Friday 18 October 2019

Half of septic tanks in Cork have failed inspections: EPA Report

Raw sewage from an overflowing septic tank on open ground
Raw sewage from an overflowing septic tank on open ground

Bill Browne

A report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has revealed that almost half of all household septic tanks across Cork County inspected by officials during 2017 and 2018 were found to be faulty.

The figures, contained within a report given to councillors at this week's September northern area committee meeting, showed that 84 of the 172, (49 per cent) of the septic tanks assessed by county council officials over the period failed inspection. 

The figures for 2019 make for equally uncomfortable reading, showing that half of the 48 tanks assessed in Cork over the first six-months of this year also failed inspection.  

The report has shown that these figures were broadly in line with the national average, according to a review of the 2,371 inspections undertaken by local authorities across the country in 2017 and 2018.

The review, undertaken under the auspices of the National Inspection Plane (NIP) for domestic waster water treatment systems (DWWTS), showed that 48 per cent of these failed inspection because they were not built or maintained properly. 

In a comprehensive report that can be viewed on its website at, the EPA outlined the serious repercussions that a faulty septic tank can have on human health and the environment.

It said studies have found sewage leaks from poorly build and maintained septic tanks have resulted in "frequent occurrences" of harmful bacteria and viruses being discovered in groundwater and household wells.

The report said that this can pose a serious health risk, in particular to vulnerable groups such a young children, pregnant women and the elderly. The report went on to say that poorly treated sewage can also contain excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen, which pose a serious pollution threat to rivers, lakes and coastal waters. 

It said all householders should ensure their DWWTS is properly built and maintained so that their sewage is properly treated to prevent risk to human health, the environment and to comply with legislation.

"As a priority, householders should also ensure there are no leaks or ponding on the ground, there is no sewage going to ditches and streams and wells are tested to ensure that the water is safe to drink," read the report. 

Louis Duffy, director of services with Cork County Council's environment directorate, said the EPA report sought to again highlight the and raise awareness among householders of the dangers posed by faulty waste water treatment systems.

"It is a reminder that septic tanks continue to be a consistent problem where they are inspected both locally and nationally. This problem relates very much to maintenance and people really need to pay more attention to that," said Mr Duffy. 

He said that too much sludge in septic tanks was among one of the most common reasons for failing an inspection, saying that householders should have their tanks de-sludged regularly, at least once every five years.