Massive oil spillage and pollution ‘red tide’ hits Balbriggan swimming season

by Rose Barrett
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Rose Barrett

Even before the official sea-swimming season kicks off next week, swimmers at Balbriggan are furious at the repeated oil spillage and pollution experienced there in recent weeks.

A massive oil spill spread across Balbriggan Front Strand within the past two weeks and while regular swimmers from Balbriggan Swimming Socks swam there on Saturday last, when they returned on the following day, they found a ‘red tide’ before them.

Red tide is a natural phenomenon, a ‘bloom’ caused by microscopic algae that produce toxins that will kill fish and make shellfish dangerous to eat. The algae bloom often turns the water red and it is advised that humans and dogs do not swim during a red tide.

 From June 1  to September, Fingal County Council will monitor and test the waters along Dublin’s popular swimming spots. 

For Colette Murphy of Swimming Socks club, this does not bode well for the swimming season ahead.  An all-round year swimmer, she claims the council  has let the open sea swimming brigade down – even before they begin their seasonal summer water testing.

“FCC have seriously let us down and we are demanding action now!” she said. “As such, a petition has been commenced on and we are asking people to sign it, and show just how much the area needs the waters in Balbriggan to be clean. Anyone can sign at

“We already have over 1,200 signatures and quite a few comments, giving support to our cause.”

Ms Murphy stated she swam at Balbriggan on Saturday last, but when she and other swimmers returned on Sunday, they were met with a red tide, an absolute no-no for swimmers.

“The council has put ‘booms’ in the water and the whole area looked like there was raw seweage, it was disgusting,” she noted.

Containment booms are used to control the spread of oil to reduce the possibility of polluting shorelines;  Booms also concentrate oil in thicker surface layers, making recovery easier and faster.

Ms Murphy continued: “We would like FCC to install CCTV along the river Bracken to catch illegal oil dumping and in addition, to have oil detection sensors along the river.  FCC must take urgent action against the person/persons responsible for recent oil spills.”

Not only is the Front Strand a popular all-year round swimming spot, but is a widely used resource for families to get exercise, dog walkers and a lovely play area for so many.

“We are calling on the people who use and love this amazing resource on our doorstep to sign this petition to bring about change and an end to oil spills and polluted water. Remember, oil is a carcinogenic substance, a danger to all forms of life and it is unacceptable that no action has been taken to investigate the source of the spills.”

However, Fingal County Council states it does take water pollution very seriously at Balbriggan and all strands and beaches along the Dublin coast.

  “Once we were alerted, council officials from both the Operations and Environment Departments went to investigate what may have been the source of the oil found in the Harbour,” said a spokesperson for FCC.

“There was no immediate indication of the cause but investigations into all potential sources are ongoing and will determine next steps to prevent further incidents. We have, however, ruled out overflows from wastewater pipes/outfalls and there’s no evidence of oil pollution along the river or visible on vegetation along riverbanks or disposal into road gullies.”   Following the recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announcement of an all-season bathing advisory for Front Strand Beach in Balbriggan and the poor-quality bathing water experienced at times last year, officials from Fingal County Council have met with local councillors and several groups of concerned citizens to discuss the issues faced.  

However, Ms Murphy and other swimmers called on the council to commence water quality testing immediately.   “Next Monday, May 29, the first water quality sample of the summer season will be taken. But in view of the evidenced pollution at the weekend, water testing should already be commenced. The substance we can see at the boom is very worrying indeed.”

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