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Boil water notice: Series of events at Leixlip plant in March led to 'significant risk to safety of supply'

The audit found Irish Water failed to take samples of treated water during the critical period following the incident.

Image: Shutterstock/Ryazantsev Dmitriy

A SERIES OF events occurred over three days in March at the water treatment plant at the centre of a current boil water notice for 600,000 customers in the greater Dublin area which “presented a significant risk to the safety of the water supply,” an unreported audit has revealed. 

The audit by the Environmental Protection Agency found Irish Water failed to consult the HSE about the risk to public health caused by a temporary loss of controls at the Leixlip water treatment plant in March to prevent Cryptosporidium and Giardia – waterborne parasites that can cause major illness including nausea and diarrhoea. 

The problem resulted from a pump failure which went undetected for almost eight hours on March 13-14 which allowed small particles of sludge into treated water and resulted in above normal levels of aluminium and turbidity (cloudy water). 

The EPA found that while Irish Water sought advice from the HSE about the high aluminium levels in drinking water it did not refer to the HSE about “the more significant issue” relating to the temporary loss of Cryptosporidium and Giardia barriers. 

The audit found Irish Water also failed to take samples of treated water during the critical period following the incident. 

While samples taken on March 17-18 tested positive for Giardia, Irish Water said it did not believe the detections were linked to the pump failure and the cause remains unknown. 

Data from the Leixlip plant also led the EPA to discover that there had been an uncontrolled release of large quantities of raw sewage into the River Liffey between Newbridge and Leixlip around the same time.  

A separate investigation by the EPA found that Irish Water had failed to comply with the requirements of its licence over the release of the untreated sewage from its Newhall pump station located near Naas, Co Kildare over three consecutive days. 

The watchdog established that up to 12,300 cubic metres of raw sewage was released into the River Liffey between March 14 and March 16 due to the failure of pumps  at the Newhall plant. 

Irish Water was also in breach of its licence for taking a week to notify the relevant authorities about the discharge into the Liffey – one of the main sources of drinking water supplies in Dublin. 

“Irish Water should have notified the EPA, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Leixlip water treatment plant as soon as practicable after the release of the raw sewage. Irish Water failed to do this and only notified these bodies of the incident on March 21, 2019,” an EPA spokesperson said. 

Another failure at the Newhall plant occurred on March 22 which resulted in up to 5,000m³ of raw sewage being discharged into the river over 15 hours. On this occasion, Irish Water notified all the relevant authorities immediately. 

The EPA has instructed Irish Water to review all matters surrounding the incidents in March and to take appropriate action to avoid a recurrence. 

Inland Fisheries Ireland said no fish had been killed as a result of the discharges. 

An Irish Water spokesperson said the initial overflow coincided with period of heavy rainfall which led to high water levels in the River Liffey. 

The spokesperson said all 30 samples taken from water supplies from the affected section of the river that were tested at the Leixlip plant were “fully compliant”. 

Irish Water said it had carried out a number of actions at the Newhall facility since the incidents including the installation of a new alarm system. 

Social Democrats co-leader and Kildare North TD, Catherine Murphy said it was incredible that alarm systems in place to notify monitoring bodies of developing failures did not work as intended. 

“There has been a failure between institutions here and a thorough investigation needs to be initiated and assurances given that all issues will be immediately addressed in order to prevent a repeat of this happening again,” said Ms Murphy. 

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Seán McCárthaigh

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