Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Adjournment Debate

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

5:00 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin South East, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to have an opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment and thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss the issue. He is obviously conscious of the difficulties being created by the waste water treatment plant in Ringsend, which cost €300 million to construct. I am not convinced by claims that the plant has delivered an improvement in water quality around Sandymount and Dublin Bay. Those who walk along the strand, from the Tara Towers up to the Poolbeg Peninsula, will have noted what appears to be a serious rat infestation in the area. I am not keen to bring children to the area and having visited the strand a couple of times over the summer, I decided not to return such was the number of rats. I am not convinced the plant has provided a panacea for the poor quality of water in the area.

An e-mail sent to me recently by residents in the Sandymount area states:

As you will be aware the odour from the sewage plant has been a major imposition on the residents of much of Dublin South East for the past few years. We have taken up this matter with Matt Twomey Assistant City Manager and were assured that the problem would be solved by late November by installing a higher quality of dryers and covers on the sewage tanks. Two weeks ago we wrote to Mr Twomey to ask him if the installation of the dryers was on schedule (we had been told in July that the first of three dryers would be installed in August, another in October and the last in November). The reply received last week informed us that these improvements will now not be in place until some time in 2008. No target date in 2008 was given.

The odour on Friday night last (Oct.12) was the most vile and noxious to date. It was so bad in our area that my wife thought that there was a gas leak! Given the amount of time that the City Council have had to date to fix this problem and the fact that they cannot now even keep to their own remedy schedule we believe that it is now time for the government to intervene.

Before his appointment, the Minister, referring to problems with the plant, called on the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to "conduct its own investigation and reveal who is responsible for this cock-up". I appreciate, therefore, that he understands the gravity of the situation. Around this time last year, the Minister also asked when someone would be held accountable for the problem. It appears no one will be held to account for this engineering and public relations disaster by Dublin City Council, which has affected the quality of life of people living in the area. While water quality may have improved, air quality has been particularly poor in the years since the plant was constructed.

People have given up telephoning Dublin City Council's complaints department because they have had enough and no longer have faith in the council. My office has tried to contact Dublin City Council in recent days but to no avail. Why would a member of the public bother his or her backside to contact the council when public representatives are unable to do so?

The Minister must ensure someone is held to account and made to pay for three years of failed attempts to control the odours emanating from the Ringsend plant. Why could the original contractors not fix the problem? Dublin City Council wants to increase the size of the plant while developing the Poolbeg area. While efforts to address the odour have resulted in some improvement, the problem is not nearly solved and the issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

I appreciate the Minister is precluded from discussing many issues affecting our constituency. Although the odour problem in the Sandymount and Poolbeg areas may not be a burning issue, it is a serious one. I am confident the Minister will deal with it as a matter of urgency.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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I thank Deputy Chris Andrews for raising this matter. I am not precluded from discussing the issue. As the Deputy will be aware, as residents of Ringsend my family and I are personally affected by the smell emanating from the waste water treatment plant in the area. It is completely unacceptable that residents must endure this odour nuisance.

On taking office, I asked for a full report on this issue. The odour incidences at the Ringsend plant centre around an on-site sludge treatment facility and a treatment process. In 2005, Dublin City Council engaged independent consultants CDM of Boston, acknowledged experts in this area, to undertake an extensive technical examination of the processes at the Ringsend plant and to identify all possible sources of odours. Following this examination, a programme of works was commenced by the contractor operating the plant on behalf of the council. Unfortunately, the odour problem has periodically re-emerged and this has been attributed to maintenance procedures and equipment failure in the sludge process.

The first phase of the work programme to deal with odours, which eliminated the potential for odour releases from the thermal hydrolysis plant, was completed in mid-2006. The covering of the primary settlement inlet and outlet channels and the fitting of odour control units to these channels was also completed in 2006. Further works still to be completed include the provision of new enlarged combustion chambers to the sludge dryer units, covering the remaining open primary settlement tanks and the installation of additional odour control units for these tanks.

The three sludge dryers are being fitted with new combustion chambers. It is expected work on the first unit will be completed by the end of 2007. The second should be completed by mid-2008 and the last one by the end of 2008. Work on the 12 primary settlement tanks will be completed, starting in February 2008 and finishing in November 2008.

Some odour emissions originating from the sludge dryers have been exacerbated by the prevailing atmospheric and wind conditions. Where such unfavourable weather conditions are predicted in the short term pending the completion of the odour action programme, the operations contractor has given the council an undertaking that the sludge production operation will be adjusted to avoid the need to use the dryers.

While there has been a gradual improvement, I regret that progress has been punctuated by intermittent problems. Complaints to the council numbered approximately 100 in June 2007. Complaints in July, August and September were considerably reduced to 18, 7 and 26, respectively. There have been 13 complaints to date during October. Many people have given up calling the council. Fed up with the situation, they feel they are not getting action on their complaints.

The Deputy will accept that I am only too well aware of the annoyance and upset of people who cannot enjoy their homes or gardens because of these odours. However, I am satisfied that the council regards the putting in place of a permanent solution as a top priority and is maintaining ongoing contact with local residents' groups. I will tell the city manager again that the council must——

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin South East, Fianna Fail)
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Who is responsible and who will be made accountable?

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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The Minister without interruption.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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It is clear that the council of which the Deputy was a member is responsible. Unlike the Deputy, I live in the area in question and am affected by this issue.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin South East, Fianna Fail)
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Who will be made responsible? The Minister is in a position to make someone responsible and to hold people accountable. He should use his opportunity to do so.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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I am making people accountable.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin South East, Fianna Fail)
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Who is being made accountable?

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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An independent examination of the plant has been undertaken by international consultants. They have identified the problems, remedial measures have been devised and a programme of works to resolve the situation permanently is in progress. It will be approximately one year before all remedial measures are completed, but both the council and the contractor on site are committed to doing everything possible to minimise any odour emissions in the meantime. I assure the Deputy that I will be keeping a close eye on the works' progress and on the ongoing efforts to minimise nuisance to the public. I accept that people in the area are fed up with this issue and action will be taken.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.25 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 23 October 2007.