Untested water wells put 1m people at risk of E.Coli - EPA

Report finds many supplies to creches and hotels are not on local authorities’ register

The Environmental Protection Agency has highlighted serious health risks arising from creches, nursing homes and hotels using their own wells for drinking water.

In its latest evaluation of supplies, the EPA has said the quality of drinking water in private supplies, which serve more than a million people, “remains poorer than that in public supplies” and poses greater health risks due to E.coli contamination.

In spite of this risk, many private supplies are not on the local authorities’ register and those that are registered are not monitored sufficiently to ensure safe drinking water, according to the report issued on Wednesday.

Legal responsibility for private water supplies rests with local authorities and the supplier.


E.coli bacteria were found in 51 small private water supplies during 2017

The report shows that while there was an increase in the number of private supplies monitored in 2017, monitoring remains inadequate. No E.coli testing was reported for 711 small private water supplies during 2017.

“This unknown poses a serious health risk to the public,” the report added.

Where monitoring was carried out, it confirms private water supplies are at greater risk of being contaminated than public water supplies. While a million people in Ireland get their drinking water from private water supplies, including group schemes not served by Irish Water, "many more drink water from a private supply in their daily lives".

County Cork had the highest number of "regulated private supplies" not monitored for E.coli (totalling 283), followed by Co Westmeath (84), Co Tipperary (76), Co Galway (65), Co Cavan (48) and Co Kerry (38).

E.coli bacteria were found in 51 small private water supplies during 2017. These were serving commercial buildings including hotels, B&Bs and pubs as well as public buildings such as schools, creches and campsites. Consuming water with E.coli frequently to leads to gastrointestinal illness, and in a small number of cases can result in severe and long-term kidney failure.

Animal waste

The report highlights that more than 50 private supplies were found to be “contaminated with human or animal waste at least once during the reporting year”.

Small private supplies are drawn from springs or wells, which have the poorest water quality of all private water supply types, the EPA said. They may be used in areas where there is no access to a public supply or where a business has chosen to use a private supply for commercial or other purposes.

The continuing poor quality of drinking water in private supplies serving commercial or public activities was of concern, said Dr Tom Ryan, director of the EPA's Office of Environmental Enforcement.

“Our report found many of these supplies are not being monitored for water quality. The consumption of water of unknown quality poses a serious health risk to consumers, particularly vulnerable people such as the young and elderly,” he added.

Programme manager Darragh Page highlighted the number of private supplies not on local authority registers.

“We would encourage all private water suppliers and local authorities to ensure all private water supplies are on the register and are tested regularly. It is essential that all water supplies are tested to confirm that consumer’s health is not being put at risk. Where water supplies are contaminated, water suppliers should take action to protect consumers,”he said.

The report is available at www. epa.ie

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times