Cork City Council Laboratory

The laboratory is sited at the Landfill Site, Kinsale Road, Cork and is staffed by a Chemist and four Technicians.



  1. Drinking Water
    About 450 samples per year are taken from the water supply network. These are tested for an analysis schedule specified by the EU. There are 56 parameters on the analytical list. Some parameters are tested more frequently than others depending on their significance. Each sample is tested for at least faecal and total coliforms: these are bacteria that indicate microbiological contamination of the supply. Five stations are tested around the city, twice a week.

    Overall, the results for the vast majority of samples are excellent but there is a small level of non-compliance that is not a threat to health. All our monitoring data is sent annually to the EPA. In their annual and published report on the public supplies in Ireland they state that the Cork City Council supply is satisfactory.

    The waters at various stages in the production process at the waterworks and the raw waters are tested on a daily basis.

    A monthly monitoring of the river upstream to Ballincollig is undertaken in order to check possible local pollution sources and their impact.

    There are automatic monitors at the waterworks for ammonia, turbidity and chlorine and these monitors require calibration. Ammonia is a parameter in the raw water that indicates contamination and also causes tastes. Turbidity or cloudiness is a simple but important parameter to indicate a breakdown in the treatment process and chlorine is a disinfectant whose presence in very small quantities protects against bacteriological contamination.

    Iron and manganese are metals arising naturally in raw waters that can cause a sediment and staining nuisance in the supply. These metals are monitored weekly in the raw waters to better understand their origins, concentrations and variability with a view to eliminating the problem.

    Complaints are received from members of the public from time to time alleging taste, sediment and sickness and the laboratory responds by sampling and analysis.

    The monitoring time requires the equivalent of 1.5 persons per year.
  2. Ambient Air
    There are six stations around the city testing for smoke and sulphur dioxide. These were designed to assess the impact from coal fire burning. The banning of the sale of coal in 1995 has resulted in smoke levels being reduced to about one third of former levels.

    One station has now been equipped with very costly automatic monitors for a range of parameters to assess the impact from traffic as well as space heating. It monitors for nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, PM10, lead and BTX (benzene, toluene and xylene). The monitor is calibrated with span gases once a fortnight. The results indicate that the air in Cork complies with standards for nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, and lead. The results for PM10 and BTX are not yet fully assessed-a full year's results are needed and the EU standard is not to operate until 2000.

    It also has a small weather station to assess wind direction, speed and thereby the direction of origin of the pollutants. Some further refinement to the weather and PM10 parameters for accuracy purposes may be necessary. A reference method needs to be located close to the PM10 monitor to assess accuracy and to provide a relationship with the automated results. This reference method is manual and time consuming and so was not the original choice.

    Diffusion tubes to give approximate levels for NO2 and benzene have been placed at eight locations. These surveys have shown that the site selected for the automatic monitors is representative.

    The EU limits are set to lower substantially in a new Directive recently issued with a timetable for implementation.

    It is not possible to accurately predict our compliance with these new limits in the years ahead although it is likely that there will be compliance with most of the parameters. Traffic is increasing and is tending to increase pollutants. There is also an increasing power and heating demand generally. On the other hand there is movement towards cleaner fuels such as gas for space heating. There is the creation of ring roads that will reduce the volume of slow-moving traffic in the city centre and the concentrations of pollutants. There will be an increasing proportion of the fleet using catalytic converters that reduces these pollutants.

    Each year the City Council produces a Report on air quality and trends from year to year will become apparent.

    The monitoring requires the equivalent of about 0.75 persons per year.
  3. Effluents
    There are about 85 discharge licences issued allowing discharges to our sewage system and about 15 to waters (rivers and streams). Many of these discharges are small and need infrequent testing. Others such as the breweries are significant and need weekly sampling. There are about 5 discharges that are in receipt of an IPC licence from the EPA. Discharges to the local authority sewer, even when EPA licensed, are still monitored by the local authority as allowed by the Act. Trade discharges will be charged for treatment when the wastewater treatment plant is in operation so that monitoring of the discharges is important for this reason also.

    >One person is engaged in effluent monitoring.
  4. Landfill
    The present landfill at Kinsale Road is set to close in the next few years but it will continue to emit gas and leachate for about 20 years to come on a reducing scale. An EPA licence has been granted that will require increased monitoring. The monitoring regime assesses the effects of the leachate on groundwater and surface waters by a quarterly monitoring of eleven wells, six surface water sites and four leachate sites. Emissions from the gas burner are tested by an outside agency and the supply of gas is automatically monitored. Air quality is monitored in the surrounding area for odours and PM10 by an outside agency. A noise survey is taken annually. Industrial sludges are sampled and sent for toxicity testing. The gas wells on the perimeter of the site are also monitored. Quarterly and annual reports are compiled and sent to the EPA.

    The present and future monitoring regime will require the equivalent of 1.25 person.

    This new monitoring regime will require an extra Technician to be on site in a small laboratory as well as outside agencies for contracting purposes.
  5. Rivers
    The estuary of the River Lee is monitored twice a month at eight sites for organic type pollutants such as BOD, total phosphorous etc. Other smaller rivers such as the Glasheen, Curraheen, Two Pot, Glen and Bride are also monitored at a lesser frequency as are the Lough and the Atlantic Pond. Every three years a Report is made on the quality of water in the Lee estuary and the quality of other streams is available on request.

    The monitoring requirement is about the equivalent of 0.5 person per year.
  6. >
  7. Air Pollution Incidents
    Complaints are received about smells and open burning around the City. Most of the complaints are solved by explaining to the person causing the offence the nature and extent of the problem that they are causing to others. There can be more intractable problems. Sometimes a history of ill feeling has developed between neighbours and counter allegations are made. Some cases require the serving of a notice under the Air Pollution Act.

    The monitoring requirement is about 0.25 person per year.
  8. Water Pollution Incidents
    The most common report of water pollution is that of oil and the oil that is responsible for 99% of the oil pollution is diesel or home heating oil. The spills appear worse than their actual effect on fish or wild life. A very small quantity of diesel will spread to a very large area on water and will refract light to give a rainbow effect. It is a light, non-sticky, oil that is easily dispersed by wind and current, and is degraded quickly.

    It is sometimes impossible to trace the source of these oil spills. The spill will have entered a sewer, travelled along the sewer network, exited into the river, seen and reported. When the pollution investigator arrives, the sewer will often have ceased discharging the oil and in an estuary situation like Cork where floating materials can drift up and down with the tide and wind it is very uncertain which sewer pipe discharged the oil. Even should this be known there is then the problem of tracing the oil up a branching sewer network and trying to lift manholes that can be extremely difficult to lift. The spill will probably have ceased at the source before the trace is successfully made.

    The most successful approach has been to visit likely premises in the locality and to enquire if they have had an oil spill and ask to see the diesel/home heating tank.

    From our experience, one common type of spill occurrence is where the gauge on a heating tank indicates empty but the gauge is faulty and underestimates the quantity in the tank. The owner then decides to order sufficient oil to fill the tank. The oil that is delivered is too much for the tank and overflows until it is noticed.

    Underground tanks or underground pipes can often leak for a considerable time before being noticed and the oil can travel underground for a considerable distance before reaching a stream. In these cases there is no intention to spill oil and it happens to people and reputable institutions not commercially engaged in oil. They are also wasting their own valuable resource. A higher standard is expected from people commercially engaged in oil.

    Another type of water pollution common in Cork derives from incorrect connections of foul water from houses into a storm water system. This can occur when a householder extends by building a new kitchen or toilet or installs a washing machine in a garage. Sometimes the new pipe is inadvertently connected to the storm water system that drains roofs and hard top rather than to the foul system. The discharge then goes directly to the nearest small stream rather than into the main foul sewer. The Glasheen is affected by this type of pollution.

    There can also be overflows of local authority foul sewers due to blockages or pump failures. These can be recognised quickly and remedied. A patrol of the likely problem areas is the required solution.

    The Laboratory welcomes reports of water pollution incidents from the general public. It is not possible to solve all the cases reported and there is particular difficulty in tracing spills up a sewer system. We will always visit the reported site and attempt to find the source. Pinpointing the exact emission pipe would be helpful.
  9. Noise
    This form of pollution nuisance is becoming of increasing concern.

    There is an element of subjectivity as regards noise nuisance. Rock music or motor bike noise can be pleasurable to some but anathema to others.

    A sound meter is available in the laboratory that allows for an objective measurement.

    The W.H.O guideline for a bedroom of 35 dB(A) during night time hours is widely accepted as a criterion. This will soon reduce to 30 dB(A).It is also considered unfair that anyone should be forced to listen to another person's music.

    Noise pollution can come from a variety of sources such as traffic, building sites, industry, refrigeration units, discos, musical pubs etc.

    Conditions relating to noise are often written into planning conditions for the above sources to prevent a problem arising later.

    There is also legislation under the EPA Act that allows for the control of noise by the EPA for IPC licensed industries or the local authority for others. A private individual can also appeal directly and personally to the Courts to stop a noise nuisance.

Other Activities

Swimming pools are monitored on a few occasions each year.

Samples are submitted from Water Inspectors to determine whether an unusual arising of water is from groundwater following rain, leaking water supply or sewer pipe. The presence of fluoride generally indicates leakage from a water supply pipe while liquid from a sewer pipe will have a small level of fluoride and high coliform counts.

Planning applications that might have an air, odour, wastewater or noise emission are referred for advice and the specification of conditions.