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Quality of Irish drinking water remains extremely high but one million people 'vulnerable' to systems failures

The EPA found 99.9% of samples complied with bacterial parameter limits.

Image: Shutterstock/LedyX

THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION Agency (EPA) says that while Ireland’s drinking water remains significantly pure there are over 1 million people “vulnerable to failure”.

In its annual report, the EPA found that 99.9% of samples complied with bacterial parameter limits and 99.6% complied with chemical limits.

However, 67 boil water notices were in place in 2019, affecting more than 650,000 people while 52 treatment plants supplying water to over one million people are vulnerable to failure, according to the agency’s annual report.

  • Our colleagues at Noteworthy are proposing to investigate the impact long term boil water notices have on the life and health of people living in areas with the most polluted tap water. See how you can support this project here>

The EPA said increasing uncertainty in Irish Water’s “planning and delivery of critical improvements to water treatment plants is making supplies vulnerable to failure, posing a risk to the health of a large portion of the population”.

Its ‘Remedial Action List’ contained 52 supplies with significant issues to be addressed by Irish Water at the end of 2019. While this figure is down from 63 supplies in 2018, the population affected by these supplies has doubled in the same period to over 1.1 million.

This is mainly due to the addition of the Leixlip water treatment plant to the list – following two boil water notices last year that affected more than 600,000 people.

Laura Burke, EPA Director General said: “The supply of safe drinking water is of critical importance for our wellbeing and for social and economic prosperity. Delays in delivering public water improvements put water quality and the public’s health at risk.

“While progress is being made, the multiple failures at the Leixlip water treatment plant last year highlight the serious lack of resilience in our water supplies. The growing uncertainty in Irish Water’s planning and delivery of critical improvements to water treatment plants is undermining confidence in the security of supply of safe drinking water.

Irish Water needs to urgently address the underlying causes for the delays and shortcomings highlighted in this report and prioritise investment to ensure that public supplies are safe and secure, and that public health is protected.

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The EPA has also seen delays in completing the national disinfection programme and a
significant reduction in work planned to remove lead from supply connections.

Andy Fanning, EPA Programme Manager, said: “Disinfection is the most important step in water treatment and makes our water safe by keeping water free of harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites. Lead presents a different problem where the only remedy is to remove the lead pipework. With the reduced programme for removing lead pipes, the EPA estimates that it could take Irish Water up to 60 years to remove all public-side lead connections.”

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