An Bord Pleanála for approval for both EIS's on the 15th May.

Speaking to Inshore Ireland, Niall O’Boyle of Coastal Zone Services, and former development manager of the Clew Bay Marine Forum said that in the EIS Mayo County Council states that the leachate was discharged via the Westport waste-water treatment plant “as though it was the norm.

“They did not say that it was licensed by the EPA as an emergency measure, nor that there was considerable opposition from shellfish producers to it at the time, and that they were required to stop, he added,” he added.

O’Boyle added that he had received written assurances from Minister Browne that MCC had been reminded of its responsibilities under the Quality of Shellfish Waters legislation, and was advised to make alternative arrangements in the future.

“From the meeting we had with MCC, they seemed to make it fairly clear that they didn’t have any alternative, that they hadn’t made any alternative arrangement, and that they still thought that they could continue to discharge leachate via Westport again during the estimated 2-4 year construction period of the leachate treatment facility at Derrinumera


The same leachate from Derrinumera landfill has polluted the Castlebar River, a designated salmon river and tributary of the Moy River Special area of Conservation.

From 2000 the leachate from Derrinumera has been transported by trucks at a cost of €500,000 by MCC to the Castlebar sewage treatment plant at Knockthomas and discharged into the river after partial treatment.

According to O’Boyle, the NWRBD advised them that part of their brief was to
protect the water quality in Clew Bay in particular when it relates to native oyster beds.

“Since the proposed discharge is within 200 metres of an oyster bed, is it appropriate for the NWRFB – an agency entrusted with safeguarding Cew Bay’s water quality ― to suggest that leachates be discharged to these waters?”

“What recommendations will the NWRFB make to the EISs to ensure that Clew Bay’s water quality is maintained and that Clew Bay’s oysters remain fit for human consumption? As the objective of the 1979 Quality of Shellfish Water Directive is to protect human health through monitoring waters that support shellfish for human consumption, is it not ‘very short sighted’ to suggest that leachates can be discharged to these waters unless research shows it is safe?”

The Derrinumera EIS published in May 2007 states: ‘The overall biological rating of the stretch of river below the retired outfall has shown general improvements in water quality, as the Q ratings have improved since biological sampling by the EPA began in 1971.’

The 2007 EIS for the Derrinumera sludge hub centre and leachate treatment facility states: ” The treatment of leachate being discharged into Clew Bay will be to an appropriate standard based on limits specified in Irish legislation.”

The EPA has confirmed to Inshore Ireland that currently no environmental quality standards exist for coastal waters but are due to be set in future by the EPA.

The EIS for the Newport sewage scheme concludes that the Newport River and
Clew Bay candidate SAC will not be negatively impacted upon in terms of amenity value. Water quality will be improved as a result of an improved treatment of the wastewater and leachate that is to be discharged to the bay. The impact of the discharge of treated leachate is also considered to be insignificant, subject to the implementation of the mitigation recommendations set out in the EIS.

“We accept that having a waste water treatment plant in Newport will improve the quality of the sewage effluent going into Clew Bay. That’s a given,” says Niall O’Boyle.

“However, leachates from landfill and leachates from the new sludge hub centre are not currently being discharged into Clew Bay.Not only is it incorrect, it is a blatant falsehood, for MCC to specify that their introduction of a new pollution source – which is in fact what
leachate is – will contribute to water quality improvement in Clew Bay. It’s absolutely false, and I can’t emphasize that enough.”

The public have until 4pm on June 29th 2007 to make written submissions and observations to An Bord Pleanála on the EIS for the Derrinumera sludge hub centre, the leachate treatment facility and the EIS for the Newport Waste Water Treatment plant and their likely effects on the environment.

Niall O’Boyle poses a question for the Department of the Marine:

Ireland has had three goes at getting the QSW legislation right from the Directive – in ‘94, 2001 and again, in 2006.

The ’79 Directive specifies, that ‘the measures taken pursuant to this Directive may on no account lead either directly or indirectly to increased pollution of coastal or brackish waters’.

Statutory Instrument 268 replaces ‘on no account’ with ‘the Minister shall, where practicable, take all action to ensure that implementation of a programme will not lead directly or indirectly to increased pollution of coastal or brackish waters.’

It’s the difference between ‘on no account’ and ‘where practicable’ where Irish legislation could find itself in trouble.

To me, the two mean quite different things.

The point is this. Is it going to be practicable to protect the quality of shellfish waters? That’s the question that we have asked of the Minister. If the answer is yes, it is practicable, and on no account will there be increased pollution, then, this proposal shouldn’t really be going ahead.”

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