Industrial discharge is the suspected cause of more than 10% of serious river water pollution recorded by the EPA between 2004-2006, but less than 1% of moderate and slight pollution. Although industrial pollution is not as widespread as diffuse sources, when it does occur it tends to be more highly concentrated and more toxic, with serious effects on the receiving waters. Many environmental problems related to industry are sector specific. According to the EPA Millennium Report, “… the bulk of industrial waste water produced in Ireland consists of readily biodegradable organic matter arising from food processing, brewing, textile manufacture and the pharmaceuticals and ‘fine chemicals’ sectors” (fine chemicals are chemical compounds made in relatively small amounts and in a comparatively pure state). However, in addition to this organic material, effluent from certain industrial facilities in the country also contains other contaminants, including synthetic organic substances such as solvents, and chlorinated hydrocarbons and inorganic substances such as heavy metals, inorganic salts and cyanides.

Industrial wastewater is discharged either to municipal sewerage systems, to ground percolation areas or directly into surface waters. Such discharges are regulated either by trade effluent discharge licences from the Local Authorities or, in the case of “certain large scale or complex industrial processes with significant polluting potential”, by EPA Integrated Pollution Prevention Control (IPPC) licences. In 2000, two thirds of the direct discharges to fresh waters originated from non-IPPC licensed industries.

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Despite the fact that bigger industries are now regulated by licensing from the EPA, the fact remains that large industrial facilities still present significant major accident hazards to the environment and the local community, either through accidental or deliberately unlawful releases of pollutants. Proper licence enforcement is the key to protecting the environment from such industrial contamination. To do so, both the EPA and local authorities need significant resources for monitoring, inspections and, where necessary, infringement proceedings. Local authorities in particular are inadequately resourced in this area.

According to the European Environment Agency, “A primary obstacle to the implementation of tighter environmental policy measures is the fear of reduced international competitiveness in pollution-intensive sectors.” Similar concerns have been voiced in this country with regard to the role of economic and political factors in decisions regarding industrial pollution control.