The taxpayer is to foot the €448m cost for dealing with potentially dangerous lead pipes in the country’s water network, it was confirmed last night.
The spend is part of Irish Water’s business plan which runs until 2021 and the funds have already been allocated out of exchequer funds, Irish Water said last night.
The embattled utility is planning to spend €370m over the next decade replacing lead pipes and at least €78m treating water to stop lead contamination.
Irish Water this week published its Lead in Water Mitigation Plan, which will be available for public consultation until September 21.
In it, Irish Water is urging owners of houses built before 1980 to check internal plumbing for lead pipes and will assist in replacing them.
About 180,000 homes are served by lead pipes, Irish Water estimates, and are at risk of not meeting the EU safe drinking water standards.
According to the HSE, consumption of lead can affect brain development, with young children, bottle-fed infants, and babies in the womb deemed most at risk.
News that the funds for the plan will come out of the exchequer led some politicians to insist that no matter what mechanism is used to deal with the system, the taxpayer will foot the bill.
Speaking yesterday, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said suggestions that because Irish Water is a utility that taxpayers won’t pay is wrong. “No matter how we fix the problem, we will pay for it. Whether it is through general taxation or a grant. We always pay and we always have paid. The question is whether the system of payment fair or not,” he said.
Managing director of Irish Water Jerry Grant said homes built before 1980 should be checked for lead.
Mr Grant said: “We are now asking members of the public to look at the plan and give us their feedback on our proposed approach. In the meantime, we are also urging all property owners especially those with young children, to check for lead pipes and to have them replaced if at all possible.”
He added that while full lead replacement is the best option, this has taken decades in other countries.
“We have identified an option to treat the water at the treatment plant in order to reduce the risk. A food grade product called orthophosphate can be added to drinking water at our plants to coat old lead pipes in people’s homes and reduce exposure and consequent health risk until the pipes are replaced,” he added.
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