EPA raises concern about health threat from private water supplies
Agency says 88 small private supplies failed to meet E coli bacteria standards
The EPA also said an unacceptable number of sources of water continue to be unmonitored. Photograph: Ian Waldie/Bloomberg
Too many private water supplies are threatening the health of thousands of people because of the level of contamination being found in supplies, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
It also said an unacceptable number of sources of water continue to be unmonitored.
More than a million people in the State get water from private sources, including significant numbers at national schools, creches and nursing homes. Large numbers of commercial outlets like hotels, B&Bs, pubs and restaurants which are mostly in rural areas are also served by private water sources.
In a report issued on Thursday on the Drinking Water Quality in Private Supplies for 2019, the agency said 88 of the 1,418 small private supplies monitored failed to meet the standards relating to E coli bacteria, which is the most important indicator of safe drinking water.
Poor management practices
Twenty of the 417 private group schemes monitored during the year, serving approximately 3,000 people, failed to meet these standards.
The report found that four schemes failed due to a lack of operational disinfection infrastructure, with temporary loss of power supply and poor management practices accounting for most of the other failures.
“This failure is of significant concern and puts thousands of users of these supplies at risk,” the EPA warns. It also found a number of failures to meet standards for other parameters, most notably nitrates arising mostly from agricultural runoff and harmful cleaning byproducts known as trihalomethanes used in water chlorination, which need to be addressed.
Critically, 19 per cent of registered small private supplies, serving food businesses, nursing homes, creches and B&Bs, were not monitored in 2019. If a supply has not been monitored, “it makes it impossible to be confident that the water is safe to drink”, the report adds.
Almost 200,000 people nationwide get their water from private group schemes, which are set up by local communities to manage abstraction, treatment and distribution of treated water.
Director of the EPA Office of Environmental Enforcement Dr Tom Ryan said consumers should be confident that their water is safe to drink.
“Water suppliers are obliged to make sure their water supply is clean and wholesome and is in compliance with the water quality standards. It is critical that monitoring is undertaken and, if issues are identified, action must be taken to protect human health.”
In an effort to tackle the ongoing problem, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage drew up a remedial action list in 2016 for group water schemes which need upgrades to improve drinking water quality. The report confirms progress is being made under this heading.
More than 1,750 small private supplies serving a commercial or public activity are registered with local authorities but private wells, of which there are approximately 180,000 in the country, are not regulated under the drinking water regulations.
While private supplies provide water for about a fifth of the population of Ireland, the report notes “many more people can be affected by drinking the water from these supplies, if it is not clean. The consequences of getting ill from water-borne bacteria or pathogens can be very severe”.
The very young, older people and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk.
The report is available at epa.ie