Thousands of households told water may be contaminated

Irish Water accused of ‘misrepresenting’ lead issue as a matter solely for homeowners

Green Party Councillor Ossian Smyth has criticised Irish Water for not telling people whether the problem lead pipes are on the utility company’s side of the network or the homeowner’s side. Photograph:  Colm Mahady

Green Party Councillor Ossian Smyth has criticised Irish Water for not telling people whether the problem lead pipes are on the utility company’s side of the network or the homeowner’s side. Photograph: Colm Mahady

 

Thousands of Dublin homeowners are receiving letters from Irish Water this week warning households their water may be contaminated with lead above the safe legal limit.

More than 2,000 letters have been sent to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area and parts of Dublin this week, and the same letters will be sent out to the rest of the country in the coming weeks .

An Irish Water spokeswoman said more than 26,000 homes identified with a possible lead connection during water meter installations across the State would be sent a letter and an estimated 200,000 homes have lead plumbing nationwide.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) warns the health risks are greatest for infants, especially those bottle-fed, young children and babies in the womb.

Prolonged exposure to low levels of lead can adversely affect cognitive development in children.

The letter tells the householder their water could be contaminated with lead above the “acceptable limit”.

The legal limit of lead in drinking water was reduced from 25 micrograms per litre to 10 micrograms in 2013.

“When installing a water meter at the above address, Irish Water’s metering team noted that this property may have a lead pipe connection.

“Lead was used in the plumbing of houses and buildings built up to and including the 1970s. Since then, the presence of lead in drinking water has been recognised as a health concern and the acceptable limit has been reduced a number of times.

Letter that will be sent to 26,000 householders

“International research has shown that two out of three houses with lead pipes are now likely to exceed the new limit.

“For this reason, and in consultation with the Health Service Executive and the Environmental Protection Agency, we are now sending you this letter to make you aware of this issue.”

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Councillor Ossian Smyth (Green Party) criticised the utility company for not telling people whether the problem lead pipes are on the Irish Water’s side of the network or the homeowner’s side.

“ It is up to Irish Water to replace lead pipes on their side of the meter and I believe that Irish Water is misrepresenting this as solely a matter for homeowners to resolve. This is misleading,” he said.

“Irish Water cannot leave people hanging like this and should agree to test anyone’s water where they know that there are lead pipes supplying drinking water to the property.”

“Nobody should have to pay for drinking water which has been contaminated by Irish Water’s supply network.”

Cllr Smyth said according the Irish water survey, almost 10 per cent of the 14,963 homes that have had a water meter installed in Dún-Laoghaire Rathdown had lead service pipes.

A spokeswoman for Irish Water told Irish Times the plan to replace the public side connection is a long-term programme of about 10 years.

“If a property owner replaces the lead pipework on their property, Irish Water will also replace the pipework between the water main and the property boundary,” she said.

She said Irish Water was responsible for pipes under the road or paths to the outer edge of the boundary of a property.

However, she said homeowners are responsible for the pipe from the outer edge of the property boundary to the building and all the plumbing inside the building.

“If there are lead pipes within the property, including to the outer edge of your property, you do not qualify for a discount on your domestic water bill,” she said.

“We are advising customers not to wait for a letter from Irish Water before taking action because we can only write to properties we have metered where we can see a lead connection.”

Each letter has an information leaflet and a copy of HSE’s frequently asked questions enclosed with it.

The leaflet said unless the public and private supply pipes were both replaced. lead levels in the water could still be higher than the legal limit.

“ Replacing the public supply pipe or the private pipe on its own does not resolve the problem,” it said.

The cost of replacing lead piping in a family home could cost from €600 to €4,000, according to plumbers.