Unlicensed sewage contractors threaten legitimate operators

An investigation carried out by reporters Frances Watkins and Federica Montella found that a number of agricultural contractors in Limerick do not hold the legal permits required for the disposal of sewage waste.

The investigation confirmed that some of the  contractors contacted via phone could not provide proof of their legal permit when asked. As a result, these contractors were offering much lower prices than ­­the average prices given by licensed contractors.

A farmer and agricultural contractor from County Limerick, Adam*, has said that there is a huge issue within the agricultural industry of contractors not having the legal permits for waste disposal, which also shines a light on the ongoing issue of illegal dumping.

Adam states that some farmers do not hold the permits needed to work in the waste disposal industry and that this is affecting other contractors:

“They are able to offer much lower prices than those with licenses because they don’t have to pay for the license. They are offering such low prices, so people like me can’t compete with them. They are putting honest people like me out of business. That is what frustrates me the most. That and the damage it is doing to the environment”.

Last year nearly three thousand tonnes of illegally dumped waste was removed from urban and rural areas In Ireland, The Irish Times reported. This year, a fund of €2 million will be made available to voluntary organisations and local authorities as part of the Government’s anti-illegal dumping initiative.

Another contractor from County Limerick, Robert*, says that a lot of farmers and contractors are aware of the issue. “We see it all the time. We all the know the people who don’t have licenses and I see them driving around with their septic tanks with the hoses on it all the time. There is always people dumping the slurry in fields and on the side of the roads too. I see that kind of thing on a weekly basis”.

Limerick City and County Council (LCCC) is aware of a number of illegal contractors operating across the county: “They are on our radar at present. Council staff monitor ‘small ads’ in the media for septic tank cleaning with a view to establishing if the advertiser is appropriately licensed”, a spokesperson said.

LCCC urges all septic tank owners to only contact properly licensed operators when emptying their tanks, and to always be mindful of the harm slurry can do to the environment if it is not disposed of in a correct manner.

The Waste Collection Permits are issued by the National Waste Collection Permit Office (NWCPO) which has been operated by Offaly County Council since 2012. This office then reports all registrations that have been reviewed, revoked and expired to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The fees range from €1,000 up to a maximum charge of €5,000, depending on the type of permit the contractor is applying for, according to the NWCPO Waste Collection Permit Application Form.

All waste from private and residential properties must be emptied and treated at the Limerick Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) on the Dock Road, Limerick City.

This plant is operated by Severn Trent Responses Ltd. on behalf of Limerick City and County Council. This plant is designed to treat water from Limerick City and the surrounding areas as well as treating imported sludge from other waste disposal methods.

Once the water and sludge is treated there it is then disposed in to the Shannon Estuary. The system operating at the plant is a safe and environmentally appropriate way of disposing the waste without having a negative effect on the receiving water, as stated in a 2013 report by Limerick City and County Council, and submitted to the EPA.

In order to use the WWTP, individual contractors and companies must hold a permit. Therefore, contractors who do not hold permits cannot access the WWTP and, as a result, must be disposing of waste illegally and unethically.

As well as the permit, an application form must also be submitted to Severn Trent Responses Ltd. This application is issued by Limerick City and County Council and must include details of insurance, a copy of their Health and Safety Code of Practice for Contractors and a copy of waste licenses held by the applicants.

Despite this, Robert states that when he has addressed his complaints to the Council, they replied saying that they were not to blame for these illegal activities and that they did not have time to investigate the matter.

“I rang the council numerous times to complain, the last time being two years ago, I just gave up after that. They said that they did not have the money to deal with the issue. Then they wanted me to do their work for them, they wanted me to ring them with all the details of people who were operating without licenses. That’s not my job and I don’t have time for that. It’s a joke” Robert said about his dealings with the council.

In June 2013, a complaint was lodged to the WWTP stating that someone was spreading sewage unlawfully on agricultural land. Adam and Robert state that this is still a very prevalent issue in agricultural contracting today.

In 2017 the EPA published the results of research which provide data and evidence on the scale of microplastic pollution in Irish freshwaters. Urban wastewater treatment plants were identified as one of the largest point sources of microplastics, which are plastic particles less than 5mm in diameter.

It was found that landspreading of these sludges on agricultural land poses risks to terrestrial ecosystems and potentially further risks to freshwater systems.

In a recent statement, a spokesperson from Limerick City and County Council states that they respond to reports of observations from members of the public about illegal operators, and they also stressed that it is illegal to spread slurry in the Limerick region between 15th October and 15th January every year, so they encourage to report any sighting of a tractor with a slurry tanker on the move between these dates.


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