EPA says Irish Water efforts to replace lead pipes has been ‘slow’

Irish Water’s efforts to replace lead in the country’s water network has been “slow”, and more needs to be done to encourage householders to replace the old piping in their homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA has today published its 2017 Drinking Water Report, which shows that most Irish water supplies are safe, and that drinking water testing throughout 2017 confirmed a high level of compliance with microbiological and chemical standards.

However, it identified the main causes of concerns as lead, pesticides, and trihalomethanes, which are formed as a result of adding chlorine to water containing high levels of organic material.

“Irish Water’s progress on replacing lead service connections has been slow. Householders and public bodies have also been slow to replace lead pipes within their buildings,” the report warned.

“Householders need to be actively encouraged to replace private side lead plumbing. Public bodies need to complete the assessment and action plans for removing lead pipework from public buildings such as hospitals and schools, and from local authority housing.”

“The number of supplies reporting trihalomethane [THM] failures remains high, with 52 supplies on the Remedial Action List for persistent THM failures in 2017,”

The EPA said it began legal proceedings against Irish Water in September after it had issued the utility with directions due to persistent trihalomethane failures in six water supplies in Donegal. The cases were heard in April 2018.

The report also found that, in 2017:

  • 11 samples (in 11 supplies) failed the standard for E.coli in the annual monitoring returns, up from three in 2016;
  • 42 boil notices were in place in 17 counties affecting 21,657 people, down the 83,044 people affected by boil notices in 2016. More than half (23) were short-term notices;
  • At the end of 2017, seven boil notices were in place affecting 41 people, down from 10 boil notices affecting 5,654 people at the end of 2016;
  • Four water restriction notices were in place in three counties affecting 233 people, compared to 11 water restrictions affecting 1,380 people during 2016;
  • Cryptosporidium was detected in 17 public water supplies (12 in 2016).

Darragh Page, programme manager at the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement, commented on the downward trend in E.coli contamination in drinking water. While there was a slight increase in the detected cases in 2017, overall the number of failures have reduced year-on-year from 52 in 2007.

“The incidence of E.coli in public water supplies has been on a downward trend for the past 10 years,” said Mr Page.

“There was a slight increase in E.coli detections in 2017, serving as a reminder that we need to remain vigilant against E.coli in drinking water. The best way to ensure our drinking water is free of E.coli is by having a robust disinfection system in place with good checks and controls on the treatment process.”

Gerard O’Leary, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement, said Irish Water plans to have all public drinking water supplies compliant with existing EU public health standards by the end of 2020.

“These standards came into force 16 years ago,” said Mr O’Leary. 

“There are currently 72 supplies where infrastructure is needed to achieve this goal.”

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