Concerning | 

Thousands were exposed to lead, chemicals and bugs in drinking water, report warns

Almost 75,000 people were affected by boil-water notices in 37 supplies across 19 counties

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Caroline O'Doherty

Thousands of consumers were exposed to lead, bugs, chemicals and pesticides in their drinking water last year, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report shows.

Almost 75,000 people were affected by boil-water notices in 37 supplies across 19 counties, with two-thirds of them lasting longer than a month.

Meanwhile, one million were supplied from 46 water treatment plants that were in need of urgent upgrade works.

The EPA says overall water quality was high, with 99.5pc of samples meeting standards.

But it says the extent of upgrades required means too many plants are at risk of failing and too many people are left exposed.

“It is good news that our water is safe to drink today, but we cannot say with confidence that it is resilient into the future,” said EPA enforcement director Dr Tom Ryan.

“The EPA remains concerned about the vulnerability of many drinking water supplies.”

During 2020, parasites were found in 18 supplies – cryptosporidium in 10 supplies, giardia in four supplies, and both in four supplies.

Unsafe levels of trihalomethane (THM) were in 35 supplies.

THM, which is linked to cancers and reproductive disorders, forms when chlorine disinfectant binds with organic particles not screened out of the water.

Another 33 supplies had excessive pesticides, mainly MCPA which kill rushes and is also linked to cancers.

The EPA is also concerned that 145,000 households still have lead pipes in their homes, as do an unknown number of older public buildings.

Grants are offered to encourage householders to replace them but the uptake is poor.

The EPA said there was a “continued lack of focus by Irish Water and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on plans to remove lead from supply connections and assessments of the extent of lead pipework in public buildings”.

Concern is also expressed about the length of time some treatment plants were on the ‘remedial action list’.

Of the 46 listed at the end of 2020, 11 had no completion date while others were running beyond their set dates.

One, at Clonmel-Poulavanogue, was on the list since 2008 and was to have been completed by 2020 but now has a timeframe of 2026.

“Irish Water needs to fix the remaining supplies on the remedial action list without further delay,” said Dr Ryan.

“Recent incidents at Gorey and Ballymore Eustace water treatment plants have highlighted the absolute necessity for Irish Water to ensure our public water supplies are properly and effectively operated, and managed, to protect public health.”

The incidents last summer left almost 900,000 exposed to insufficiently disinfected water, with more than 50 falling ill in Co Wexford, some ending up in hospital.

Katherine Walshe, Irish Water’s head of environmental regulation, stressed overall compliance levels were very high and all breaches, except pesticide detections, were falling annually.

“The report is clear, however, that much more remains to be done to secure water supplies into the future,” she said.

Irish Water yesterday published the first of four regional 25-year plans to completely revamp drinking water supplies nationally.

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