20% of drinking water not monitored for health risks

Approximately 20% of people’s drinking water is poorly monitored, leaving them open to health risks.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has criticised local authorities for not adequately monitoring private water supplies.

Around 20% of the population get their drinking water from private supplies, mainly through group water schemes, or small supplies or wells operated by the owners of buildings and businesses.

In 2016, a lack of monitoring resulted in 126 boil water notices being imposed on private water supplies. This affected 7,000 people.

According to the EPA “many local authorities did not monitor all supplies in their area or carry out any audits of these supplies during the 2016 reporting period”.

Gerard O’Leary, director of the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement ,said that the monitoring of the supplies that received notices last year needs to be improved as people will become sick otherwise.

One serious criticism by the EPA relates to E.coli testing of private water supplies by local authorities.

E.coli is a faecal bacteria which, when ingested, live in the gut and causes abdominal cramping, watery diarrhoea that may change to bloody stools, and a fever.

“E.coli testing was not reported at 809 private water supplies serving commercial buildings [hotels, B&Bs, pubs, etc] or public buildings [schools, crèches, campsites, etc]. These supplies are more likely to be contaminated with E. coli,” said the EPA.

The EPA’s private water supply report, published yesterday, highlighted that more than 60 of these supplies were found to be contaminated with human or animal waste at least once during the reporting year of 2016.

Darragh Page, programme manager from the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement said local authorities need to step up to their enforcement role.

“Local authorities must use their enforcement powers to ensure that action is taken where water quality issues are identified in private supplies,” said Mr Page.

He added that only a small number of local authorities, out of 31, carried out audits in 2016.

“While there was an increase in enforcement by local authorities in 2016, only nine local authorities carried out audits during the year,” said Mr Page.

These nine authorities carried out 95 audits between them.

All in all, the report found that 37 public group water schemes, 20 private group water schemes, and 809 small private supplies were not monitored for E.coli during 2016.

Of the 809 small private supplies, 130 served hotels, B&Bs, and restaurants or cafés, 73 served schools or childcare centres, and 19 served nursing homes.


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