Irish Water to audit treatment plants after contamination

At least 52 people around Gorey have become ill following failures at two plants

Dr Joe Gallagher said he had begun to notice a spike in patients with gastroenteritis-like illness. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

Dr Joe Gallagher said he had begun to notice a spike in patients with gastroenteritis-like illness. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

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Officials in Gorey, Co Wexford, will meet today as efforts continue to investigate an apparent breakdown in communications regarding contaminated water in the county.

Irish Water said yesterday it would place specialist technicians across an unspecified number of treatment plants in a bid to guarantee oversight and prevent a recurrence of failures that led to dozens of people becoming ill.

It also plans to give each local authority “refresher” training on incident reporting procedures over the next two weeks while hundreds of treatment plants will undergo audit, beginning with the country’s largest 20.

At least 52 people are reported to have been taken ill around Gorey, Co Wexford, following failures at two plants that exposed about 900,000 people to water supplies that had not been sufficiently disinfected. A number were hospitalised.

The Gorey incident arose from a power and chlorine pump failure. Separately, the treatment plant at Ballymore Eustace, serving the Greater Dublin Area, produced unsafe drinking water for a 10-hour period last month.

Dr Joe Gallagher, a GP at Palms Surgery in Gorey, said he and several colleagues had begun to notice a spike in patients with gastroenteritis-like illness, with diarrhoea and vomiting, from early September.

“This volume of it [was noticeable]. Sometimes you would see this occasionally with water schemes or wells that might be affected but it’s unusual to see a town’s water supply affected like this,” he said.

Ill communication

As supply issues were resolved, the focus shifted to how the situation was allowed develop without sufficient inter-agency communication.

On Monday, head of Irish Water Niall Gleeson appeared to place responsibility for the Gorey issues squarely with local authority staff. He said Irish Water had been made aware of the problem on August 26th, some time after it had been resolved.

“The issue here is we should have been informed by Wexford County Council as soon as the incident happened,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “I know they had some communications issues with their own operational staff … That is what we are investigating now.”

Wexford County Council did not immediately comment ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled meeting between management and elected representatives.

Prof Tom Collins, chairman of An Fóram Uisce, the organisation tasked with overseeing Irish Water, also referenced communications.

“It’s clearly a very major failure on behalf of the authorities involved,” he told RTÉ, detailing a system of alerts involving local authorities, Irish Water, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health Service Executive.

“Clearly that is much too vulnerable a communications chain because one break in any link means the entire communications collapse.”

Wexford Senator Malcolm Byrne said on Monday that some of those affected by the incident were considering legal action.

Stuart Gilhooly, a solicitor specialising in personal injury, said such actions were uncommon. However, he said they could be targeted at whichever body had ultimate responsibility for water supply regulation, but could also involve other agencies.