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Brussels, 19 May 2011

Environment: Commission takes Ireland back to court over septic tanks and asks for a fine

A year and a half after a previous Court ruling, Ireland has still not adopted the necessary measures to ensure that septic tanks go through adequate checks and inspections in order to protect human health and the environment. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is therefore referring Ireland back to the EU Court of Justice and asking the Court to impose a lump-sum fine of €2.7 million and a daily penalty payment of € 26,173.

Under the EU Waste Framework Directive domestic waste water involving septic tanks or other individual waste water treatment must be recovered or disposed of without endangering human health or the environment. In October 2009, the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Ireland had not adopted adequate measures to comply with this requirement. Irish legislation lacks in particular systematic periodic checks and inspections.

Following the Court judgement, Ireland was required to adopt the necessary legislation, which ought to have been in place by April 1993. Despite an earlier warning from the Commission (see IP/10/1582), Ireland is still in the process of preparing these measures. While the Commission has recently seen some positive steps taken, it is not satisfied with the slow pace of progress in complying with the requirements of the ECJ judgment.It is therefore referring Ireland back to the Court and asking for a lump-sum fine of €2.7 million and a daily penalty payment of €26,173 as long as the infringement persists after the second Court ruling. To calculate the level of fine proposed to the Court, the Commission takes into consideration the seriousness of the infringement and the Member State's ability to pay.

Discharges from septic tanks, of which there are more than 400,000 in Ireland, have contributed to micro-biological pollution of groundwater and nutrient pollution of surface waters. Human health is put at risk because pathogens can enter drinking water sources via septic tanks that are poorly designed, located or maintained.

Further information

For current statistics on infringements in general see:

More details on EU waste policy:

See also MEMO/11/312

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