Arsenic found in drinking water at popular bathing spot

Drinking water supplies at one of the country’s most popular bathing spots had potentially dangerous levels of a carcinogenic substance at the height of the summer, according to the environmental regulator.

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency found levels of arsenic above recommended safety limits in two public water supplies at Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow in July.

In one instance, the level was over 15 times the safe level set by the World Health Organisation.

An audit of the supplies at Brittas Bay North and Brittas Bay South was carried out by the EPA after Irish Water notified the regulator that excessive levels of arsenic were recorded at both sources.

The two supplies provide water for outdoor taps, a hot food kiosk, showers and toilets at carparks for the beach. A ‘do not consume’ notice has been in place at both locations since July 12 and the kiosk has been using bottled water supplies since the warning was raised.

A similar problem also resulted in warning notices being posted at both carparks at Brittas Bay last year. The recommended safety limit for arsenic is 10 micrograms per litre.

Levels of 152 and 147 micrograms per litre were recorded in the Brittas Bay North supply in July after an earlier reading of 66 micrograms in June.

Levels of 15-23 micrograms per litre were recorded on a number of occasions in the Brittas Bay South drinking water supply in June and July. Arsenic in drinking water arises from its dissolution into groundwater from naturally occurring ores and minerals.

According to the EPA, arsenic has been shown to have significant health effects in some parts of the world and is one of the few substances known to cause cancer in humans through consumption of drinking water.

The EPA’s website states: “There is overwhelming evidence that consumption of arsenic through drinking water is casually related to the development of cancers in several different locations in the body.”

The EPA said Irish Water and Wicklow County Council were investigating options to address the excessive levels of arsenic. Levels of sodium and chlorine above recommended limits were also detected.

EPA officials who conducted the audit on the Brittas Bay supplies said Irish Water needed to identify and implement an action plan to address the high levels of arsenic, sodium and chloride.

In the longer term, the EPA has recommended that Irish Water should replace both public water supplies at Brittas Bay with an alternative source of clean and wholesome drinking water or provide greater protection to existing boreholes.

Irish Water was also reprimanded by the environmental regulator for its inappropriate use of a bleaching agent in the public water supply serving Arklow.


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