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EPA plays down reports over lead water piping

Reports today had suggested that there were 5,500km of lead water mains in Ireland – but the figure is actually 5,500m, the EPA said.

Image: sfxeric via Flickr

THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency has played down reports of thousands of kilometres of lead water mains remaining in Ireland – but said there are still real health risks.

Roughly 5,500 metres of lead piping is still being used for drinking water in four areas nationwide, according to the EPA’s latest report on water supplies.

A newspaper reported earlier today that the figure was 5,500 kilometres.

The EPA estimates that the cost of replacing the pipes will be in the region of €10-12million, rather than the €500million reported earlier. “We don’t want to cause panic with people,” an EPA spokesperson said.

However, the agency has warned that there is still a real health risk from the remaining lead water mains around Ennis, Co Clare; Mallow, Co Cork; Lough Guitane, Co Kerry and central Co Longford.

EU directives mean they must be replaced by the end of 2013, and the EPA has issued legally binding directions to this effect. “Some of the work is ongoing at the moment, and our indications are that it will all be completed by 2013,” the spokesperson said.

According to the World Health Organisation, lead poisoning can damage the nervous and reproductive systems, as well as causing high blood pressure and anaemia. It is especially harmful to foetuses, young children and pregnant women.

The current maximum allowable limit is 25μg/litre but this will fall to 10μg/litre at the end of 2013.

There is also a risk that lead piping could remain in many people’s homes, the EPA spokesperson said.

There is still a lot of lead in people’s houses. A significant proportion of houses built before 1970 would still have lead service pipes in them, and the only way to ensure that you have water with safe levels of level is to get rid of the pipework.

Once the pipe crosses the boundary from the street into the property, it becomes the homeowner’s responsibility.

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Michael Freeman

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