An environmental watchdog only became aware through media reports that several people had become ill in Limerick from consuming contaminated drinking water, an audit has revealed.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the source of the contaminated water was not even included in the register of Limerick City and County Council of private water schemes for monitoring.
The finding is contained in a number of audit reports which found several failures in the monitoring programmes of public and private drinking water supplies by Irish Water and local authorities in Limerick and Galway.
The EPA said it only became aware of an outbreak of gastroenteritis linked to individuals who had played camogie matches at Croagh Kilfinny GAA club on June 28, 2019 via the media.
It said drinking water used by the players had been grossly contaminated with E-coli, coliform bacteria and enterococci (a type of infectious organism) from two small private supplies serving the club.
Limerick City and County Council said the supplies were not contained in their 2018 register of 93 regulated private water supplies as it was not aware they existed.
The EPA found the council’s register also did not contain all the information required under the Drinking Water Regulations.
The watchdog said the council needed to make a concerted effort to identify private supplies which fall under its remit.
The EPA said it was also unclear as to whether Irish Water or Limerick City and County Council was responsible for the monitoring of a number of small group water schemes.
In a separate audit, it found Galway County Council failed to monitor 19 supplies, including six group water schemes, at all last year out of a total of 244 regulated supplies.
The council claimed the company which conducts sampling of drinking water supplies on its behalf failed to include nine supplies in its 2018 sampling programme.
However, the council could offer no explanation for its failure to monitor the other ten schemes.
The EPA said it was concerned about the shortfall in monitoring and the fact that there may be other small private supplies that are not registered and subject to inspection.
The audits also uncovered several failures of Irish Water to notify the EPA of non-compliances with water quality detected from regular samples of public water supplies.
A review of monitoring data for 2018 on 36 public water supplies in Limerick revealed that Irish Water did not notify the EPA of excessive levels of aluminium, iron and turbidity in the city’s public water supply in the first half of the year.
Four samples contained high concentrations of aluminium of up to five times the recommended limit with two containing elevated levels of iron and turbidity. The EPA said Irish Water had provided no explanation for the failure to notify it about the four incidents.
A separate audit on drinking water schemes in Co Galway found Irish Water had failed to notify the EPA of high levels off enterococci in the Cleggan/Claddaghduff scheme in August 2018.
The audit reports for Limerick and Galway found Irish Water had also failed to carry out checks for monitoring the level of nitrate at public water treatment plants.
“Nitrate is not being monitored in the final water at public water treatment plans in Limerick City and County and County Galway,” the EPA said.
It also claimed Irish Water had no protocol to determine the concentration of several potentially hazardous substances in drinking water including acrylamide, epichlorohydrin and vinyl chloride where they were used in treatment and supply.
A spokesperson for Irish Water said it had worked hard since its establishment to standardise and enhance its water quality sampling and would implement recommendations made by the EPA “where necessary and appropriate”.