Alan Kelly announces new strategy on lead in drinking water

Irish Water data shows that up to 200,000 homes face health risks from lead pipes

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly, at the publishing of   a new national strategy to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water. Photograph: Dave Meehan

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly, at the publishing of a new national strategy to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

As many as 200,000 houses in the State built during and before the 1970s may face health risks from lead pipes, according to official figures.

The National Strategy to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water, announced by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly today, is the first effort of its kind and has used data from Irish Water’s national metering programme to build up a picture of levels of lead in the State’s drinking water.

Mr Kelly said he would deal “head-on” with the issue, but that “it cannot be dealt with immediately or quickly but will take a considerable amount of time”.

He said the extent of the problem could not have been identified without the existence of Irish Water and its metering programme.

Mr Kelly also said that a grant programme to help those affected by the issue will be announced in this year’s Budget.

Households with an income of €50,000 or under will be entitled to a €4,000 grant and those with an income between €50,000 and €75,000 will be entitled to receive a grant of €2,500.

This is based on an estimated overall price of €5,000 for remedial and corrective measures, but Mr Kelly accepted that the cost will vary from house to house.

Replacing lead pipes also qualifies under the Government’s Home Renovation Scheme, which gives tax breaks for improvement work.

Meter installation

During meter installation, Irish Water examined whether a house’s domestic water supply used lead pipes.

It has confirmed some 26,000 cases of houses with lead pipes so far, and on the basis of its calculations some 200,000 homes are affected.

It found some houses, including homes in the Raheny area of Dublin, where lead levels are more than 80 times the recommended limit.

Mr Kelly said the new strategy was the first in the State to deal with the problem, which has been ongoing for some time.

In recent years, the risk standard has been lowered to 10 micrograms of lead per litre.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, HSE assistant national director for health protection, said that infants, especially those who were bottle-fed, were most at risk when exposed to lead in water.

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

“Never drink water from taps in the house that is not from the rising main, [which is] usually the sink tap,” said Dr Kelleher, pointing out that this applied to all houses, not just those with lead pipes.

“If you do have lead in your house you should not use that to drink,” he said.

He also said that it was best for mothers of infants to breastfeed, especially if they lived in houses with lead pipes.

Gerry Grant, head of asset management at Irish Water, said eliminating lead pipes was a long-term project.