by Lisa Gregg
CONCERNS have been raised over a number of possible pollution incidents which have occurred in the Tow River over recent months.
A number of concerned residents contacted The Chronicle following the latest incident, distressed about the safety of the ducks who swim on the river and the affect the dirty water might have on any dogs that take a dip in the water.
Although DAERA say their inspectors continue to investigate possible causes, they have “no reason to believe” that any of the incidents have been deliberately caused.
One caller told this paper he had reported a number of pollution incidents via the pollution hotline, but explained that as the river is culverted to a stream at the end of the playing fields, the smell can quite often have disappeared before an inspector can get out to have a look.
The caller added: “It seems to be occurring more frequently now in the last few months and the frequency would suggest to me that the pollution is not accidental at all. More recently it has been happening every couple of weeks. There was a spell where it had stopped, there was no oil like substance in the water and no smell, then all of a sudden it's back.”
Although the caller said the horrific smell lasts for a “fairly brief” time frame, it is putrid and would put tourists off returning to the area if they smelt it.
He said: “I don't doubt that Northern Ireland Environment Agency are doing their very best, but it's of general concern in the wider Ballycastle area. Anyone I have been speaking to recently, from walkers to anglers, have brought up the subject of pollution in the river. And it is of great concern to those whose animals take a dip in the river. It may not be causing them harm, but the smell will certainly stay with them a while!”
A second member of the public suggested that the person(s) behind the polluting “may not be aware” of what they're doing. Speaking to this paper on Friday, the caller said they had came past the river about an hour previously and was “almost sick” at the noxious smell.
They added: “I walk this area quite regularly and for a while it was pleasant. But more recently the smell has returned and is absolutely stinking.”
Both callers confirmed that they had reported the smell and oil like substance to the NIEA via the pollution hotline, with one caller saying they had reported it more than once and knew that a number of anglers had also reported incidents.
The caller concluded: “What should be a nice walk for both locals and tourists alike can just change to something so bad in minutes. I can't describe how horrific the smell is. A number of years ago there was an issue with rats around the Tow River, which can only be expected really in an environment such as that, but there really is no excuse for pollution in our rivers.”
The Chronicle contacted DAERA, where a spokesperson said: “Within the last two years, NIEA has received 14 reports, through the pollution hotline, of possible pollution on the Tow River. Five of these have been substantiated, of which four related to oil pollution.
“Three of the oil pollution incidents have been classified as “low severity” and one as “medium severity”. NIEA Water Quality Inspectors have investigated all of the incidents to date, but, have been, as yet, unable to identify the source or sources of the oil. At the moment, although we have no reason to believe that any of these incidents has been deliberately caused, our Inspectors continue to investigate all possibilities.
“Whilst our investigations are ongoing, we would encourage the public to report all such occurrences to the pollution hotline, at 0800 80 70 60, promptly, to give us the best possible opportunity to trace the source and resolve the problem.
“It is not usual NIEA policy to prosecute anyone found responsible for “low severity” pollution incidents, we would normally look to remediate the problem in the first instance; however, prosecution can be considered for “medium” and “high severity” incidents, particularly if the pollution is found to have been deliberate.”