The environmental watchdog has called on Irish Water to increase its efforts to ensure its treatment plants are up to standard, after it reported the third annual increase in detections of cryptosporidium in supplies.
The Environmental Protection Agency has today released its Drinking Water Quality in Public Supplies report for 2018, which found that cryptosporidium was detected in 25 public water supplies last year, up from 17 in 2017 and 12 in 2016.
The EPA said supplies which have inadequate processes in place to treat or remove cryptosporidium and those where there is no treatment in place at all are of particular concern to the agency.
“Where urgent issues are identified, for example where there is no disinfection alarm in place, they should be dealt with immediately. It is crucial that Irish Water ensure that all necessary cryptosporidium barriers are installed, maintained, and operated correctly and effectively,” reads the report.
Dr Tom Ryan, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement, said plants without appropriate treatment for cryptosporidium “need to be prioritised for investment by Irish Water”.
“We are seeing an upward trend in cryptosporidium contamination in drinking water supplies,” he said.
We know that cryptosporidium can cause serious gastrointestinal illness, particularly in young children and the elderly, and the EPA has ensured that Irish Water has investigated each of these cryptosporidium detections. Irish Water must make certain that water treatment plants are properly and effectively operated to protect public health.
The agency also warned that there is what it described as “a lack of urgency” in addressing the removal of lead from supply networks and buildings — despite a National Lead Strategy overseen by the Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government.
It said both public bodies and householders need to do more to replace lead piping in the supply, either in mains connections or within private homes.
“Many public buildings such as schools and hospitals, and State-owned buildings such as local authority housing may have lead pipework,” warns the report. “The full extent of this is still unknown and there are no reported plans to carry out replacement works. This is placing many vulnerable people at risk.”
Overall the EPA found the quality of drinking water in public supplies remains high, with 99.9% compliance with microbiological parameters and 99.6% compliance with chemical parameters. A total of 19 supplies across Cork, Galway, Louth, Meath, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford, and Wicklow are currently on a boil-water notice, affecting 15,274 people.
Of these, 12,576 are those served by the Lough Talt supply in Sligo. Irish Water said it is investing over €65m to make drinking water safe from bacteria and parasites, a programme that involves assessing 859 disinfection sites.