More than 830,000 consumers are drinking water from supplies that need to be upgraded to avoid water restrictions in the future, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
There are 108 water supplies earmarked by the EPA for much-needed improvements as they were deemed “at risk” — this figure has fallen by seven since the end of last year.
Thirty-seven of these do not have sufficient treatment to stop cryptosporidium entering drinking water, according to the Drinking Water Report for 2015.
Trihalomethanes (THMs) limits were exceeded in 59 supplies. THMs are a byproduct that can form where the organic matter in the raw water reacts with chlorine in the disinfection process.
However, long-term exposure to THMs puts people at increased risk of particular cancers and reproductive problems. Most of the exceedances were recorded in counties Donegal and Kerry.
The European Commission initiated pilot infringement proceedings against Ireland in 2015 because of its lack of compliance with THM standards.
E.coli was detected at least once in seven water supplies last year compared to in eight supplies the previous year.
According to the EPA, pesticides are becoming a more common contaminant in water sources. Sixty-one samples were found to contain pesticides last year with the pesticide, MCPA (a herbicide applied to grassland for ragwort, rush and thistle) detected in 41 of the 61.
In general however, most of the country’s drinking water 962 schemes are safe and meet microbiological and chemical standards.
Some 35 boil water notices were in place across the country last year for part or all of the year.
Boil water notices were in place in counties Cavan, Clare, Galway, Leitrim, Limerick, Longford, Meath, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow.
The director of the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement, Gerard O’Leary, said twice as many people had boil water notices imposed last year.
“So far this year, 86,000 people have had to boil their water to make it safe. This is more than twice as many as last year. Without investment to address the deficiencies in supplies, this type of water restriction will continue to occur,” said Mr O’Leary.
The EPA has identified as high priority the elimination of long-term boil water notices; the removal of lead piping from public buildings and homes; and the upgrade of at-risk supplies — especially such as those where trihalomethanes are evident.
According to the EPA, a national strategy needs to be developed around THMs.
Such a blueprint would ensure organic material was safely removed from water, disinfection was at optimum levels, and better management of “water age” in reservoirs and distribution networks.
Senior inspector at the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement, Darragh Page, said Irish Water needs to accelerate the investment in supplies that are on its remedial list: “Where avoidable delays have been caused to these planned upgrade works, the EPA has, and will continue to, take enforcement action,” he said.
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