Fears mount over threat of fish kill

A dead mallard, soaked in oil, which was found in the Blackwater River. Pic courtesy of Six Mile Water Trust. INNT 12-817CON
A dead mallard, soaked in oil, which was found in the Blackwater River. Pic courtesy of Six Mile Water Trust. INNT 12-817CON

Anglers and environmentalists have warned that continuing pollution incidents on two local waterways could cause another major fish kill.

Members of local conservation groups have contacted the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to highlight an ongoing pollution incident in Mallusk, which has seen oil being washed into the Blackwater and Ballymartin rivers over a period of several days.

The polluted culvert in Mallusk. INNT 13-800CON

The polluted culvert in Mallusk. INNT 13-800CON

The current incident has resulted in the death of at least one duck, with the anglers stressing that further detrimental impacts are to be expected.

Major pollution incidents have occurred on the Blackwater, Ballymartin and Six Mile rivers in the past five years, resulting in large fish kills. And anglers fear that it is only a matter of time before another major incident.

Chair of the Six Mile Water Trust, Jim Gregg said: “This incident at Mallusk is an ongoing bone of contention, with constant dribbles of oil, pollution and rubbish coming into the Blackwater River. Following a major fish kill at the river last year, the Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, tasked the NIEA to sort the pollution problem from Mallusk Industrial Estate.

“At a further meeting in October 2015, it was accepted that the best way forward would be to work as a partnership between the NIEA, the Six Mile Water Trust and the angling clubs to try and fix this ongoing problem of pollution. But here we have it six months on and there are masses of oil developing on the waterway. It’s only a matter of time before there’s another serious fish kill, because as far as we are concerned, nothing has been done to rectify the situation at Mallusk.”

He added: “People need to understand that these waterways flow into Lough Neagh, which is our drinking supply. The oil is visual evidence, the dead duck is visual evidence and dead fish are evidence that pollution incidents are ongoing. If they continue, they will have detrimental effects.”

The NIEA has stated that no oil was observed entering the waterways on their last inspection of the site.

A spokesperson from the Department of the Environment said: “NIEA have been aware of oil intermittently present in the Ballymartin River since a report on Thursday, March 3. Inspectors have monitored the situation since that date, placing sorbent materials to trap oil at two booming points where storm drainage enters the river from Mallusk Industrial Estate. This was last done on Sunday, March 20, when no oil was seen entering the river.

“The corpse of a duck was noted on that date, but it was not possible to confirm that contact with oil caused it’s death.”

The spokesperson continued: “Previous work carried out by NIEA in the Mallusk area over a number of years has significantly reduced the overall pollution risk and the total number of significant water pollution incidents. The aim of the current NIEA re-survey of Mallusk Industrial Estate is to find and remove any remaining environmental risks. NIEA staff regularly proactively check waterways in the wider Mallusk area in case there are any as yet undiscovered pollution incidents.”

The spokesperson added: “NIEA has allocated much staff time to this project over the past autumn and winter, with two teams of staff spending a significant portion of their time in Mallusk Industrial Estate.

“The Mallusk work programme includes re-visiting all premises within the estate, carrying out a detailed survey of all processes on each site, checking all drainage on each site and within the estate, and collating an inventory of all material used or stored on each site. This will take some time. Given the range and volume of work being carried out as part of the Mallusk survey it is difficult to be precise about how much longer it will take to complete, but NIEA estimates it is approximately one quarter way through the anticipated total work programme.”

Michael Martin of the Six Mile Water Trust added: “There’s been a string of pollution incidents since 2008 and unless more NIEA staff are recruited, it won’t be resolved.”

Meanwhile, according to Mr Martin, another pollutant is currently running into a culvert linked to the Blackwater in Mallusk.

He added: “This pollutant is coming in on top of an already existing pollution, which was being retained by the interceptor. Now both are running into the Ballymartin river where 1,500 fish were killed last August.

“Mallusk is rapidly becoming a pollution black spot with non stop incidents, despite meetings and assurances by Minister Durkan and NIEA, the situation continues to get worse.”