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illness risk Thousands of people have been drinking water contaminated with E.coli

There is no information as to whether the water from these supplies was safe to drink,” the EPA said.

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Thousands of people have been drinking water from rural supplies contaminated with E.coli, latest inspection results show.

Many more may also be at risk of illness as the supplies they use in workplaces, care settings, schools and holiday accommodation have not been regularly inspected.

In some cases, officials believe, supplies are not even formally registered and may never be independently inspected.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the findings were of “significant concern” and were putting people’s health at risk.

The EPA’s annual report on private drinking water supplies shows 20 out of 380 group water schemes inspected were contaminated with E.coli bacteria in 2020.

Just under 3,000 people were served by those affected schemes, mainly in the west of the country and particularly in counties Galway and Mayo.

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E.coli bacteria

E.coli bacteria

E.coli bacteria


E.coli can cause serious stomach problems with severe vomiting and diarrhoea that can be dangerous, especially for children, older people and the medically vulnerable.

Its presence in water sources is usually caused by animal faeces from farm livestock.

Testing also showed 22 of the 380 group schemes breached limits for THMs, a chemical classified as possibly cancer-causing that is created when there is a lot of rotting vegetation in the water source.

A further 49 out of 1,225 “small private supplies” were contaminated with E.coli but the number of people exposed to potential illness from them is not known.

Small private supplies are usually wells that serve individual businesses, hotels, schools, nursing homes, crèches and other premises not connected to the water mains.

Contamination could be more widespread as 480 other small private supplies were not inspected and the EPA said there could be “many more” not registered with their local authority for inspection.

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“There is no information as to whether the water from these supplies was safe to drink,” the EPA said.

At least 200,000 people get their water from private supplies in Ireland, not including householders who have their own private well for single home use.

The inspection regime does not reach all of the group schemes as only those serving 50 or more people are independently monitored by local authorities.

Dr Tom Ryan, EPA director of environmental enforcement, reminded scheme managers and local authorities of their responsibilities and urged them to address the issues highlighted in the report.

“Consumers should expect, as a minimum, that their water is safe to drink,” he said.

“Compliance with the E.coli standard is not as good as it should be.

“It is essential that works to improve water quality are carried out as soon as possible to eliminate the serious risks to people’s health.

“Water suppliers are obliged to make sure drinking water is clean and wholesome for consumers.”

The EPA noted that the Government was carrying out a review on funding and supports for water services in rural areas and said it should be finalised and acted upon as soon as possible.

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