52 made ill after ‘abject failures’ at drinking water plants serving Dublin and Wexford

Reporting of incidents which occurred in August was delayed

The Environmental Protection Agency said in the case of the plant serving Gorey, the failures had caused illnesses in the local population. Photograph: iStock

The Environmental Protection Agency said in the case of the plant serving Gorey, the failures had caused illnesses in the local population. Photograph: iStock

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Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien will meet the managing director of Irish Water and the chief executives of Dublin and Wexford local authorities on Saturday morning, following “abject failures” in the operation of two drinking water plants.

The failures were described as two “serious incidents” which occurred in recent weeks in drinking water plants serving parts of the two counties.

The plants concerned were at Ballymore Eustace which serves parts of Co Dublin, and a plant in Wexford which serves Gorey town.

Mr O’Brien was informed of the incidents by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which said in the case of the plant serving Gorey, the failures had caused illnesses in the local population. The illnesses had been first detected by the Health Service Executive.

The Minister said he had been informed by the EPA of “an abject failure in management oversight, operational control and responsiveness” at the two public drinking water treatment plants, which had allowed unsafe water to enter into the public drinking water supply and endanger public health.

At Gorey, the incident arose from a power failure and a chlorine pump failure, resulting in water leaving the plant and entering the public supply without the appropriate level of disinfection for a five day period (August 19th-24th). The incident was not notified to the EPA and the HSE until the 26th August. “To date there has been 52 confirmed cases of illness associated with this outbreak,” with a number of associated hospitalizations, the EPA said.

The Ballymore Eustace plant, which serves 877,000 customers in the greater Dublin area, produced unsafe drinking water for a period of up to 10 hours on 20th-21st August, due to the loss of a cryptosporidium treatment barrier compounded by inadequate disinfection, the EPA said. The incident was not notified by Irish Water to the EPA or to the Health Service Executive (HSE) until 1st September, “preventing a timely risk assessment of the impact on drinking water quality and to allow interventions to be taken that could have protected public health”.

The incidents have now been rectified and the water supply from the two plants is now safe to drink, the Minister said.

But he said the incidents were “concerning and unacceptable” as “people’s safety is paramount”.

Mr O’Brien said he had already spoken to the managing director of Irish Water Niall Gleeson, as well as both the chief executive of Dublin City Council Owen Keegan and the chief executive of Wexford County Council Tom Enright, about the matter. The local authorities carry out some water functions on behalf of Irish Water.

Mr O’Brien said he had identified a problem in that, despite owning the assets and paying for service delivery, “Irish Water does not have direct control over the majority of service staff or assets”.

He said the separation between responsibility and control needed to be addressed as a priority, and he had drawn up an early policy paper which made clear “the limitations of this way of working” and they “were beginning to impact on service delivery and were increasingly seen as adding to the risk of service failure”.