Just four grants paid but half of septic tanks not working properly
THE environmental watchdog plans to step up septic tank inspections in high-risk areas.
Checks on domestic treatment systems will be increased in Louth, Meath, Cavan, Galway, Clare and Cork amid concerns that tanks are polluting water sources.
And it has emerged that just four grants have been paid out to homeowners seeking financial help to upgrade systems.
While around half of all tanks are not operating properly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the low number of grants paid suggests that most tanks are structurally sound, but require better maintenance, including de-sludging.
The grants have been paid in Longford, Louth, Tipperary and Sligo, figures from the Department of the Environment show. The maximum paid is €4,000.
It is understood that other grant applications are being processed by local authorities.
The EPA said that inspections would be targeted in high-risk areas, which would include places with a large number of tanks installed, and where there were concerns about groundwater being contaminated.
Geological conditions would also be taken into account. For example, a shallow depth of soil means it is easier for effluent to enter groundwater, while a lack of drainage means that waste appears on the surface or enters rivers, posing a risk to public health.
The increase in inspections comes after 1,000 tanks were assessed over the past year by inspectors working on behalf of the EPA.
Not until October will a final analysis be available, but the most recent figures suggest around half of systems fail, generally because they are not properly maintained.
Of the 500 failures, some 170 have been fully repaired.
"The inspections start building a picture and there will be more targeted action in areas where tanks are known to be causing pollution," a spokesperson said.
"Water quality results will inform if septic tanks are causing pollution. If you have a pocket of failed tanks, you have an idea. Septic tanks are more of a health risk than environmental risk."
There are some 500,000 septic tanks across the country, and half of all inspections are carried out in high-risk areas.
This number is expected to increase, especially where drinking water is abstracted or where the pearl mussel is found.
"We are trying to get a handle on the root cause (of failures)," an EPA spokesman said.
"Is it because people aren't aware they have to be de-sludged?
"It's about collecting the information. We didn't know a lot about the system and this allows us to design inspections.
"There was an element of fear of the unknown, but the reception the inspectors are getting is quite positive. In cases, people are actively looking to be inspected."
The EPA also warned of the danger of digging private wells near tanks, saying if the tank was not properly maintained there was a danger of cross-contamination where effluent entered the well.
"People need to understand the risks to themselves and their families," they added.