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Water And Sewage Treatment Plants

Volume 268: debated on Thursday 7 December 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the performance of water and sewage treatment plants in Northern Ireland. [3035]

The Department continually assesses the performance of its water and sewage treatment works. Data about the quality of water produced at its water treatment works is available on the public register. The environment service is preparing formal discharge standards for sewage treatment works for monitoring on a similar public register.

Is the Minister aware that his Department is allowing industrial effluent to be put into the normal sewerage system, which inevitably leads to untreated sewage entering our rivers? Will he give an assurance that no sludge from aluminium or supernatant water is getting back into the drinking water system in Northern Ireland, with the obvious dangers of causing Alzheimer's disease?

The Department's water executive operates approximately 900 sewage treatment facilities in Northern Ireland, ranging from small rural septic tanks to multi-million pound works in urban areas. In that context, in 1994, just 27 pollution incidents out of a total of 2,216 were ascribed to its work—approximately only 1 per cent. Aluminium levels in public water supplies are regulated under the Water Quality (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1994, and the United Kingdom standards in them incorporate those of the European Commission. There is no proven link between aluminium and the incidence of Alzheimer's disease.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the people of Greater Andersonstown in my constituency of West Belfast have had to tolerate the stench of human excreta for the past 20 years and that various Department of the Environment Ministers have made promises and given explanations, all of which have been futile. He will also be aware that the DOE gave planning permission for building the large housing estates and development of the nearby brewery. Will the Secretary of State accept that the DOE and the Northern Ireland Office have been grossly negligent in allowing that problem to continue for so many years?

Will the Minister now give a guarantee that meaningful and urgent action will be taken to deal with the problem so that the thousands of families who live in the area will no longer have to tolerate the stench of human sewage?

I am familiar with the problem, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, of the Upper Falls works, since he brought a deputation to see me on that very matter. He will be pleased to note that the Department has met the senior management of the Bass brewery, who have agreed to reduce the strength of the brewery's discharge by 50 per cent. during the next six months. That should bring the discharge load down to design capacity.

In the longer term, we have now agreed a new route for the sewer to Glenmachan street pumping station and from there to the reconstructed sewage treatment works at Duncrue street. Detailed design work has commenced and I hope that the new sewer will be installed towards the end of the 1996-97 financial year.