Irish Water’s consultation on selecting sludge hubs

Irish Water Uisce Γ‰ireann has just finished a public consultation on what has the unattractive title of “Site Selection Methodology Report for Sludge Hub Centres”. Seriously not a title that is likely to attract public interest. Parts of it are equally dry to wade through to the extent that even I, with a background in this area, found the going tough.

That old maxim that matter cannot be destroyed but is converted from one form into another was never truer than for wastewater. The byproduct from sewage or any other form of wastewater treatment is sludge. Managing that sludge is the least spoken about part of wastewater treatment.

Sludge from municipal wastewater is organic and, as long as one is careful about what goes into the sewer, can be reasonably clean. In Ireland we haven’t developed many options for how to deal with it. Being nutrient-rich, sludge from urban centres is generally reused as a fertiliser in agriculture (with a whole dose of quality control measures attached). Sludge from chemical-based industries wouldn’t be an equally nice product and is usually either sent to landfill or burned.
Before being used in agriculture, sludge must be treated to pasteurisation standard so it is guaranteed to be disease-free. This involves expensive capital works and so treatment is most financially viable in big centres or “sludge hubs”.

Irish Water proposes to centralise treatment of all municipal sludge arising in Counties Cork and Kerry in one (or maybe two) sludge hubs. The three locations being evaluated to perform as these sludge hubs are 1) Carrigrennan (Little Island), 2) Tralee and (yes, you guessed it!) 3) Shanbally. The consultation wasn’t about this approach or about where the sludge hubs might be but rather about what factors each of these three locations might be evaluated against to see which was best. I call that public consultation Irish-style and am sick to the teeth of it. Where is the environmental logic in transporting sludge from places like Castletownbere to here??? This brings the concept of centralisation to a whole new level.

My submission to the consultation is here …