'They've known about Feale failures for four years'

Dónal Nolan

The River Feale tested positive for elevated levels of pesticide MCPA eight times in 2018, including one breach at an unnamed national school in the Listowel Regional Treatment Plant catchment that showed up at apparently four times the legal EU limits.

The 2018 failures were revealed in response to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by anglers on the river - following the persistent failures recorded on the Feale in 2017.

The anglers are concerned at the persistent detections as well as the difficulties they  say they faced in getting answers from State agencies on the current state of pesticide levels in the Feale - the vital public drinking water supply and fishery.

Until now, only data relating to pesticide failures up to and including 2017 on the Feale have been in the public domain.

However, the response to an FOI request made by PRO of the Mountcollins-Brosna Anglers' Association Brendan Danaher to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shown eight separate detected failures for MCPA on the Upper Feale last year, including: Listowel Regional - Dromin Water Treatment Plant on April 24, 2018 with a level of .249 mcg per litre Listowel Regional - Ballybunion on May 28, 2018, with a level of .251 mcg/l Listowel Regional - 'National School' on October 15, 2018, with a level of .401 mcg/l.

Five failures were recorded in treated water at the plant in Abbeyfeale between March and July last. The highest level detected there was .265 mcg/l, recorded on March 6.

The 'national school' reading in Listowel is four times in excess of the legal EU limit for most individual pesticides of 0.1 mcg/l, meanwhile. State policy is of a zero tolerance approach to pesticide contamination.

Small traces are not permitted by EU drinking water laws, and the EPA's Drinking Water Report for Public Supplies in 2017 was emphatic: "Pesticides should not be present in drinking water sources."

A separate FOI request to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has revealed the Department first became aware of persistent levels of MCPA contamination at Abbeyfeale and Listowel in March 2015 - with the placing of the Dromin plant in Listowel on the EPA's Remedial Action List.

The Abbeyfeale plant has until December of this year to achieve compliance, but Mr Danaher queried the timeframe:  "They've known about this for four years," Anglers' Association PRO Brendan Danaher said. "I regard the figures now presented by the EPA as explosive. They confirm five failures of Abbeyfeale and three in Listowel."

"If they are at it for four years, how can they hope to achieve compliance by December in Abbeyfeale?" he asked.

The Abbeyfeale Catchment is one of four priority catchments nationally for 'priority' sampling for MCPA - along with Newcastlewest, Longford Central and Troyswood in Kilkenny.  Sampling is to be carried out on a weekly basis during the height of the spraying season - when MCPA-based herbicide is most widely used to control rushes in  farms and forestry, in April and May. 

The Department of Agriculture chairs the National Pesticides and Drinking Water Action Group, comprised of a number of state agencies, charged with solving the MCPA contamination of drinking water supplies.

The FOI response from the Department revealed that the Group met four times last year. The Department said the trace levels detected on the Feale were 'far below the health-based value recommended by the WHO'.

"The DAFM does not consider the levels of detection as constituting a serious health problem, but note...[they] breach drinking water guidelines," the response stated.