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Septic tank inspections to begin within weeks

Inspectors from the Environmental Protection Agency will be calling to homes across the country within weeks to assess the condition of Ireland’s septic tanks.

Almost 90 per cent of households served by private on-site sewage treatment systems have now registered their tanks with their local authorities.

The introduction of the national inspection programme stops the clock on fines from the EU for failing to comply with a European Court of Justice ruling in relation to the protection of drinking water sources.

Ireland had been prosecuted and fined for its failure to maintain a register of individual domestic waste-water treatment systems and also for its failure to monitor performance and discharges from such systems.

Risk to health

The Government has reached a settlement with the European authorities to pay €2,648,000.

Inspections will initially concentrate on areas where waste water discharges present a high risk to health or the environment. Homeowners will be notified by their local council at least 10 days before an inspection.

Inspectors will check that septic tanks are registered; are not leaking; that system components are in working order; effluent is not ponding on the surface of the ground; the system is not discharging directly to surface water without a licence; rainwater and clean surface water are not entering the system; the system is being properly operated and maintained; and that the system has been de-sludged.

Those who registered their tank by the deadline of February 1st last will be eligible for grant aid if they fail the inspection.

‘Nothing to fear’

The maximum grant available will be €4,000, or 80 per cent of the cost, for households with income of up to €50,000. For households with income of between €50,000 and €75,000, the maximum grant will be €2,500, or 50 per cent of the cost.

According to the 2011 census there were 497,281 septic tanks and to date 445,934 have been registered. In tandem with the inspections, local authorities will be contacting those who have not registered and instructing them to do so. There are no fines for late registration, but those registering since February 1st will not be eligible for grants.

Households had “nothing to fear” from inspections if their systems were operating correctly, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said.

“The principal and immediate beneficiaries of the inspection system will be the householders, their families and their neighbours as it will address the risk to public health and the environment caused by malfunctioning systems,” he added.