More rain may lead to health risks

INCREASED winter rainfall because of climate change could lead to a sharp increase in the contamination of the public water supply posing public health risks, according to the one of the country’s leading climate change experts.

Professor John Sweeney, of NUI Maynooth, said that storm water overflow, which can carry contamination such as faecal matter from cattle, already flows into reservoirs during increased rainfall. “We’ve already seen that contamination happen in Galway. Also in many housing estates and on roads, surface water drains and waste water drains are using the same sewer – something which should not happen. This is leading to even more contamination during intense rain.

“In Clane, for instance you can see sewage bubbling up onto the street,” he said.

In Cork city last November, huge swathes of the northside of the city as well as sections of the southside were without water for weeks after the city’s water treatment was flooded, leading to contamination.

Speaking at a seminar on the impact of climate change on public health, Dr Sweeney called for increased investment in water and drainage engineering projects so that such contamination risk is prevented.

He also said that climate change may result in less winter deaths in Ireland due to rising winter temperatures but there could be more food poisoning related deaths over the summer.

“Mortality rates in Ireland in winter are substantially higher than in many European countries. This high cold-related mortality may principally be accounted for by fuel poverty and poor housing standards.

“Climate change, by increasing mean temperatures, may be expected to reduce this winter mortality and benefit overall mortality rates in Ireland, in particular from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

However, increases in summer temperatures may produce increases in mortality from cardiovascular or respiratory diseases, particularly for people living in cities,” said Professor Sweeney, one of the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“A range of food-borne and water borne diseases, such as salmonella, campylobacter and E Coli may also become more problematical.

“However, perhaps the greatest threat will come as a result of increased winter rainfall to public water supplies which will have crucial public health dimensions.”


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