More than half of the potting soil in Ireland’s homes and businesses comes from recycled plant potting soils, a recent study found.
But in an effort to combat the toxic impact of these recycled potting materials, the Irish Water Agency has commissioned an analysis of the impact of the soil and what might be done about it.
The study has been commissioned by Irish Water and will be published next month.
“We want to find out if there is a risk to drinking water in the community from these recycled plants,” said Irish Water general manager of environmental health and environment, Dr. Clare McCutcheon.
“This will help inform the work of the National Environment Agency to decide if there should be a national action plan for reusing recycled plant soil.”
Water is the only liquid that can be used in recycled plant soils, but it is not always easy to find recycled plant waste in the country’s potting areas.
“A lot of it is found in urban areas where there is no landfill,” said McCutcheons co-author, Dr Jennifer McGowan.
“In those circumstances, we would be interested to know what the level of water that is actually being used from that recycled plant is.”
The report, commissioned by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), is based on a detailed analysis of three years of water quality data collected from Dublin, Cork and Galway.
The data is collected every five years, and will show the level and extent of wastewater and pollution in each area.
“Our aim was to look at the impact on drinking water and the level it has to have in order to provide drinking water for communities,” said McGowan, who is also the director of the EcoHealth Institute at the University of Limerick.
“There was a lot of data, but the amount of it we didn’t really have to analyse.”
The study found that, in each year, between 8.6 and 15 per cent of water in Dublin and Galápagos was not usable.
“The level of contaminants in the water we were collecting was pretty high,” said Dr McGowan of the levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, lead-based salts, fluoride and nitrates in the Irish water that was collected.
“They are all in the level that’s associated with the level where drinking water quality is in danger.”
A water quality indicator is a number between 0 and 100, with 100 representing an acceptable level.
“At 100, we could say we have a good situation, but we are also very concerned about the water quality of the surrounding areas,” she said.
“So in that sense, we had to look to the level in order for the water to be safe for the people in that area.”
Water quality is measured using the Water Quality Index (WQI), which measures a water quality index of 0 to 100 based on the amount and type of contaminants.
“I would say that our WQI of 75 is the highest level that we are currently at, but that’s not a good reflection of the quality of water we are getting,” said Professor Stephen McNulty, the director for the Ecohealth Institute at Limerick University.
McNulty said that the level was not a reliable indicator of the level water quality in the area.
The average water quality was only 10.8 per cent, which was higher than the average for the entire country.
“It is definitely concerning that it’s not higher, and that’s because we don’t have the data to tell us if it is, and we are not even able to test it,” he said.
McCallaghan said the issue of water contamination in Irish communities is becoming increasingly important.
“If we do not address this, we will have a situation where there will be people drinking contaminated water, because we will not be able to provide that water for the community,” he explained.
The report will look at what steps could be taken to ensure that the water from recycled potts is safe to drink and use.
“What we are really interested in doing is understanding what the water that’s being used is, what the chemical makeup of it, and how it is being treated to ensure there are no negative effects on human health,” said McNulty.
The Irish Water agency is also considering a proposal to create a dedicated department for the reusing of recycled plant material.
This would be similar to the Water Strategy, which the government set up last year, and would look at how to reduce the environmental impact of recycling.
“Reusing is a very powerful tool,” said McFutton.
“But the question we really want to ask is, ‘How do we ensure that it is sustainable?”
McCallahan said that there is already a system in place for the management of recycled waste in Ireland, but there is still much work to do.”
Hopefully, we can get there,” she added.