Dirty tap water puts million at risk, says watchdog
By Paul Melia
Saturday April 25 2009
ONE in four of the population’s tap water comes from “risky” treatment plants which require urgent upgrading, it emerged last night.
The Irish Independent has learned that 1.1 million people are drinking water which may not have been properly treated to remove e-coli and cryptosporidium or which contains levels of cancer-causing agents above safe guidelines.
Almost 250,000 people are at risk in Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Kilkenny and Cork City, with tens of thousands more in major towns.
The Environmental Protection Agency has revealed that towns with populations over of 10,000 people including Tullamore, Nenagh, Arklow, Carlow, Shannon/Sixmilebridge, Clonakilty, Ennis and Letterkenny have sub-standard plants servicing them.
The environment watchdog said that 320 water treatment plants were on a ‘remedial action list’ and were an “accident waiting to happen”. The plants require urgent works to be carried out to protect public health, but there could be more risky plants yet to be identified.
The 320 plants supply water to 1.1 million people — almost a quarter of the country’s population. E-coli — an indicator that faeces has entered the water supply — was found in 0.55pc of treatment plants last year. In the England and Wales, it was in 0.02pc of plants.
Among the issues identified in the 320 plants were elevated levels of cancer-causing bromate, excessive amounts of aluminium indicating over-use of the chemical in the treatment process and nitrates from farms above the standard allowed in drinking water.
Plants were failing to remove E.coli and treat cryptosporidium — indicating that faeces has entered the system — and in some cases there was no disinfection of the water.
EPA spokesman Ger O’Leary said: “We’re not going to solve this problem overnight… of the 320 plants, about 20pc will close, 60pc will be upgraded and 20pc need to improve operations.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that basic improvements including installing chlorine alarms — which detect if water is not being properly treated — could cost as little as €10,000.
Many of the treatment plants are unmanned, and the alarms would sent text messages to personnel in the event of a problem. The EPA plans to audit 100 of the 952 public water supply schemes this year.
Yesterday the Local Authority Professional Officers branch of SIPTU said it was “extremely concerned” that the public sector employment embargo was compromising the provision of safe drinking water.
The union said that temporary engineers were being let go, which would lead to an increased risk to public health.