More beaches up to standard but pollution problems persist in Dublin

The Forty Foot, Sandycove, Dublin, which was classified for the first time last year.Photo: Biran Lawless/PA

A beach at Merrion Strand in Dublin has become the first in Ireland to be declassified as a bathing area due to persistent pollution issues.

More beaches met water quality standards for bathing in 2019 but pollution problems persisted in Dublin according to an assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA found 95% met or exceeded the minimum standard for bathing last year, up slightly (1%) on the previous year.

The majority of beaches - 73% or 107 - were classified as ‘excellent’ while 16% or 24 beaches were deemed ‘good’ and a further 6% or nine were found to be ‘sufficient’ when measured against the minimum standard required for bathing.

One beach at Merrion Strand in Dublin, however, has fallen foul of bathing water regulations that came into force in 2014 to become the first beach in Ireland to be declassified and taken off the official bathing water list. It is among five beaches in counties Dublin, Galway and Westmeath to be classified as 'poor', having fallen below the minimum public health standard last year.

Merrion Strand was removed from the list for recording a ‘poor’ quality standard every year for the past five years, having been blighted by persistent pollution problems linked to local wastewater systems and two polluted streams, the Elm Park and Trimleston streams.

Dublin City Council has established a task force and is working with other agencies to address ongoing pollution issues at the beach and across the Great Dublin Bay area. 

A €9.2 million research project, led by University College Dublin, is also investigating sources of water pollution in the area.

Under the bathing water regulations Merrion Strand will not be monitored or assessed by the EPA this year and Dublin City Council will have to demonstrate that significant improvements have been made before the beach can be reclassified for bathing.

“The declassification of Merrion Strand after five years at poor status is disappointing and action must be taken to ensure that no other bathing water is declassified in future,” EPA Director Dr Micheál Lehane said.

The other beaches of ‘poor’ quality included Portrane (the Brook) Beach, Dublin, Ballyloughane Beach, Galway, Clifden Beach, Galway, and Lilliput, Lough Ennell, Westmeath.

Urban wastewater discharges accounted for more than half (54%) of all pollution incidents at beaches around the country last year, the EPA report found.

In total 50 pollution incidents were reported, with three quarters of these incidents occurring in June and August, the wettest months recorded last summer.

The wet weather also contributed to a spike in ‘prior warning’ notices issued, which increased from 30 in 2018 to 129 last year. The notices were erected by local authorities as a precautionary measure to advise bathers that water quality may be affected in the short term by increased rainfall.

Meanwhile three Dublin beaches - the Forty Foot Bathing Place, White Rock Beach and Sandycove Beach were classified for the first time last year and two beaches at Inchydoney East Beach in Cork and Cúas Crom in Kerry will be classified later this year.

Water quality information and details of any incidents affecting bathing waters can be found at www.beaches.ie.

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