The discovery of superbug enzymes in our bathing seawater is a seriously concerning development but one that is hardly surprising. The paths of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and poor sewage treatment facilities in many parts of the Ireland were inevitably going to meet sooner or later.
The question now is will the discovery of these superbugs speed up the delivery of planned waste water treatment or must a more serious incident occur before action is taken?
Antibiotic-resistance has long worried scientists. Decades of antibiotic use and abuse has seen a new breed of pathogenic bacteria emerge against which our best medicines have been slowly but surely rendered useless. The risks around many everyday illnesses and routine medical procedures are hugely increased without the use of antibiotics and the graveness of the situation is difficult to underestimate.
The recent findings by a team of medical researchers, led by Prof Martin Cormican of NUI Galway, of the virulent NDM superbug enzyme in bathing waters is the first time a superbug has been found on a European beach and its appearance has been linked to the outflow of raw sewage. The researchers believe there is a high risk that superbugs could be found wherever raw sewage is pumped into coastal waters and this could be a large number of locations.
Last years EPA report on Urban Waste Water Treatment found that 29 large towns and cities failed to meet mandatory EU waste water treatment standards and that 43 areas around the country still discharge raw sewage into the sea. The report also highlighted that Ireland has fallen more than two years behind the final EU deadline for the provision of waste water treatment in many locations.
The superbug problem is a massive global issue that will take some inventive minds to grapple with and solve. Ireland’s sewage infrastructure, on the otherhand, needs increased capital investment and the delivery of planned treatment. We’ve slipped years behind on our mandatory EU waste water treatment obligations and now superbugs are turning up in our bathing water. These aren’t difficult dots to connect and this is not a difficult problem to fix.