Vandalism at wastewater treatment plants could lead to environmental disasters, warns NI Water

Government-owned Northern Ireland Water (NI) has warned that the continuance of vandalism at wastewater treatment plants could lead to a major environmental disaster.

Citing the repeated attacks on a wastewater treatment plant in the County Down village of Annsborough, NI expressed fear that causing damage to equipment could hamper the treatment processes, thereby leading to pollution incidents.

The County Down plant, which treats raw sewage from nearly 2,100 properties in the Castlewellan and Annsborough areas, has been attacked about 24 times in the last 12 months.

In the last such attack on 13 January 2013, the plant's control panels, computers and other equipment were damaged.

NI Water head of wastewater Alec McQuillan commented that the attacks on the plant have incurred huge expenses and caused heavy disruption to works.

"Almost £100,000 has been spent repairing damaged equipment, introducing increased security and installing new equipment at the site," McQuillan added.

"That expense creates a drain on limited resources, and means that other priority improvements to our services cannot be delivered. However, what worries us more is the potential for a major pollution incident to occur as a result of the damage being caused."

NI said that it accords high priority to environmental protection of the County Down area, in view of its reputation for its beautyiful waterways and coastline.

"It is for this reason that we are particularly concerned about the potential that these attacks have to cause a significant incident," said McQuillan.

The company also said it is taking the assistance of Police Service of Northern Ireland alongside increasing staffing levels at the plant in order to counter the potential attacks.