Unsafe levels of lead found in drinking water across country

Tests show lead concentration nearly 15 times above legal limit

Tests have found lead concentrations nearly 15 times over the legal limit in north Dublin drinking water, and unsafe levels elsewhere across the country.

Since the start of 2017 unsafe levels of lead have been found in drinking water in more than 30 areas, according to figures from Irish Water obtained by The Irish Times.

A test of drinking water near Sutton Dart station, north Co Dublin, found lead contamination nearly 15 times above the legal limit last year.

In a test by local authority staff in parts of Coolock, north Dublin, lead concentrations 12 times above the legal limit were identified.


In most cases the contamination is the result of older lead pipes still in use across the public water network.

HSE guidelines state that long-term exposure to lead can affect brain development in children, or babies in the womb. It can also cause harm to kidneys and high blood pressure, and is classed as a probable carcinogen.

Where local authority audits of water quality find lead concentrations over the legal limit of 10mg per litre (mg/l), the council notifies Irish Water. The water utility then follows up with affected properties, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and Health Service Executive (HSE).

Nine areas

One test in Kilkeedy, Co Clare last year found lead levels more than 10 times above safe drinking limits, at 113 mg/l.

A test of drinking water at a property in Rosses Point, Co Sligo, found levels six times higher than the limit for safe consumption late last year.

Unsafe levels were also found at properties in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, in Gorey, Co Wexford, in Carrickbeg, Carrick On Suir, and at Screggan, Co Offaly.

Irish Water figures on harmful lead concentrations were released following a request under the Freedom of Information act.

Dublin City Council figures for 2016 show levels of lead above legal limits were found in a further nine areas, including properties in Beaumont, Drumcondra, Phibsborough, Cabra, Terenure and Sandymount.

Domestic water charges were suspended in 2016, before being effectively scrapped by the Government, following a large anti-austerity protest movement. Irish Water has been embroiled in controversy from its inception, over significant spending on consultancy fees and bonuses.

Leakage reduction

In a statement, Irish Water said there were no lead water mains in Ireland, “however there are still some lead pipes remaining in the public network”, such as pipes connecting mains to homes.

“As part of Irish Water’s leakage reduction programme, we are removing all remaining lead pipes from the public water network and replacing them with plastic pipes,” a spokeswoman for the utility said.

Irish Water has been conducting a trial with Dublin City Council to apply a lining to lead pipes to reduce the risk of lead eroding into the water system. The pilot has been limited to a small number of houses in the council’s social housing stock.

“Indications are that properties generally showed a reduction in lead levels after the lining was completed,” a spokeswoman for Irish Water said. Plans to roll the scheme out in Dublin are under discussion.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times