Environment: Commission Asks Ireland to Comply with Court Ruling on Septic Tanks

The European Commission is urging Ireland to comply with a 2009 European Court of Justice ruling on septic tanks. The Commission is concerned that a year after the Court ruling, no legal measures have been adopted to ensure that septic tanks are subject to adequate checks and inspections to protect human health and the environment.

If Ireland fails to act, the Commission could refer the case back to the Court and request financial penalties.

In October 2009, the European Court of Justice ruled that Ireland was failing to comply with the EU Waste Framework Directive 2006/12/EC (except in County Cavan). The case concerned domestic waste water disposed of in the countryside through septic tanks and other individual waste water treatment systems. EU law stipulates that the necessary measures must be taken to ensure that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health, and without using processes or methods which could harm the environment.

Discharges from septic tanks, of which there are over 400,000 in Ireland, have contributed to the micro-biological pollution of groundwater and nutrient pollution of surface waters. Human health is at risk because pathogens can enter drinking water sources via septic tanks that are poorly designed or badly maintained, and Irish legislation still lacks provisions for systematic periodic checks and inspections. As Ireland is still in the process of preparing new measures, the Commission is urging the country to comply with the court ruling of 2009.

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