Raw sewage from 36 towns and villages released into waterways
Raw sewage from 36 towns and villages is being released into rivers and onto beaches across the country every day because of poor or non-existent treatment facilities.
That's the equivalent of the human waste of 77,000 people and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it poses an unacceptable risk to public health and the environment.
The agency is critical of Irish Water's efforts at addressing the problem.
"The pace at which Irish Water is fixing the legacy of deficiencies in Ireland's wastewater treatment infrastructure is too slow," it said.
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The EPA's annual Urban Wastewater Treatment report says at the current pace of investment there will still be 13 towns and villages releasing raw sewage into local waterways after 2021.
"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 wastewater treatment by the end of 2021. Irish Water must speed up its delivery of key infrastructure," said Dr Tom Ryan, EPA director of environment enforcement.
Worst offenders among the 36 are Arklow, Cobh and Kilmore Quay which between them account for half the raw sewage released daily.
But in total there are 120 areas the EPA has identified as priorities for improvement works as many that ostensibly have adequate treatment infrastructure are under-performing.
They include 21 large towns and cities, including Dublin and Cork, which between them produce more than half the country's wastewater and which all failed to meet EU standards last year.
Overloaded plants are not large enough or lack sufficiently modern equipment to treat all the wastewater they receive. The Ringsend plant in Dublin, for example, has capacity to cater for 1.64 million people but receives wastewater from 2.3 million during busy periods.
Construction work to extend the plant and provide extra treatment capacity for an additional 400,000 people began last year and is expected to be finished next year but it will be 2025 before further extension works are carried out to bring its capacity up to 2.4 million.
"Completing this project without delay is essential to protect the Lower Liffey Estuary (into which the wastewater is released) and Dublin Bay," the EPA said.
Overflows from the Ringsend plant caused pollution of Merrion Strand and Sandymount beaches over the past year, prompting summer bathing bans in both areas.
Clifden beach in Co Galway was also directly affected by wastewater pollution. Risks for bathers using such waters include stomach upsets, skin rashes and infections of the eye, ear, nose and throat.
In total there were 850 'incidents' involving short-term or one-off discharges of inadequately treated wastewater around the country last year and 244 classified as ongoing or likely to recur.
There were also three fish kills in Cavan, Tullamore and Dublin caused by discharges.
A further 15 treatment facilities around the country are producing poorly treated wastewater that is threatening to destroy local shellfish and 57 are classified as posing a threat to local rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
Irish Water said last year no untreated wastewater would enter waterways after 2021. However, last night it admitted "in some cases, progress has been slower than we would like".
The company has been asked for a comment on the latest EPA findings.